Happy September! The Division of Historic Preservation & Archaeology (DHPA) is an organization that coordinates events to educate citizens about archaeology. Universities, museums, organizations, and individuals across Indiana host diverse programs, including archaeology lab open houses, artifact identifications, archaeology-themed lectures, archaeological excavations, and stewardship or avocational certification sessions throughout this month.
Archaeology Month helps Hoosiers learn more about archaeology, Indiana archaeological sites, and laws protecting those sites. The goal is to increase public awareness and minimize the myths associated with the discipline. Although there are not any current “dig sites” to explore in Noble County, visitors may nonetheless learn about our history and people through the many historic places that have been found worthy of preservation and sharing!
Organized in 1836, Noble County is known for its historically significant places. Seventeen sites are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, made possible by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. The registry is part of a program that supports public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect the nation’s precious historic and archeological resources. Many of the historic places we’re highlighting are active museums. History buffs, budding archaeologists, and architecture enthusiasts have many choices to explore while visiting Noble County!
Noble County’s most visited historic attraction is the Gene Stratton-Porter State Historic Site. “Our Gene” is Indiana’s most widely read female author, naturalist, film producer, and entrepreneur. She designed her Cabin at Wildflower Woods in Noble County and financed its building entirely with her own money. The cabin-style home sits in a primeval wood on the south shore of Sylvan Lake in Rome City. The white cedar log cabin features multiple porches, a conservatory, and a photographic darkroom. A beautiful stone fireplace in the living room is adorned with carved Aztec Indian heads brought back from Mexico by Gene herself.
Completed in 1914, Gene resided here until 1919. Today, a large collection of her belongings is interpreted for visitors. The home is a museum that plays an active role in educating and inspiring school children and thousands of guests annually. Gene is entombed in an above-ground, marble garden crypt nestled in the woods at the site. To learn more, set up a tour, participate in special events, or just stroll and visit Gene’s beloved Limberlost home, visit the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites website.
Kneipp Springs Historic District is a site is located along State Road 9 on the north edge of Rome City. Another historic gem, several buildings are situated here on nearly 80 acres that make up the district, including a (former) health resort and spa, also historically referred to as a sanitarium or sanatorium, constructed by the Sisters of the Precious Blood in the early 1900s. Drawn to the site by land that is rich with natural springs near Sylvan Lake, property developers also constructed a chapel, a Queen Anne-style house, a Gothic-arched dairy barn, and an early threshing barn. The massive dairy barn, once one of Indiana’s most endangered historic landmarks, found new life when locals purchased, restored, and repurposed the structure that now serves as a beautiful wedding venue and event center called Sylvan Cellars.
Today, the Our Lady Mother of Mercy Center now operates at the former Kneipp Springs, too. They are working to restore the main building with plans to use the facility as a retreat, featuring a “contemporary conference center” someday, according to their website. Visitation policies are available on the website.
Though not a site on the National Register of Historic Places, we encourage visitors to make their first stop in Ligonier at the Ligonier Visitor Center, housed in what was a filling station in the 1920s. Located at the stoplight on the corner of S.R. 5 (Lincolnway South) and West Union Street, the period-reflecting brick gas station, complete with portiere, is an idyllic reflection of life in Noble County 100 years ago.
Ligonier, with a rich and diverse history, features many sites on the Registry. They include the Jacob Straus House, Ahavas Shalom Reform Temple, and downtown Ligonier Historic District with dozens of contributing buildings. Upon arrival at the Visitor Center, you can explore the Heritage Station Museum housed inside. The museum features a fascinating and diverse collection of local artifacts that truly paint a picture of the community’s past. Volunteers will help provide more information and may conduct tours of the sites listed above upon request.
Recently, the Visitor Center was honored by the Indiana Lincoln Highway Association (a 501(c)3 designated non-profit organization) and presented a banner and sign designating it as a modern-day control station and consul (read more.) During their tour of northern Indiana in the summer of 2022, association members brought a life-sized cut-out of President Abraham Lincoln while traveling along the Lincoln Highway, including the original 1913 route and the shorter mid-1920s alignment.
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’s Courthouse Square Historic District, with dozens of supporting buildings in the area. The District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The courthouse, designed in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, is constructed of red brick and Indiana limestone. Embellishments may not be obvious at first look, but upon closer inspection are found to be truly beautiful. They include asymmetric structural elements, rock-faced limestone details, a standing-seam copper roof, and a variety of intricately carved faces and other decorations around the facade.
Exploration should continue to the many historic buildings that surround the courthouse square. Sixty-four structures contribute to 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. Albion is also home to the Old Jail Museum, a designated Registry site which also serves as “home” to the Noble County Historical Society.
More serious archeologists must explore the Old Jail Museum, located just west of the courthouse square at the corner of West Main and North Oak Streets in Albion. Completed in 1876, the brick and Indiana limestone structure is in the Second Empire architectural style. It features jail cells and living quarters, preserved and presented with period furnishings and artifacts. The building originally served to not only contain criminals and alleged violators, but also was home to the Noble County Sheriffs and their families from 1876 through 1965.
