READI 1.0 project in Huntingburg activates alley and downtown connections

If you look down Huntingburg’s recently renovated alley on 4th Street around lunchtime, you will often see a variety of residents and visitors sitting and enjoying their time together.

It’s an example of cultural convergence in this Indiana Uplands city and one of the reasons why Huntingburg is special, according to Mayor Neil Elkins.

“It’s interesting to walk through and see the different cultures in Huntingburg,” said Mayor Elkins. “Our population includes those of German heritage, newer Haitian and Vietnamese residents, and other Hispanic populations. They are all sitting in the alley together, enjoying lunches or taking breaks. The convergence of different cultures makes it special.”

Huntingburg also boasts one of the state’s largest annual Latino festivals, the ALASI Latino Culture Fest, which returns to Market Street Park August 30-31.

Not far from Market Street Park on 4th Street, strings of lights crisscross above a historic alley, now adorned with brightly colored furniture and flowers. Once a bare alleyway, it has been transformed into an ideal spot for community connections and outdoor dining. This project received Indiana Uplands READI 1.0 funding, which allowed Huntingburg to enhance the area with planters, lighting, public art, and outdoor tables and chairs for use by patrons of nearby restaurants.

The alley serves as a pedestrian access corridor between busy 4th Street, with its unique shopping and dining opportunities, and the historic Huntingburg Memorial Gym, where regional and sectional basketball games attract between 5,000 and 6,000 spectators. A new parking lot at the end of the alley also provides additional parking for downtown.

Soon, the alley will also have a restaurant on one side and a bourbon bar with a lunch menu on the other as the owners of Huntingburg’s newest addition, Butcher and Barrel, finish remodeling an old bank and the former Overtime restaurant building.

The Huntingburg Alley Activation project will officially be completed in July after artist Pamela Bliss paints a mural in the alley. Some may recognize her mural work on the sides of buildings in Indianapolis that feature Reggie Miller and Kurt Vonnegut. Bliss also painted the John Mellencamp mural in Seymour. In Huntingburg, Bliss will paint a mural of a student dunking a basketball and will incorporate clay to celebrate the city’s pottery industry history. The city also plans to stencil directional markers on the recently repaved alleyway between 4th Street and the gym to guide people to and from both areas. 

“The alley will be a refreshment area and a connection to 4th Street, the gymnasium, and local history,” Elkins said.

This alley activation project has been so successful that the city is now considering a similar project in another nearby alley. Elkins said he has heard from downtown building owners that the reimagined alley has inspired more business in the city. A new ice cream shop and a Cuban bakery will be two of the newest businesses to open their doors on 4th Street later this year.

Other downtown businesses have also experienced a boost. The Around the Corner shop is located just behind the alley, and the owners have reported a “substantial increase” to their business, Elkins said. “In the past, they were like that place that was around the corner and out of sight. They now feel connected to 4th Street,” he said.

Baseball, bites, and beats

There is no crying in baseball, especially in Huntingburg, where the movie A League of Their Own was filmed at the historic Huntingburg League Stadium. The iconic stadium, first built in 1894 and renovated in the 1990s, served as the home field for the Rockford Peaches in the movie starring Tom Hanks and Madonna. 

“When we talk about quality of place, a lot of our traction is around music, baseball, food, and drink,” Elkins said. “We don’t have to go somewhere else to have those experiences, which is unusual for a community our size.”

Elkins said the city is stepping up activities this summer with train trips from Jasper to League Stadium to see the Dubois County Bombers, a summer collegiate baseball team featuring players from rosters throughout the United States. Spectators can board the Spirit of Jasper Train Depot to ride in style to Huntingburg, where they will catch a charter bus to see a special pregame showdown between the Rockford Peaches and the Racine Belles, followed by a Bombers game. The first trip in June sold out, and two more trips are planned for July 13 and August 10.

In addition to its popular sports attractions, Elkins describes the city as a “foodie area,” with visitors from all over flocking to unique restaurants such as Mama T’s Steakhouse. “If you don’t have reservations, you don’t get in on the weekends. They have great steaks and Italian food,” Elkins said.

Yard Goat Artisan Ales is another well-known foodie destination on 4th Street, serving up pizza and craft-brewed artisan ales. Huntingburg Grind Coffee and Tea Co. is a popular spot for hot sandwiches and drinks at lunchtime.

Huntingburg’s unique downtown, vibrant sports culture, and fun community events recently helped it land on Smithsonian Magazine’s Best Small Towns to Visit List. Elkins said he was thrilled to see Huntingburg recognized with other impressive small towns across the country.

“I’ve been to just about all of those other locations, and I enjoy them. To be put in that same realm as those other cities was very impressive,” he said.

Live music is another key aspect of the city’s culture. Every spring, the Garden Gate Festival draws visitors to enjoy live jazz while savoring exquisite wines and craft beers. The city also hosts a Fourth Friday Concert series at Market Street Park, and on August 24, country star Trace Adkins will headline the Red, White, and Brauen Festival at League Stadium.

For nature enthusiasts, Huntingburg offers beautiful parks and a 178-acre lake, perfect for fishing, with a scenic two-mile walking trail encircling it. The city is also nearing completion of the Northside Park and Trail project, which will connect the park to a fish pond with a new dock via a walking path.

Huntingburg is also known for its lively “strolls” through Historic Downtown 4th Street. The Huntingburg Merchants Association hosts strolling events with activities and shopping throughout the year, including a Chocolate Valentine Stroll, the Daffodil Stroll in the spring, the Pumpkin Stroll in the fall, and its most popular Christmas Stroll in early November.

Elkins noted that these unique amenities, coupled with the community’s low cost of living, low crime rates, and increasing housing opportunities, are all reasons people should consider making Huntingburg their home.

To stay up to date on all of the happenings in Huntingburg, visit the Destination Huntingburg website.