History worth preserving - and exploring
Organized in 1836, Noble County is dotted with places of historic significance, worthy of exploration.
Seventeen places in Noble County are included on the National Register of Historic Places, an official list of the Nation's historic places worthy of preservation. Made possible by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the Register is part of a program that supports public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect the nation's precious historic and archeological resources.
History buffs and architecture enthusiasts alike have many choices to explore while visiting Noble County and would be well-suited to begin their adventure at the Noble County Sheriff's House and Jail, more commonly referred to as the Old Jail Museum, in Albion.
The Old Jail Museum, located just west of the historic courthouse square at the corner of West Main and North Oak Streets in Albion, was completed in 1876. The brick and limestone structure is considered a Second Empire architectural style. It features jail cells and living quarters, preserved and presented with period furnishings and artifacts. The building served to not only contain criminals and alleged violators, it was also home to the Noble County Sheriffs and their families from 1876 through 1965.
The jail's cell floors and walls are composed of Indiana limestone. Purchased by the Noble County Historic Society in 1968 for $2,275, with funds contributed by individuals and organizations, the Old Jail Museum now houses the Noble County Historic Society's collection of artifacts, photographs, ledgers, and more. Among the artifacts are jail records that paint the stories of some of the 20,000 prisoners and 35 sheriffs and families who once called the jail "home". Inmate-made etchings in the community dinner table and a mastodon tooth are some of the thousands of interesting things to see. Information to plan a visit is available by calling Bill Shultz at 260-740-8692 or emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Voted one of the most beautiful courthouses in Indiana during the Indiana Bicentennial in 2016, the Noble County Courthouse sits in the center of the Albion Courthouse Square Historic District. Both are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The courthouse, designed in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, is constructed of red brick and limestone. Embellishments may not stand out at first look, but upon closer examination one will discover some beautiful details including asymmetric structural elements, rock-faced limestone details, a standing-seam copper roof, and a variety of intricately carved faces and other decorative features around the facade. Exploration should continue to the many historic buildings that face the courthouse square. A total of 64 buildings contribute to the Register designation for the District, including commercial buildings and residences. Many are Italianate, but others represent International style, Romanesque Revival, Gabled-ell/Free Classic, Craftsman, Queen Anne, Neo-Classical, Contemporary, Greek Revival, Upright and Wing, and Hall and Parlor styles.
South of Albion, located in Chain O'Lakes State Park, is the Stanley School. Built in 1915, the former rural school sits about two hundred feet up a hill from Lower Finster Lake, one of several lakes in the park. Typical of schools built in this period, the Stanley School is a one-room T-shaped building with a single chimney. It has multiple windows and a large chalkboard that lines one entire wall. Wood floors, walls and ceiling covered in plaster, and openings trimmed in simple, stained hardwood moldings, are well preserved and presented today complete with period furnishings. The Stanley School was restored to interpret the history of early education in 2012 by the State Park.
Northeast of Albion, north of Skinner Lake, is the Jefferson Union Church and Sweet Cemetery, restored by the local non-profit Sweet Church Community Organization in the early 2000s. Built in 1875 by George Harvey, also builder of the Noble County Courthouse, the structure served as a nondenominational church called Jefferson Union Township Church. Later, it was known as Sweet Church in honor of James Sweet, the man who donated the land for the building. In 2012, an annex was added and now the property serves as a community center and host for local 4-H and Skinner Lake Homeowners Association meetings, as well as for private family celebrations. Visitors are welcomed and rentals available by reservation. Find details on the organization's website.
Kneipp Springs Historic District, located along State Road 9 on the north edge of Rome City, is another historical gem. Located on approximately 80 acres, the district includes a large sanitarium constructed by the Sisters of the Precious Blood, a Catholic order, in the early 1900s. Drawn to the site by land that is rich with natural springs, near Sylvan Lake, the property developers constructed a chapel, Queen Anne-style house, a Gothic-arched dairy barn (now Sylvan Cellars Event Center, tasting room, and restaurant), and an early threshing barn. Today, the Our Lady, Mother of Mercy Center is in residence and is restoring the building to be utilized as a retreat facility with a "contemporary conference center", according to their website. Visitation policies are provided on the Center's website.
One of Noble County's most-visited historic sites is the Gene Stratton-Porter homestead at Sylvan Lake in Rome City. Stratton-Porter, Indiana's most widely read female author, naturalist, and entrepreneur, designed her Cabin in Wildflower Woods here. The home is set in a primeval woods on the south shore of Sylvan Lake. The white cedar log cabin features multiple porches, a conservatory, and photographic darkroom. A beautiful stone fireplace in the living room features carved Aztec Indian heads brought to the home from Mexico by Stratton-Porter herself. The home was completed in 1914 and Stratton-Porter resided there until 1919. Today, a large collection of Stratton-Porter's belongs are interpreted for visitors. Guests may also pay their respects. She is entombed in an above-ground marble garden crypt at the site. Learn more and make plans to visit Stratton-Porter's beloved Limberlost home by exploring the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites website.
Many other structures, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, may be observed in the City of Ligonier, including the Jacob Straus House, Ahavas Shalom Reform Temple, Stone's Trace, and the downtown Ligonier Historic District. Kendallville's Main Street corridor is also listed as the Kendallville Downtown Historic District. It features one of the most in-tact and contiguous stretches of historic commercial buildings anywhere in the state. Other properties on the register include:
- Wilmot Milling Company, Wilmot
- Luckey Hospital, Wolf Lake
- Cromwell Historic District, Cromwell
- Brimfield School Number Two, Brimfield
Register nominations and supporting documents, offering extensive details about these historic properties, were referenced for this blog. Find them at https://secure.in.gov/apps/dnr/shaard/welcome.html.