HANCOCK COUNTY — Jan Viehwey has lived in Hancock County for 30 years, but she’d never seen the Octagon House in Shirley until Friday.

Viehwey and about two dozen other people involved with the Hancock County Community Foundation traveled the county by bus on Friday to visit with community leaders and learn about their town’s unique histories.

The “Community Plunge” bus tour celebrates the recipients of the foundation’s Celebrating Communities grants, which aim to make Hancock County a better place to work, live and play.

Members of the Jane Ross Reeves Octagon House Foundation showed off their new sign to Viehwey, a community foundation board member, and the others who boarded a charter bus for the ride across the county. The organization received $2,000 to improve the sign for the small town’s historic building.

Yolanda Miller, a donor who joined the bus tour to see the effect of her contribution, found herself charmed by the Octagon House, an eight-sided home moved to the town of Shirley in 1997 and renovated by a core group of about 20 people.

Their efforts led to the the building, which draws tourists interested in unique architecture, to be registered as an Indiana landmark and listed on the Historic American Buildings Survey by the Library of Congress.

“It’s amazing what a group of people can do,” Miller said.

The bus full of donors and board members traveled to seven locations in the county where Celebrating Communities grants were received and used for local improvements, from bike racks in New Palestine to history panels on the Pennsy Trail in Greenfield.

Wayne Addison, a three-year member of the grants committee, took on the role of unofficial emcee on the bus trip, he said. He shared information about the grants as well as the communities the bus stopped to visit. There was no trouble hearing the auctioneer with the booming voice above the chatter on board.

“I come with a built-in mic,” he joked.

The group stopped for lunch at the Fortville Community Center to see what the town of Fortville did with a $4,400 Celebrating Communities grant. The town partnered with Fortville Action Inc. to post exterior signage on the community center building, formerly a Boys and Girls Clubs of Hancock County satellite club.

Joe Renner, Fortville town manager, shared business updates with the group while thanking donors for their support of the community.

That support extends far beyond just what the town received most recently, he said.

Town leaders have received grant funding to improve the site since it was built, said grant officer Kara Harrison.

Construction in the late ‘90s was aided by a multi-year $50,000 grant from the foundation, she said.

More recently, Fortville leaders undertook a $14,000 project to install acoustic panels in the gymnasium. A $9,500 grant from the foundation went toward the completion of the project, Renner said.

“You couldn’t communicate at all in there before,” he said. “You walked out of here like you just went to a rock concert.”

The goal is to have a community center Fortville can promote as a place to hold events like wedding receptions or dinners, Renner said.

The community plunge is a great way to see the pride Hancock County communities take in their towns and what they have to offer, said Viehwey.

“This county has some great small towns,” she said.

At a glance

A dozen Celebrating Communities grants, totaling $65,000, were disbursed by the Hancock County Community Foundation to eight different entities in the two-year grant cycle. 

Recipient: Town of Cumberland

Total: $6,000

For: Mt. Comfort corridor development study 

Recipient: Town of Cumberland

Total: $4,050

For: Unified signage in Cumberland

Recipient: Town of Fortville

Total: $4,440

For: Exterior signs on Fortville Community Center building

Recipient: Town of Fortville

Total: $4,050

For: Unified signage in Fortville

Recipient: City of Greenfield

Total: $5,500

For: North Street Living Alley

Recipient: Greenfield Parks and Recreation

Total: $4,910

For: Pennsy Trail history panel

Recipient: Greenfield Parks and Recreation

Total: $3,000

For: Reading with Riley statue

Recipient: Town of McCordsville

Total: $6,000

For: Mt. Comfort corridor development study

Recipient: Town of New Palestine

Total: $8,000

For: Artistic bike racks

Recipient: Shirley Centennial and Historical Society

Total: $10,000 

For: Playground ($8,000) and Octagon House sign ($2,000)

Recipient: Town of Wilkinson

Total: $5,000

For: speed monitor trailer

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Rorye Hatcher is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at ​317-477-3211 or rhatcher@greenfieldreporter.com.