By Kim Madlom
When it comes to social capital, Knightstown is rich — rich with citizens who support community events, youth academic and sports programs, and one another.
“The people make Knightstown special,” says City Council Vice President Landon Dean. “I know every town says that, but the hospitality here is real. No matter where you go, you’re welcomed by truly nice people and a genuine smile.”
The commitment to the community is also genuine, he says, with people volunteering their time and talents as coaches, scout leaders, firefighters, Sunday school teachers and organizers and workers for dozens of other activities.
Dean grew up in Knightstown and graduated from the local high school where he took his physical education classes in the famous Hoosier Gym. He raised three children here, and now, his grandchildren are growing up in his hometown.
“The crime rate is low,” he says. “The fire and police departments are great. Everything is safe here. We’ve got good organizations doing great work, including our chamber of commerce and Main Street programs. It’s a great place to raise a family.”
In addition to citizens, Dean says businesses also support and invest in the community, and having two strong banks, Citizens and First Merchants, is important to the local economy.
“Both of these banks are investing money in Knightstown,” Dean says. “And the people who work in the banks are investing time by attending events and sitting on the boards of our organizations.”
A Bright Future
Dean says Knightstown has faced the same challenges as other rural communities. While the locally owned shoe stores and suit and dress shops have closed, new businesses are opening on the charming town square that now features antique, specialty and gift shops. Several good restaurants have opened around the square and elsewhere in town, including Los Charros D&G Mexican Grill and Bar, The Burch Tree Cafe & Bakery, and others.
The planned addition of mini-sheds, or chalets, will create more economic activity downtown. The small structures will allow entrepreneurs to rent space, set up shop and sell their crafts and services. Larger businesses from outside the community can also rent space to showcase their goods and services.
New homes are being built in the city limits and surrounding area. A condominium plan for downtown will provide an option for older residents who want to downsize their homes but stay in the area.
Thanks to the Hoosier Gym and Community Center, Knightstown draws approximately 70,000 visitors annually from across the country and around the world.
Volunteers Are Vital
“The Hoosier Gym is a special place,” says Bill Gorman, a lifelong resident of Knightstown. “There were four ballgames there yesterday. It takes volunteers and support to keep all that going, and those are the kinds of things that hold this community together.”
Gorman, who is retired but active in the community, exemplifies the volunteer spirit that Dean says helps keep the community vibrant. He is chair of the Cheer Guild and treasurer of Knightstown Kids Inc.
“Knightstown could have been like some other small towns – destined to disappear,” Dean says. “But that didn’t happen because of the people. It’s not a mistake or a fluke that the community is thriving. A lot of people have worked hard to make that happen.”
History of the Hoosier Gym
Realizing their teams needed a place to play ball, the Knightstown community raised money through donations and activities and built a basketball gym and community house in 1921. The gym had a great run, even hosting some professional and college basketball teams. It was expanded to include space for high school music, art and science programs. However, when a new sports facility was built to serve the high school, the gym closed in 1966. But a film crew brought the gym back to life for the movie “Hoosiers,” released in 1986. About one-third of the hit movie was filmed inside the gym. Now known as the Hoosier Gym and Community Center, the gym draws 70,000 visitors to Knightstown each year and is host to almost daily events.