About the Project

The 'Small Town Indiana' project seeks to provide a comprehensive photographic survey of all Indiana's crossroads, hamlets, villages, and small towns. Funded in 2014 by Indiana Landmarks, Indiana Humanities, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and Ball State University - project personnel will travel across the state through the 2016 bicentennial photographing the locations' historic structures, main streets, and primary historic districts.

The project is part of a larger initiative to promote centralized urban areas in the state of Indiana before, during, and after the 2016 bicentennial celebration. To learn more about other iniatives related to the 'Soul of Indiana' - visit the companion 'Indiana's Courthouse Squares' project website and the 'Primacy of Place' website.

The Knight Foundation and Gallup conducted a broad survey of communities across the United States in order to determine what keeps residents attached to a particular community. This study is known as the ‘Soul of the Community’ (Knight Foundation, 2008) and concluded that several ‘drivers’ motivated people to ‘attach’ to their communities. Contrary to popular belief, economic opportunities were not a deciding driver. The study concluded that aesthetics, social opportunities, and the acceptance of diversity were the primary drivers for communities across the United States. Specifically, the study found that “what attaches residents to their communities doesn’t change much from place to place” and “While the economy is obviously the subject of much attention, the study has found that perceptions of the local economy do not have a very strong relationship to resident attachment. Instead, attachment is most closely related to how accepting a community is of diversity, its wealth of social offerings, and its aesthetics.”

The Knight study’s conclusions suggest that individuals seek a sense of ‘place’ in their communities that are open to diverse populations, unique in architecture and landscape, and offer social opportunities to meet like-minded individuals. Indiana’s unique cultural amenities are often ignored, or are simply unknown to many individuals. Furthermore, this ignorance generates an attitude of malaise among residents and furnishes a roadblock for economic development all while contributing to the ‘brain-drain’ currently underway by the state’s youth. By accentuating and promoting local architecture, historical importance, small-business, and tourism - this project will ideally inculcate an attitude that supports the state’s cultural icons by providing visual documentation of them.

Two of the Knight study drivers can be satisfied by the revitalization of a community’s historic downtown district, or ‘town square’ - if one exists. Modeling European urban planning, communities across the Eastern and Midwestern America developed living arrangements around dense, centralized commercial districts. The center of these areas often includes a series of historic structures and in contrast to today’s architecture, these buildings serve as symbolic markers to town identity - icons as well as physical space for congregation and business. Historic districts often have, or at least once had restaurants, shops, government offices, religious buildings, and central transportation hubs. These locations offered unique opportunities to landscape and construct edifices with aesthetics in mind, while furnishing the mechanism for social interaction. These two aspects of the ‘town square’ fall closely in line with two of the three drivers found in the Knight study: “its wealth of social offerings, and its aesthetics.” By promoting, showcasing, honoring, and disseminating the aesthetic and social potential for these historic downtown areas, awareness will be raised to better utilize these urban spaces.

- Project Director: Chris Flook
- Project Photographers: Chris Flook
- Project Advisor: Mary Ann Heidemann

Special Thanks:
- Augusta Wray
- Kris Scott
- Nancy Conner
- Mary Ann Heidemann
- J.P. Hall

Primary Project Objectives:
1). To educate the public and raise general awareness about historic preservation efforts, while increasing the knowledge of historical architectural styles and town planning for Indiana’s crossroads, hamlets, villages, and small towns.

2). Update the historic record for future historians, preservationists, researchers, and planners. Once completed, high resolution photos of the entire survey will be stored at Ball State University Bracken Library's Archives and Special Collections.

3). The project seeks to reassert the importance of rural Hoosier communities in the fabric of state history, architectural significance, and urban design.

4). Provide visual materials for community developers, the Indiana Office of Tourism Development, and other related humanities institutions.

5). The creation of a centralized, free, and accessible resource point (the project website) for the general public to gain access to the photography, learn more about historic preservation, and small Indiana town history.