The First Lake Court House
Among the first permanent settlers in Lake County were Solon Robinson and his wife, Mariah Evans Robinson. The Robinson family arrived in the Crown Point area from LaPorte in October 1834. Other families soon followed and in 1835 the tiny settlement numbered 21 people. In March of 1836, a post office, known as Lake Court House, opened with Robinson serving as its first postmaster. When Lake County was organized in 1837, a hewn log structure was built on the south side of what is now the Court House Square. In 1838 it was made the temporary courthouse by act of the County Commissioners in accordance with an act of the state legislature. At this time Lake Court House was in contention with two other neighboring communities, Liverpool and West Point to be the Lake County Seat.
Crown Point Becomes the County Seat
In 1839, the County Commissioners picked Liverpool to be the County Seat. So many people were dissatisfied that the Indiana Legislature ordered relocation. In 1840, Lake Court House was selected as the permanent County Seat. Two of the major landholders in the area, Solon Robinson and Judge William Clark, set the course of development and formation of Crown Point in the ensuing years. Robinson and Judge Clark along with County Agent George Earle collaborated and gave a new name to the County Seat, “Crown Point.” In 1868 the town was incorporated.
The Second Lake Court House
About 1849 the log cabin courthouse had outlived its usefulness, and a new courthouse of frame construction was built on the north side of the town square at a cost of $10,000. This building housed the courtroom, the sheriff’s office and a lockup in the basement.
The Third Lake Court House
By 1876, the frame courthouse was too small and out of character for the growing area. An impressive edifice was designed by a prominent Chicago architect. It was a massive, powerful building, designed with Romanesque and Georgian features. The central portion, including the clock tower, was started in 1878 and dedicated in 1880. The cost was $52,000.00. Half a million hand- kilned bricks from the Henry Wise brickyard in Crown Point were used in the construction. Because of the growth of county government, the courthouse was enlarged by adding a north and south tower. These additions, started in 1907, were dedicated in 1909 at a cost of $160,000.00.
This pre World War I period saw a great economic expanse. The oil industry was started by John D. Rockefeller and the steel mills were developed by Judge Elbert Gary, making the Calumet/Lake County region one of the greatest industrial regions of the world.
On June 19,1909, the first major auto race in the United States was held south of the courthouse. Known as the Cobe Cup Race, this grueling 25-mile contest was the forerunner of the famous Indianapolis 500. The first winner’s cup was presented on the east step of the courthouse to Louis Chevrolet, a Swiss-born master mechanic who later became the founder and creator of the Chevrolet Motor Company
Continued county growth demanded the single story north and south additions be added in 1928 at a cost of $80,000.00.
In the early 1970’s, the county had once again outgrown the building but this time opted for a large campus- style complex two miles north of the square. The move put the “Grand Old Lady” in jeopardy. Money had been put aside by the county for demolition and creation of a parking lot, an unfitting end to such a fine structure.
Before the wrecking ball could claim yet another historic treasure, a group of concerned citizens formed a not-for-profit foundation to preserve the building. The newly formed foundation used the $70,000.00 in demolition funds as seed money to save, restore and use the building.
Dr. David R. Hermanson, professor of Architecture and Planning at Ball State University and noted authority on historical buildings in the State of Indiana, stated, “The Lake County Court House is without question one of the finest architectural expressions in Indiana. It is a major monument, and in my estimation, the most significant building in Lake County.”
The Lake Court House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on May 17, 1973.
Come visit the courthouse for a look back on our area’s history, and take a moment to look through the first floor shops as long as you’re here.