A group of early Lake County settlers met at the old frame courthouse at Crown Point on July 24, 1875, where a decision was made to form "The Old Settlers' Association," and plans were made for the big public meeting to take place at the old fairgrounds on Sept. 25, 1875. Meetings were held often at the fairgrounds except in bad weather, when they convened at the Cheshire Hall on the south side of the square, now a part of an antique mall.
One of their largest meetings was held on the occasion of the laying of the cornerstone for the "new" brick courthouse on Sept. 10, 1878, a building which was erected on land that, according to old records, "was set aside, never to rebuilt upon, to be used as a commons."
At a meeting in the fall of 1903, the name of the historical organization was changed to "The Old Settlers and Historical Association of Lake County," and the following aims and objectives were adopted: "To collect and preserve pioneer relics of various kinds; To preserve the history of Lake County; To cherish the memory of the old settlers; To keep alive the pioneer spirit among descendants; To keep up close friendly relations." -- Years later, at a 1959 meeting, the name of the organization was changed again, to "The Historical Association of Lake County."
Since the founding date in 1875, reports of the Historical Secretary (Rev. Timothy Ball was appointed for several decades) were recorded in five year periods, some of them in hardback volumes, others in books which included several five-year periods (books printed in 1929, 1934, 1970). Many are available at the Lowell Public Library and in other libraries.
The following is from one of the Secretary's Reports: "The seventy-fifth meeting [of the historical group] was held on Sept. 9, 1950, in the beautiful landscaped yard of the Dr. John Iddings' home at 603 South Court Street, Crown Point. This site and several other lots to the west of the south side of Ellendale Circle were part of the first, or old, Lake County Fairgrounds, where buildings were erected." That 75th annual meeting took place near the same site as the first one in 1875.
The early aims and objectives of the founders of the historical group are still being carried on by the present historical organization, now called the "Lake County Historical Society," sponsors of the Lake County Historical Museum in the restored Lake County Courthouse on the square in downtown Crown Point. The museum, opened in 1982, showcases a variety of memorabilia representing the organization of Lake County and its developing years, with many artifacts that stand as a reminder of earlier life in the area.
Included among the many displays: farm equipment, period clothing, quilts, musical devices, interesting collections, paintings, photographs, and unique artifacts.
On display is an enormous wooden desk which was used by the Lake County Clerk when famous people received their licenses to marry in the days when the county seat was known as a "marriage mill." Because of the quick and easy procedure for getting married at Crown Point during the years 1915 to 1940, 175,000 couples traveled to the "Hub" to be wed at the old Lake County Courthouse. The long list included Tom Mix, Red Grange, two of the Mills brothers, Muhammed Ali, Ronald Reagan, film idol Rudolph Valentino, also the parents of Michael Jackson.
Also available for viewing are the family Bibles of Mariah Evans Robinson (wife of Crown Point founder Solon Robinson) and of Rev. Timothy H. Ball.
Another feature is a full-size replica of a canoe that French explorers used in the Midwest; this replica canoe was used in an actual voyage in 1976 which reenacted LaSalle's expedition. There is also a Washington printing press, the last edition of the Guttenburg press.
Providing tours for the non-profit museum is Ruth Jones, the manager of the museum, who has been secretary to the Lake County Historical Society for five years. Bruce Woods, president of the society for many years, is director of the museum.
The Lake County Historical Museum is open to the public every Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m. during the months of May through October. Group tours can be planned other times by phoning 662-3975. A small donation is requested.
According to a recent newsletter from the Society, the museum opened for this year on May 1, with steady attendance this spring. Several new displays are being featured, including fossils pertaining to the State of Indiana. The museum now has a Webpage complete with photos and history, reached at www.crownpoint.net/museum.htm, linking the past to the present and future by way of technology!
The museum is located in a very interesting old building which was used as the third Lake County Courthouse. The first log courthouse was built in 1838 for $500; then in 1849 a two-story frame building was built north of the square for a modest $10,000. The first part of the brick building on the square now housing the museum was built in 1878 at a cost of $53,000. Additions to the courthouse were made in 1907 and 1928, and the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in May 1973.
It was replaced as the courthouse by the huge Lake County Government Center on North Main Street at Crown Point in 1974.
Visitors to the Lake County Historical Museum and the restored old Lake County Court House can expect a very enjoyable experience.
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