Not too long ago, the streets of Bargersville’s historic downtown were quiet and still on evenings and weekends.
That’s no longer the case.
Diners chat over an Exemption tripel and a burger on the patio of Taxman Brewing Co. House-smoked pork, chicken and brisket waft from Johnson’s BBQ Shack.
Shouts of encouragement and exertion ring out from CGX Fitness, a newly opened Crossfit gym. Patrons browse paintings, carvings and other artwork in Portal Unlimited’s gallery, or shop for one-of-a-kind clothing at Outer Grace Boutique.
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The revitalization of downtown Bargersville is progressing, as community leaders have worked to make the town an attractive destination. Recent additions such as Taxman and Johnson’s BBQ Shack have been established as regional favorites, bringing people from all over the area to town.
Mainstays such as Bargersville Bar & Grill and Pump House Antiques are thriving. New businesses are moving in.
“Johnson’s BBQ and the Taxman people, they’ve blazed the trail. People are taking a chance here,” said Dianna Porter, artist and founder of Portal Unlimited. “There is a lot of great things happening now. It’s well worth the visit.”
Growth in the Bargersville area has been accelerating during the past decade, more so in the past five years.
What was a quiet town of 2,120 in 2000 has ballooned to 4,013 in 2010. Census estimates for 2016 put the population at 7,213, an 80 percent rise in just six years.
New housing developments are planned for the formerly rural areas around the town, so much so that as Center Grove schools planned for a new elementary school, officials opted for a construction site just north of Bargersville.
A growing population has kick-started the development of downtown.
The centerpiece has been the opening of Taxman Brewing in 2014. Owners renovated the historic Tri-State Bolt building at the corner of Baldwin and Harriman streets, turning it from a vacant storefront to a rustic gathering place filled with reclaimed wood, modern furniture and funky lighting.
A menu filled with unique fare such as pan-fried veal and Belgian frites served as a compliment to the Belgian-inspired beers and immediately made it a southside destination for both foodies and beer aficionados.
“When we started Taxman, a lot of friends and family were like, ‘You’re building a brewery where?’ There was always that reaction. But it’s an up-and-coming area, and it’s been great,” said Bryan Fisk, a partial owner of the brewery. “The town has embraced Taxman.”
The success of Taxman impacted Fisk’s next business venture, CGX Fitness. The Crossfit gym and workout facility was founded in 2016, after a group of seven Crossfit enthusiasts and investors opened their own gym in the area.
They started in a small garage in the Center Grove area. As it quickly added members, the gym needed a new home. They found one downtown, which has been ideal from a community-growing standpoint.
“We have several members who live in town and walk to the gym on a daily basis,” Fisk said. “Bargersville is growing, and it’s going to continue to grow, so it’s a great spot to be.”
That potential growth, while still offering reasonable rent, is what attracted Porter.
A trained illustrator, Porter also works in fine art and portrait art out of her home. The Greenwood resident works by day designing show choir uniforms in Indianapolis, but Porter dreamed of opening a studio and gallery someday.
Bargersville seemed like a perfect place to do so, she said.
Portal Unlimited had its grand opening June 3. The gallery features Porter’s own original art as well as prints, and works from guest artists are available for purchase on consignment. Sculptures and woodcarvings are strategically placed on pedestals and on display cases around the space.
Porter will be doing commissioned portraits and other projects in a small studio, and plans to provide art lessons.
“I hope it can bring even more people to Bargersville. I want people to come in here all the time. I want to have something going on, people in here creating,” she said.
The increase in new businesses coincides with a larger community effort to improve downtown. The town formed its own Main Street organization to advocate for the downtown area.
In 2015, Bargersville received the $40,000 grant from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs to pay for a downtown revitalization study. The study focused on ways to encourage entrepreneurs and new businesses to come to the downtown area.
Recommendations made by RATIO Design, an Indianapolis architecture firm, advocated more organized public parking, beautified streets, clear signage and enhanced public gathering spaces.
Town and community leaders already have started investing in those types of improvements. A Founder’s Fountain transformed a formerly unused patch of grass into a meeting place with bubbling rock fountains, landscaped gardens and a brick paver walkway.
With support from the Johnson County Community Foundation, the town created a colorful mural that greets visitors at downtown’s main intersection. Local planners would like to place a greenway trail along Old Plank Road to link the historic downtown to the busier commercial district along State Road 135.
At the same time, town officials have taken advantage of the downtown block to host unique events.
The annual fall festival features carnival rides, vendors, live music and other activities, drawing a crowd of about 1,000 people, said Kelly Higdon, event coordinator for the Town of Bargersville.
The Santa Train, a program of the Indiana Rail Road, has made Bargersville a regular stop each December. The bright red train pulls in and stops on the tracks that run straight through downtown, and kids line up to see Santa Claus.
“It’s gotten so huge that we’ve had to add an additional Santa Claus. The Indiana Rail Road has such a tight schedule, the train can continue and Santa will move to town hall,” Higdon said.
A summer concert series planned for the next three months will include country, rock and bluegrass on a stage set up at town hall.
“We’re just trying to build community involvement and community enrichment,” Higdon said. “The town is 22 square miles total, and people are spread all over. So it’s important to try to bring everyone together.”