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Off the beaten path

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Two thirsty cowboys descend from a winding forest trail and hitch their horses to a post. They saunter about 100 paces to the tavern to grab a beer, where a tattooed bartender is watching the only TV in town, and Patsy Cline’s voice drifts from the stereo. An elderly couple enjoys a post-lunch stroll in the garden, and in the distance, the high-pitched whine of a table saw means the handyman is hard at work, as usual.

story inn Story Inn owner Rick Hofstetter. (IL photo/Jenny Montgomery)

This is life in Story, a tiny patch of paradise that began as a logging town in 1850. By the time of the Great Depression, the village had begun to fade away, its residents leaving in search of new opportunities. Throughout the years, people tried unsuccessfully to find a new purpose for this place. But in 1999, attorney Rick Hofstetter bought the property and began transforming the cluster of aging buildings into one of Brown County’s most unusual tourist destinations.

Rooms and boards

Story’s main building – the Story Inn – is home to a restaurant, four upstairs guest rooms, and a tavern. Except for the addition of walk-out decks upstairs, the inn looks unchanged from 1916, when it was rebuilt following a fire.

“Any time that we add a building here, it’s functional and it fits the architecture,” he said.

Story has 14 guestrooms among eight buildings. From the inn’s “Blue Lady” room, where some guests have claimed to see a ghost, to the Treaty House, with its private hot tub, each room has its own character.

“No two are alike – they’re all different,” Hofstetter said. “The one thing that they have in common is that there’s no phones, no clocks, no radios, and no TVs.”

StoryInFactbox.gifAir-conditioning, indoor plumbing, and electricity, however, are standard amenities, even if not historically accurate.

Hofstetter and his wife, Angela, live on the property and share their home with three galloping, slobbering Great Danes who are as friendly as they are large. Since moving here, the Hofstetters have lived in three different buildings on the property. The first was The Old Mill Loft, which is the only room that has been renovated, rather than restored to its original state (because people don’t want to sleep in a dusty loft, Hofstetter said). The loft is now a relaxing guest room with vaulted ceilings and an open floor plan. A 250-gallon horse trough serves as a bath tub, and the room has a shower, for the less adventurous guest.

“We built this completely out of native lumber,” Hofstetter said. “Now, when I say native lumber, I mean native lumber that came from Story.” He explained that the trees were logged from a patch of land cleared for attorney Greg Garrison, who is building a large cabin that will house four more guestrooms. “And this is all jack pine from the Civilian Conservation Corps era – 1933 – where they planted the trees to hold the soil, but this is perfect barn wood, and they planted those trees there with the intention of giving us barn wood. Now we have it,” Hofstetter said.

Much of the wood used to create fences, replace siding, and build new structures comes from Brown County barns that have fallen into disrepair. Hofstetter used recycled barn wood to build Story’s horse barn just a few years ago, and he is pleased that the end result looks deceptively old. The barn’s 12-by-12 stalls are available for rent during summer months, for guests who need overnight accommodations for their four-hooved friends.
 

WEB EXTRA
Click here to see pictures of Story Inn.

After moving out of the loft, the Hofstetters lived in the Doc Story House, which sits on a hill overlooking the inn. While living there, they restored the blue house next to the inn, and finally settled there. Then they began restoring the Doc Story homestead, which is now a guest rental.

“It doesn’t look a whole lot different than it would’ve back in the day,” Hofstetter said. The windows and floors are all original, and Hofstetter added reproduction Victorian-era wallpaper and furniture. “This is very authentic to the 1860s,” he said.

Fresh food and drink

Story Inn’s restaurant uses fresh, local ingredients whenever possible.

“One of the things we focus on is, if we can grow it ourselves, we grow it,” Hofstetter said. “If we can’t grow it ourselves, we buy locally. If we can’t buy it locally, then we’ll just buy the best we can get our hands on, but the ingredients are very, very important.”

The dinner menu includes salmon, chicken, pork, certified natural Angus New York strip in a chanterelle cream sauce, and a vegetarian entrée, announced daily. Lunch offerings include a grilled Angus burger, made from beef supplied by Jasper’s Fischer Farms. For vegetarians, options include a grilled artichoke patty served on a croissant and a mixed field greens salad. The breakfast menu includes biscuits and gravy, made with sausage from Gunthorp Farms in LaGrange, seasoned with basil from Story Inn’s garden, and served over fresh buttermilk biscuits. Or try the banana walnut hotcakes, topped with syrup that Hofstetter orders by handwritten letter from an Amish farmer in the area.

story inn Story Inn owner Rick Hofstetter (above) converted this 250-gallon horse trough into a bathtub for one of the guestrooms. (IL photo/Jenny Montgomery)

Each month, the inn presents its Monthly Wine Dinner, which features four to five courses, made with local ingredients, each paired with a wine selection to highlight a varietal, region, winemaker, or special occasion. The dinners are $75 per person, which includes dinner, wine, tax, and gratuity. Space is limited to 30 guests, by reservation only.

The cozy cellar tavern, with recycled timber counter tops and bar stools made from tractor seats, is accessible from either the restaurant or an outdoor stairwell that connects with a patio. In 1932, this was where the Brown County sheriff confiscated a still. If you pick up a copy of Hofstetter and Jane Ammeson’s book, “Images of America – Brown County,” you can see a photo of the proud sheriff posing with his bounty. Nowadays, “We celebrate the action of yeast upon sugar here pretty much on a daily basis,” Hofstetter said.

A gathering place

The Story Inn hosts a variety of functions – weddings, family reunions, corporate retreats – and the large meadow behind the inn can hold thousands of people.

“We do have two big events a year, and one is the Indiana Wine Fair, which in 10 years has grown to be really about the largest wine event in the state,” Hofstetter said. “Believe it or not, our little place gets 5,000 people.”

story inn A weather-beaten tree swing offers a place to pause and think. (IL photo/Jenny Montgomery)

In September, Story will host the Hoosier Hops & Harvest beer-tasting festival, where visitors can sample craft beers from around the Midwest. A renovated century-old barn with a stage and 400 amps of power will showcase four bands, including Jimbo Mathus & The Tri-State Coalition. Mathus was a founding member of the Squirrel Nut Zippers, who topped the charts in 1997 with the big-band inspired single, “Hell.”

The road to recovery

Hofstetter, a business lawyer who was on the legal team that took the financial services firm Conseco public, enjoys cracking jokes about his profession.

“It’s a 12-step process to wean yourself from being a lawyer to being a productive member of society,” he said.

Hofstetter still teaches business law classes at Butler University, where his wife is a lecturer. And on occasion, he still puts his legal skills to use, as he did when he sold Garrison six acres overlooking Story’s open field.

“I wrote three pages of restrictive covenants into the deed for him – more onerous than I have ever put in for a client, because I own this, and I want to make sure that anything that goes up there doesn’t look like a trailer,” Hofstetter said. “So no vinyl siding, no aluminum – even the gutters and soffits have to be natural materials, the stone has to be native Brown County. I gave him the architectural styles he’s allowed to build – rustic log cabin is one of them, and that’s what he chose.”

Keeping this aging 18-acre retreat up-and-running is a lot of work, Hofstetter said. He makes a 40-mile roundtrip to a Columbus hardware store almost daily, because something is always in need of repair. But for Hofstetter, there’s nowhere he’d rather be.

“This sure beats practicing law,” he said.•

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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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