Purchased by the Noble County Historic Society in 1968 for $2,275 using funds contributed by individuals and organizations, the Old Jail Museum now houses the 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 on the community dinner table, Native American finds, and a mastodon tooth are some of the thousands of interesting things to see. For information or to plan a visit, contact Bill Shultz at 260-740-8692 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Just south of Albion, in Green Township and inside Chain O’Lakes State Park, is the Stanley School. Built-in 1915, this former country school rests nearly 200 feet up the hill from Lower Finster Lake, one of thirteen lakes in the park.
Typical of schools built in this era, the Stanley School is a one-room, T-shaped building with a single chimney. The schoolhouse has multiple windows and a large chalkboard that lines the length of the south wall. Wood floors, walls, and ceilings 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 in 2012 to interpret the history of early education by the state park. Learn more on the Chain O Lakes State Park website.
In 2022, Ball State University Applied Anthropology Laboratories sponsored an archaeological dig near the Stanley Schoolhouse. There, they found evidence of the Mulberry Schoolhouse also located inside the Chain O Lakes State Park.
Small, country schoolhouses of the past were located close to each other to limit the walking distance for children to no more than two miles one way. Remnants of a student desk were found using ground penetrating radar!
In April 2022, a short archeological presentation was given by Ball State graduate students at the school. For more information, download the brochure made for that presentation (images at left.)
More details about the Ball State findings will be publicly released on the university’s website soon. We wait with anticipation to discover what additional history has been unearthed in our slice of Northeast Indiana!
For more information, reach out to the Applied Anthropology Laboratories at Ball State University:
Applied Anthropology Laboratories
Burkhardt Building (BB), room 314
Ball State University
Muncie, Indiana 47306
Hours: Monday-Friday 8 a.m.- 5 p.m.
Stone’s Tavern Inn, one of Noble County’s first commercial structures, was built by the area’s second European settler, Richard Stone. It opened for visitors in 1839 and was the center of activity for quilting bees and town meetings, the post office, a stagecoach stop, jury room, jail, dance hall, and served as a rest stop for weary travelers.
The building operated as a tavern from 1839 until the end of the Civil War, when it was sold. At that time, Ligonier and Wolf Lake (located south of Ligonier) were quickly growing communities. Each boasted a new hotel. Once sold, the tavern was used as a home and, later, as a storage barn. Due to its large size and ideal location on the trail, it quickly became an area landmark, made official in 1984. Today, Stone’s Tavern is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Indiana Historic Register, maintained by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
Reenactments and experimental archeology* take place here annually as part of September’s Pioneer Festival at Stone’s Trace and the October 5 Medals Festival at the Trace. Festival organizers and guests recreate period-appropriate techniques used by artisans, homemakers, soldiers, and craftsmen. The Stone’s Trace Festival is a must-see and features the Stone’s Trace Regulators, Midwest Muzzle Loading, Black powder Shooting Events, and Annual Rendezvous and Primitive Camp. The festivities take place September 10-11, 2022, (and every post-Labor Day weekend each year). The 5 Medals Festival at the Trace returns October 23-24, 2022.
**Experimental archaeology, also known as experiment archaeology, is a field of study which attempts to generate and test archaeological hypotheses, usually by replicating or approximating the feasibility of ancient cultures performing various tasks or feats. It employs several methods, techniques, analyses, and approaches, based upon archaeological source material such as ancient structures or artifacts.
Northeast of Albion is the Jefferson Union Church and Sweet Cemetery, restored in the early 2000s by the local non-profit Sweet Church Community Organization. Constructed in 1875 by George Harvey, who also built the Noble County Courthouse, this building originally served as Jefferson Union Township Church, a nondenominational church. Today, the structure is known as “Sweet Church”, named in honor of James Sweet, the man who donated the land for the original building. In 2012, an annex was added.
Today, the property serves as a community center that hosts local clubs, associations, private family celebrations, and fundraising activities that support building maintenance and celebrate local history. Visitors are welcomed. Rentals are available by reservation. Discover more about the church and cemetery online.
Kendallville’s Main Street corridor is also the Kendallville Downtown Historic District, one of Indiana’s finest and most in-tact and contiguous stretches of historic commercial buildings. Named a PreservINg Main Street Pilot Community in late 2021, Kendallville’s accredited Indiana Main Street and Main Street America affiliate, Historic Downtown Kendallville, recently added historical markers and window clings celebrating the city’s heritage. Self-guided tours are available on The Clio app. For more information, access to the tour app, and to purchase a brand new walking guide published this summer, visit the Historic Downtown Kendallville website.
Other Noble County sites on the National Registry of Historic Places
Noble County has a very rich history, and many other buildings are also listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. In Ligonier alone are the Jacob Straus House, Ahavas Shalom Reform Temple, and the downtown Ligonier Historic District. Also, secondarily listed as an Indiana Landmark, the Ahavas Shalom Reform Temple is now a private residence. Read about it here.
Other sites listed include:
- Wilmot Milling Company, Wilmot
- Luckey Hospital, Wolf Lake
- Cromwell Historic District, Cromwell
- Brimfield School No. 2, Brimfield
Registry nomination submissions 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.
We hope you celebrate the spirit of Indiana Archeology Month by digging into Noble County’s history! Enjoy!