~story and photo by Jeff Tryon
For over a century, the Village Green Building at 61 West Main Street has stood as a silent witness and major participant in the life and history of Nashville.
In that time, it has served as an important civic space, housing fraternal lodges, essential businesses, and the artists and shops that have become the economic backbone of the town.
For most of its existence, it was Brown County’s “skyscraper,” the only three-story building in the county.
The town was experiencing an economic boom in the early 1900s, and fraternal lodges, including the Masons and the Knights of Pythias, were also thriving.
In 1906, the Nashville Masonic lodge decided to build its first permanent home in its 58 years of existence, purchasing lot 117 in the old town plat from William A. Mason for $250.
In 1909, one of the most disastrous fires in Nashville history destroyed the nearby Knights of Pythias hall, along with many buildings to the east and south. The Knights worked out a deal with the Masonic lodge for a joint fraternity building.
The result was a three-story brick building which, when completed and occupied in 1910, was by far the largest building in Brown County.
The two lodges occupied separate halls on the third floor, while the second floor was rented out as office space, including doctor’s offices, and the first floor to merchants.
One of the early tenants of the east half of the first floor was the old Calvin Brothers Hardware store, operated by Dennis and Duard Calvin for more than 40 years. The west half of the first floor had a succession of tenants, including the newspaper, the post office, and a restaurant.
During the depression years of the 1930s, the Knights of Pythias ceased to be an active lodge, although their crest still adorns the building.
The Masonic signs and symbols embellish the front of the building, but by 1956, the lodge was once more planning a new home. The old hall was considered rickety, inconvenient, and no longer adequate. The building was sorely in need of repair and extensive renovation.
In 1960, the Village Green Building was sold to Kirk Bassett of Columbus, who had a vision for what the building should be and the wherewithal to give it a thorough facelift.
“From the beginning we thought of it as a dignified landmark that would house only studios and small shops, attracting tourists, but more importantly, catering to county interests,” Basset told the local paper.
He said he turned down several potential tenants because he felt they didn’t fit in with what he thought the landmark building should be.
The building was completely rejuvenated with new concrete floors and partitions. Air conditioning was added along with other improvements.
Local artists Fred Rigley, Clayton Baker, Kaye Pool, Lillian Dunnigan, and Dorthea Frantz moved in. Other new tenants included a kindergarten, dance studio, and a craft workshop , The Heritage Shop, Farm Bureau Insurance, and Brown County Office Supply.
At that time, the adjoining alley on the east side of the building, Honeysuckle Lane, was opened for the first time and paved “straight through to Franklin Street” with an eye to creating an “Artists Lane” to connect with Alice Weaver’s “Antique Alley.”
In 1967 the building was sold to the Walter Miller family. After his retirement, Walter and June Miller established a gift and antique store on the second floor.
In 1977, Frank Miller established The Candy Dish and Richard Miller established Miller’s Ice Cream House, both on the ground floor. Frank Miller opened The Harvest Preserve shop in 1980.
Today, the building remains much as it was built, inside and out. The interior stairways and corridors, offices, and lodge areas retain their original character.
The B3 Gallery occupies the central second floor space. Artist’s studios and River Light Yoga occupy the old lodge rooms on the third floor, which is closed to visitors.
B3 Gallery offers Indiana-made functional and fine art with a selection of jewelry, paintings, photography, pottery, glass, woodworking, fiber arts, mosaics, and more.
On the ground floor, flocks of visitors tend to their sweeter attractions at the long-time Nashville people pleasers; the Candy Dish, Harvest Preserve, and Miller’s Ice Cream.
The Candy Dish is a wonderland of confectionary treats including homemade fudge, handmade chocolates, 50 flavors of taffy, gourmet caramels, hard candy, imported licorice, kid’s novelty candy, and roasted nuts.
Miller’s has been serving real ice cream, featuring 23 famous flavors plus one special seasonal flavor, all made the old-fashioned way. At the height of the season, they make over 100 gallons of ice cream a day.