My favorite quarterly magazine is American Bungalow. It’s small, niche, and expensive, but it’s worth every penny for articles like the one in the summer 2008 edition titled “Brining Back Stinesville.”

Nancy Hiller wrote this amazing piece on the town of Stinesville, IN and the preservation group Bloomington Restorations, Inc. In the 1990’s Stinesville’s population had dropped to around 200. The buildings were deteriorating, commerce was lacking. BRI is the patron saint of the dying small town, its chief goal to convert run down, abandoned and dilapidated buildings into affordable, historical housing. BRI came to Stinesville.

BRI isn’t a housing developer. They aren’t making millions on tract homes in cookie-cutter developments. They are revitalizing small towns using the existing community and in turn preserving the history built by past residents. What’s old – in some cases very, very old – is quite new again indeed.

I’m from a small town that gave into the need for housing by giving up hundreds of acres of land to developers. Where I once saw rolling green hills and long stretches of dirt road when I was a kid, I now find a Staples, a Wal-Mart and a thousand identical houses when I visit. It saddens me to no end that small towns across America suffer downsizing as residents flee to new shiny cities and developments, but I also understand the practicality of the decision.

BRI understands it too, and a fantastic excerpt from Hiller’s article explains their motivations:

“BRI completed its first Stinesville project with the restoration of the historic Hoadley House, which had been constructed near the end of the 19th century for the family whose limestone works had contributed so centrally to Stinesville’s one-time prosperity.

“Guided by a 1912 photograph, the BRI team created a diminutive three-bedroom house that today, with its artfully rebuilt front porch, positively shines in the morning sun.

“BRI also managed the restoration of the town’s old doctor’s office. A tiny frame structure with kicked eaves and a cozy front porch that once functioned as a waiting room, the office was built in the 1890’s. After being restored and made habitable, the 450-square foot cottage was sold to a local social-service worker in 2006 for $45,000.”
The last few lines of the article sum up the story of Stinesville perfectly, and give new hope to a hundred other dying towns across the US:

“In a world where claims of “New!” and “Better!” are almost deafening, Stinesville’s quiet renewal after nearly a century of decline is proof that new isn’t always better. Sometimes, old can work.”

The article isn’t up online yet, but you can find the magazine in any Whole Foods or Borders. Check it out if you have a chance, and if you’re in the area, try to visit Stinesville.