Better Blocks Project – The Elks Lodge in Middlesboro, KY

During the last few weeks, I have been fortunate enough to be able to help the Middlesboro, KY Better Blocks group. One of my good friends lives in Middlesboro, and asked me to help him come up with some ideas for the Better Blocks project.

What is the Better Blocks project?

As Better Block’s facebook page states: “The Better Block is a tool for communities to complete “living charrettes” or demonstration zones that implement “complete streets”, enable economic development in dormant areas, and enliven public spaces.”

The Better blocks project is a down-up approach to literally doing that, making better blocks. Started by Jason Roberts and Andrew Howard, Better blocks is a tool that demonstrates that areas can be re-envisioned to create vibrant livable neighborhood centers, aka living space.

I think Jason Roberts explained it well during his Ted Talk in 2012. Watch the following video to watch what he says. I love the concept of creating weekend long project that show community leaders and policy-makers that their neighborhoods can be better, and that residents want them to be more interactive and places worth being.

Watch for the great advice at the end of the video:

  • Show Up
  • Give it a Name
  • Set a date and publish it (Blackmail yourself)

 The Elks Lodge –

One of the goals of the project at the Elks Lodge is to garner attention for a potential future renovation of the building. The building was originally built in 1911, and served as a convalescent home of the Benevolent and Protective order of Elks for less than a decade. Afterwards, the building served as a hospital. Many of the citizens living in Middlesboro today were born there.

Acquisition of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks Home occurred by Discover Downtown Middlesboro in December 2012, and there are applications pending with the US Environmental Protection Agency and the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection for clean up of hazardous building materials inside the building.

The hope is to transform the empty dilapidated building into a mixed-used building with housing and offices, as well as retail and eateries on the ground floor.

As stated from the Discover Downtown Middlesboro website: “The Elks Home will also be a focal point of the upcoming Better Block Middlesborough event on Saturday, May 10. Storefronts will be brought back to life through the installation of a pop-up museum, signage, and exhibits. Additionally, several other temporary interventions will take place on this block including a pop-up cafe located at our Makers Market, a landscaped walkway near the middle of the block, and other improvements to plant the seed for long-term change”




Why renovate or restore historic areas?

There are a number of benefits of restoring historic buildings and communities. Some of these include:

  • It is an efficient use of resources. By using materials that are already there, it takes considerable less energy to mine, create, or harvest new building materials.
  • Buildings were meant to last forever, and craftsmen used different building techniques than they do today. Throughout renovation, modern craftsmen learn time-tested techniques to include on new construction, therefore improving the life-cycle (and other aspects) of new buildings.
  • Renovating older buildings can add charm to a community, and emphasize uniqueness as well as its history.
  • It can attract investment and change the nature of a deteriorating area, stimulating growth and development.
  • Many times these buildings have stood empty because they have outlived their previous use. Historic preservation provides an opportunity for the imaginative re-use of a building, and often times solves a community problem.
  • Many of these spaces can become meeting spaces for the community to get to know one another, and strengthen the community bond.

 How can you get involved?

  1. Volunteer to take a part in Better Block. The pre-build will be taking place throughout the week and the big event is this Saturday. Please fill out this easy form here or send us a note at downtownmiddlesboro(at) We’ll connect you with the right people and resources.
  2. Make a contribution. Our Makers Market still has about $6,000 that it needs to raise. Make a contribution via and your donation will be matched dollar-for-dollar by the Humana Foundation.
  3. Show your pride for Middlesborough and vote for the Elks Home and the Makers Market in the My Old Kentucky Home contest.

More reading and resources:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.