How to Turn a Community Around

Posted on May 3, 2014 at 12:30 PM

This is the text of an article on Maplewood that appeared in the Breckinridge County Herald News on April 30, 2014, titled "How to Turn a Community Around in Six Years."

“This is a completely different demographic than when I lived here 20 years ago,” an electrical contractor said with surprise as he visited his old community.

Maplewood Mobile Home Park on Old Highway 60 in Hardinsburg has seen a lot of changes over the past fifty years. When Keenan O’Connell developed Breckinridge County’s largest community in the 1960s, it appealed mainly to families eager to own their own home for $5,000.

Beginning in the 1950s

Trailers became available as housing after World War II. Soldiers returned from the war and went to college on the GI Bill. To accommodate them, small trailer parks began to spring up around college campuses. In the ‘50s, they finally became available as low-cost housing options. In spite of their name, mobile homes were seldom moved after being delivered to their destination.

That was when trailer parks, as they were known then, started popping up by the thousands across America. It represented a whole new type of life style, offering home ownership to many families for the first time ever.

These early communities were largely Mom and Pop operations. Today’s mobile home parks are quite different. Most of the Moms and Pops have since retired or sold. Aging infrastructures also caused many communities to become run down. The turn-around began over a decade ago, when Warren Buffett acquired Clayton Homes, the largest manufacturer of mobile homes. His vote of confidence heralded the resurgence in houses on wheels.

Today, many mobile home parks or manufactured housing communities are owned by corporations in California or Florida. Or by former Wall Street investors, who turned their sights away from fickle high technology to old-fashioned real estate.

Maplewood Still Independent

In Hardinsburg, Maplewood is still independently owned. The current owners are David and Michele Donnelly, formerly of Boise, Idaho. They’ve owned the park for six years. David used to work in corporate communications, and Michele worked in the mortgage loan industry.

The thing they like best about their new career is being able to help people. “It was difficult at first,” Donnelly stated. “We had to get rid of some undesirable elements to make it more family friendly, and invest in rebuilding the infrastructure.”

They quickly learned the challenges of Kentucky weather when the back end of Hurricane Ike came roaring through Hardinsburg, followed by the ice storm of 2009. Since then, progress has steadily continued with a new sewer system installed, old homes demolished, and new homes replacing the old ones.

Michele Donnelly is passionate about the new Maplewood. “We want to be more than a bunch of homes,” she said. “This place comes to life when we see friendships develop and hear children laughing. We never thought that we would be blessed to live in such a great community.”

To help promote a sense of community, Maplewood has sponsored a girls’ softball team, held chili cook-offs, potluck dinners with games for all ages, and an arts-and-crafts weekend for kids, sponsored in part by Hardinsburg Baptist Church.

Cross-Section of Population

Maplewood’s population today is a cross-section of hard working families and retirees, with some others on assistance. A majority of residents now rent their homes, many firmly rooted in their home for over a decade or more.

It is not uncommon to see new families moving in from other states. One newly transplanted resident explained why. “We were tired of the crime and congestion in the city. So we decided to take the leap and move to the country. We’re not making as much money as we used to, but this is a much better place to raise our kids.”

These new families prove the saying that “There is work here for anyone who wants it.” Maplewood residents work at the school district, nursing home, restaurants, Walmart, factories, warehouses, and manufacturing companies. They drive trucks, make pizza, work online at home, provide customer service, install satellites, sell boats, oversee quality control, maintain city services, own contracting businesses, and manage grain inspection.

Zero Drug Tolerance

The Donnellys attribute much of Maplewood’s success to their strict Zero Drug Tolerance policy. Families are pleased to find a clean community that breaks the mold. One lady who recently moved in wrote on Maplewood’s Facebook page, “I'm really glad I chose to move here. My son and I are very happy here.” Also, a former tenant wrote, “I lived here before and miss it a lot.”

“I believe we are having a positive influence on peoples’ lives,” Donnelly reflected. “So many young people seem lost. We try to help them when we can and be a good role model. The benefit of helping people has been one of the greatest joys of living and working here.”

You may learn more about Maplewood Mobile Home Park at

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