Joe Jackson Hotel receives grant for renovations


A historic hotel in southwestern Jackson County received a boost in funding Thursday when the state announced the latest round of grant distributions for rural communities.

The Fort Vallonia Days Association received $225,000 in funding from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs to renovate the Joe Jackson Hotel, 2420 S. Main St., Vallonia.

Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch announced the funding as part of $10 million in grants administered to 19 rural communities throughout the state from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The association will be responsible for 10 percent, or $22,500, of the grant, secretary Jerry Hounshel said.

Joe Jackson Hotel committee members have raised about $30,000 over the years through monthly fish fries and other events, committee member Lula Wolka said.

The money will be used to renovate the interior and other improvements to convert the two-story brick hotel into a community center, complete electrical work, install plumbing and improve drainage. It was originally constructed in 1914 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Wolka said it can be a place for meetings, receptions and parties and give the youth of the community a place to gather. The building has also been open during the festival each fall for people to visit and gather.

“It gives a spark of life to our little town,” she said.

Wolka and others have worked since the late 1990s to restore and secure grants for the hotel.

Hounshel remembers the condition of the building when the association acquired it in March 1999 because of the value to the Fort Vallonia Days festival.

“The building was in shambles, and the roof was lying in the floor,” he said.

The association quickly formed a committee headed by Sally Waldkoetter to save the structure.

Persistence and hard work from dedicated volunteers brought the building back to life, Hounshel said. Now, their work will leave a legacy in the small unincorporated town.

“The people put their heart and soul into fundraisers and work,” Hounshel said. “It went from looking like it would fall down to being ready for drywall and other work.”

He said the building has had numerous volunteers from other organizations, like the Jackson County United Way Day of Caring and Duke Energy.

Wolka said it has been worth it, and smaller communities need to preserve buildings because it gives them an identity.

“This is a very historic area of Indiana, and we need to preserve some things because it’s who we are,” Wolka said.

She told her son, John, who is planning to move back here, about the grant, and he said he was excited for her and would continue the work she has done.

“He’s an engineer, and it’s exciting we have this grant,” Wolka said.

The goals of the Public Facilities Program are to improve the quality of place, generate jobs and spur economic revitalization through improving community facilities or historic preservation projects, according to a news release from the state.

Eligible community facilities include community centers, day cares, libraries, museums, senior centers and performance spaces.

“Rural communities are the next great economic frontier for our state, and it is vital they are receiving support to keep Indiana moving forward,” Crouch said. “With these funds, local governments are able to complete various projects like improving their infrastructure, downtown revitalization and public facilities improvements.”

The second round of the 2018 Community Development Block Grant Program will begin Monday with proposals due Oct. 5 and final applications due Nov. 30.

The Community Foundation of Jackson County also will provide $10,244 in matching grant dollars for the Vallonia project. Those grant dollars include $2,244 from the 2017 fall grant cycle, a $6,000 impact grant and $2,000 from the Schneider Nursery Inc. Unrestricted Community Fund administered by the foundation.

“The foundation has supported this project for 12 years through grants awarded as a result of our annual unrestricted and field of interest granting programs,” Foundation President and Chief Executive Officer Dan Davis said.

Volunteers in the Vallonia area have been strong advocates for the project over the years.

“The grant committee has been impressed by the grassroots efforts of the group in Vallonia who have worked diligently for many years to gradually move toward their goal of completing the renovation of the hotel,” said Priscilla Wischmeier, chairwoman of the foundation’s board of directors and leader of the grant committee.

“Local residents such as Sally Waldkoetter and Lu Wolka have been relentless in their efforts to save and restore the hotel with the goal of making it a valuable resource for the community,” Davis said.

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