A Look at Bowling Green and Poland, Indiana

A Look at Bowling Green and Poland, Indiana

The communities of Bowling Green and Poland are agricultural communities within West Central Indiana’s Clay County. While they may be small compared to surrounding towns, both have rich histories and are home to hidden gem businesses and residents that keep the communities on the map.

The town of Bowling Green was the first county seat and held the county’s first courthouse, which was completed in 1828. It was incorporated as a town in 1869, but eventually lost the county seat to neighboring city Brazil in 1876 when the emergence of manufacturing and the National Road made it an essential area for the county. This was a controversial decision that led to the courthouse being moved to Brazil overnight because the Bowling Green community was so outraged about losing the seat. Today, Bowling Green has approximately 1,097 residents and has seen a population growth of 9.5 percent since 2020.

Poland, Indiana is named for James A. Poland, a blacksmith who opened his shop in 1839. In 1841, J.B. Nees wanted to start a town and convened the other three landowners to set aside land, hence creating the township of Poland. Today, it boasts a population of 3,225.

The Residents Make the Community

While Poland and Bowling Green are home to several independently owned small businesses, many residents choose to live in town and commute to neighboring Vigo County for work. Individuals who were not born and raised in Clay County moved there for a sense of community and because they wanted to raise their families in a place that affords a certain way of life. The communities are also home to those who choose to spend their retirement in a small town — individuals like former Eli Lilly and Company scientists, one of whom helped develop Prozac for the pharmaceutical company.

Scott Tieken is a resident of Poland. He grew up in southern Indiana on a large farm that raised 200 cattle and exotic animals. Scott eventually left his small town and worked in various corporate jobs and is now the director of career services for Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute. He and his family also own and operate Samara Acres, which produces honey, maple syrup and goat milk soap.

“My wife and I wanted a great place to raise our kids,” said Scott. “She grew up with horses and I grew up with cows, and we wanted to live in a community with those things we grew up with. We moved to [Poland] to get away from city life and find responsibility for our kids and family.”

Scott and his wife moved to Poland in 2006, the year his daughter was born. They bought a house on State Route 42, not knowing the area or anyone in town. He admits it’s been a fantastic community with so many great people that are proud of the town’s heritage and history.

Dawn Cook, owner of Cook’s Corner restaurant in Poland, did not grow up in Poland or Indiana, for that matter. A Midwest transplant from the Pacific Northwest, Cook and her husband were visiting friends in Clay County over a decade ago when they found themselves lost on a country road. A local resident, whom she’d never met before, pulled over to help the Cooks find their way.

Dawn remembered that being a life-defining moment, and thinking that type of community and hospitality would never happen where she lived on the west coast. Soon after, she and her husband left Oregon to make Indiana their home. Dawn started Cook’s Corner because she saw a need for “simple food in a small town setting.”

Residents talk about the deep sense of community that Poland and Bowling Green have, which is seen in the preservation and upkeep of local buildings and gathering places. The Poland Historic Chapel was built in 1869 for a mere $1,500. While the congregation disbanded in the mid 20th century, residents saw the building as a community treasure and a central place for residents to continue gathering. In the 1960s, a group of citizens worked to restore the building and it is now registered in the Indiana Historical Registry. Today, the chapel hosts community events including musicals, author series, serves as a wedding venue and home to Poland’s annual Christmas performance.

Herbert Park in Poland is another example of how residents came together to preserve a central part of its community. The Poland Park as it was originally named, was initially overseen by the Clay County Parks and Recreation Department. When the county decided it no longer wanted to be in the parks oversight business, Scott Tieken and other residents helped the park caretaker with upkeep of the park. New swing sets and playground equipment were added. Resident Pam (Tabor) Scott coordinated an Easter egg hunt at the park. Eventually, residents started a Lions Club with the intent of overseeing the park. The Lions Club purchased the park, and it was renamed for Betty Herbert who donated equipment and had a vision for a safe and well-kept park where kids can play.

Business in Poland and Bowling Green

There are close to 30 small businesses in Poland and Bowling Green combined, which range from restaurants, farms, fireworks wholesaler, heating and air conditioning repair, and construction companies, just to name a few. Oftentimes, one of the issues that deters people from starting small businesses in rural communities is a lack of internet connectivity. However, that is not the case in Poland and Bowling Green. Endeavor Communications is a cooperative business that serves Clay County with fiber optic technology. Their technology enables homes and small businesses to connect to the Internet with better speed than many of its larger surrounding cities, including Terre Haute.

While each and every shop in Poland and Bowling Green has an origin story worth sharing, two businesses put these communities on the map and are rarely known within their own hometowns.

Bowling Green resident Marvin Clarke is a farmer who found himself in the music tour bus industry. Marvin found it challenging that a driver of a large tour bus was within the same physical space as the band being transported. He wanted to create a vehicle that separated the driver from the band and its activities. Thus, BandWagon RV Rentals, LLC was created.

The BandWagon RV was designed for the specific purpose of entertainer touring, combining the comfort, amenities, durability and functionality of a tour bus with the ease of use of an RV. BandWagons sleep up to ten people and provide many of the luxury features found on large tour buses, but without added costs, licenses and regulations. BandWagon has become nationally known with countless bands within the country music, rock and metal scenes renting their tour buses from BandWagon RV in Bowling Green.

Bowling Green is also home to Clayshire Castle. This 10,000-square-foot medieval-style castle serves as a bed and breakfast and event space. It’s owned and operated by Mary Jo and Doug Smock, former Indianapolis residents who retired to Bowling Green (Doug was an aerospace engineering with Rolls Royce and Mary Jo was a pediatrician). The wanted to build their dream castle, after being inspired by medieval fairs their family enjoyed for years. Their daughter was instrumental in drawing up the plans for the castle and it was built by a local contractor.

Clayshire Castle opened to the public in 2013. The Smocks live in the east side of the castle while guests stay in the five bedrooms on the west side. The Great Hall can accommodate 100 guests and is often used for company dinners, family reunions, weddings and celebrations. Medieval dinners can be provided by special arrangement for groups of 10 to 20 guests. The castle contains a library, basement game room, costume room and exercise room. It sits on 120 acres, which includes a 3.5-acre pond, hedge maze and a large lawn chess game.

Every September, Clayshire Castle hosts a medieval fair that is spread out over the entire property. The fair includes vendors, jousting, combat fighting, archery, ax throwing, food and much more. Attendees travel to Bowling Green from all over Indiana to attend the medieval fair at Clayshire Castle.

Bowling Green and Poland may not be large cities or destination towns. But their residents have come to live in these communities that stand for a strong sense of place. They have worked hard to preserve their landmarks through the upkeep of historical buildings, while assuring the future —children — still have a quality local park to go and play. They are towns that support small business and buy local. And they are communities where the phrase most-commonly heard from residents is this: anyone will pitch in and help when you need it.

To learn more about the Clay County Community Builders Institute, please contact Jonathan Eilbracht, Clay County Community Engagement Officer, at jonathan@wvcf.org.

Article written by Leah Singer, a freelance writer who lives in the Wabash Valley.