The home of Polks Best included over 3000 farmland acres, expanding operations to dairy processing and the packaging and distribution of military food stores during World War 1. J.T. Polk’s original vision of a simple canning factory had expanded far beyond anything that he could have imagined. His vision always seemed to be the precursor of bigger things to come. His discovery of a mineral springs that produced Greenwood Mineral Water resulted, ultimately, in the construction of the Greenwood Sanitorium, a 30 room retreat of mineral baths and wise health counsel. The sanitorium was destroyed by fire in 1914 and not rebuilt.
Polk passed out of this world in February of 1919. His son Ralph seemed to have little interest in the canning factory, nor shared the vision of his father. The canning facility was soon leased to the Indiana Packing Company which took over day to day operations. Ralph and his wife Grace built a house on the SW corner of Euclid and Madison Ave, naming the residence “Maples.” When Ralph died in 1952, Grace resided in “Maples” until her death in the mid 60s. Both are buried in the Greenwood Cemetery.
When J.T. Polk passed away his will provided funds for the construction of a community building for the residents of Greenwood. It was built on the NW corner of Madison Ave and Broadway – the dedication held on February 5th, 1920. The center became home to the Greenwood Public Library and the acting troop – Greenwood Community Players. It housed an auditorium, gymnasium, and pool. The years marched on and in 1961 the Polk heirs relinquished all rights to the property by deeding it to the city. In 1967, after 50 years of service, the center was closed and boarded up. Years of neglect took their toll, yet the community eyesore was restored in the early 1980s for the sum total of $900,000. In 1986 City Hall took up residence for over 7 years and then moved on. Presently, some of Greenwood’s city offices are located in Polk’s community gesture.
The Stokely Company (later known as Stokely-Van Camp) purchased the business for use as a canning operation and warehouse in 1930. During World War 2 the canning factory and vendor farmers used German and Italian P.O.Ws from nearby Camp Atterbury as a source of labor. Stokely continued operations until 1959 when it moved north to Indianapolis.
Time continued to roll along its steady path. The acreage the Polk operation once occupied was put to other uses. Immediately east of Polk Street a small subdivision of houses grew up around the remnants of former Polk employee homes. Today these homes are echoes from the past as they co-exist amongst newer houses. Farther east, we have the Valle Vista section of apartments and golf course occupying ground which once saw cattle and dairy barns. Only 4 of the former cannery buildings survived progress.
In 1977 local developer Merrill Jones purchased and converted the former 65,000 sq ft canning complex into a series of office spaces. Despite Jones’ initial restoration efforts Polk Place began a slow decline over the decades and ultimately faced demolition. Enter husband and wife team Randy & Julie Faulkner and their company Peak Home Improvements, purchasing the buildings in December of 2008 and beginning renovations a little over a year later. The Faulkners have been firm about retaining the building’s original design and integrity during the process: roughly 80% of the 1907 brick has been retained. Leasing of office space in the facility is almost complete and the Faulkners, and Greenwood for that matter, are excited about what will come in the rebirth of a pivotal landmark in Greenwood Indiana’s history.
Polk Place in the early 2000s was a popular hangout destination for the teenage crowd. Any element of folklore has to have its origins. Did it begin with these teenage urban explorers on those nights when the silent buildings seemed to resonate with something unworldly? Reports of tall shadows shifting in the darkness, voices without a source, and the general creepy feeling of being watched – all unnerving; maybe all manufactured by an over active imagination. Who’s to say? Folks associated with the Polk Cannery have come and gone, yet remants of the Polk era still remain. Possibly some of the remants of these folks also still remain.