The Noble County, Indiana Courthouse (1887-)

I’ve admired the Noble County Courthouse in Albion since I was a kid. I remember driving past it with my dad and even going inside it for some reason. Even at a young age, I knew the courthouse was unique: it didn’t resemble any others in the state and though I seem to recall a taxidermy display in its basement, I never expected the building to tell an intricate tale of geopolitical maneuverings. Of course, that’s what I found when I started researching it.

The Noble County Courthouse in Albion, Indiana.

The story starts in the early 1800s: early settlements in the area that eventually became Noble County followed the Fort Wayne-Goshen Road, a prominent Native American trail that, years later, became the basis for the Lincoln Highway and the nation’s first transcontinental road1. The trail went diagonally through the westernmost portion of Noble County, and it made sense for officials to locate the county seat close to the road as a matter of convenience2. As fate would have it, an opportunistic settler named Adam Engle had the same idea. He’d built a cabin in Sparta a few years beforehand, and donated it to the county to ensure his burgeoning community would be named the county seat. It was3.

It became clear that a county seat so far away from the population center didn’t make sense as more people moved to the area. Residents passed around a petition to relocate the seat of government a year after Sparta was established, and the application was quickly approved by state officials.

A rusticated limestone foundation provides a base for the Noble County Courthouse.

At that point, the need to establish a county seat outweighed the convenience of having a ready-made courthouse, so multiple up-and-coming towns vied for the opportunity. Residents of Van Buren, Wolf Lake, Augusta, and Port Mitchell all petitioned officials to take up the mantle. Sparta’s boosters even shrugged shoulders and threw their hats in the ring! Eventually, a new frame courthouse was built in Augusta, and two hotels followed suit, along with several stores and factories. Augusta would probably be the seat of Noble County today had it not been for a disastrous fire in 1843 that destroyed the courthouse and every county record.

The fire prompted the citizens of Port Mitchell to spring into action. By all accounts, residents had spent the last three years seething about losing the courthouse to an inferior town4. They quickly erected brick office buildings and a temporary courthouse as visions of impending importance danced through their heads.

The landscaped square of the Noble County Courthouse is graced by, among other things, a fountain.

Unfortunately, theor notions proved fleeting and another vote was called in April, 1846. That time, even more towns got on the ballot: Port Mitchell, Augusta, Rochester, Ligonier, Springfield, Lisbon, Northport, Wolf Lake, and an area called ‘the Center’, which wasn’t even a town but existed as a theoretical, centrally-located community that hadn’t been platted yet. Port Mitchell, Augusta, and the Center were the highest vote-getters, but Augusta fell in a runoff ballot. Irate Augustans -still mad at Port Mitchell for stealing away their own courthouse- voted for the Center, which became the permanent county seat before it had any residents. The location was soon renamed Albion.

I’ve never planned a county before, but I’m pretty sure a courthouse requires a county seat, and a county seat requires a town. A town requires a township, and that’s where officials messed up: They hadn’t gotten that far, platting Albion right at the border between York and Jefferson townships. To rectify things, commissioners garnished a square mile out of each and created Albion Township, which looks like a belly button on the map and remains the smallest township in the entire country.

The monumental entryway of the courthouse implies permanence.

The township’s size didn’t really matter. By 1847, a $4,000 frame courthouse graced the site and the town grew quickly even though the courthouse burned twelve years later. Even though courthouse fires doomed Noble County’s previous county seats, Albion was able to soldier on because of a new thing called a “rail-road.” The Baltimore, Pittsburgh, & Chicago Railway went right through the town, which kept on expanding due to its influence. A fifth county courthouse was built, but it wasn’t long before it became old, outmoded, and far too small. An 1874 survey of the county opined that Albion was “growing very fast, and putting on metropolitan airs6,” and there was no time to waste in constructing a courthouse that demonstrated that.

Flash forward to 2023 and the town of Albion is no longer growing very fast, if it’s growing at all. You’ve got to drive forty-five minutes to Fort Wayne to inhale even a whiff of those long-lost metropolitan airs! Only three out of the nine towns that vied for the county seat position in 1846 still exist, and most of Noble County’s population headed northeast to Kendallville, where industry continued to thrive. But although it’s long ago been usurped in terms of commercial prominence, tiny Albion still retains the title of county seat and features the county’s sixth courthouse- a building that completely towers over its surroundings.

We have E.O. Fallis to thank for that. He designed the current Noble County Courthouse in 1887 after the fifth courthouse was quickly outgrown. Although it belongs to the Richardson Romanesque mode of architecture, the structure is unique as the only red brick building of that style in the state. Despite that, Fallis’s 1891 Williams County Courthouse in Bryan, Ohio is a near-duplicate.

The square clock tower features a unique clock face and low-pitched roof.

He designed both buildings to feature a floorplan of two superimposed rectangles, with the narrow rectangle configured to support projecting entrance bays. Those entrance bays are maybe the most interesting features of the Noble County Courthouse – the outer sides of the east and west entry bays culminate in octagonal turrets. The right side of the entrance eventually curves to form a circular bay with a parapet. Both elements balance each other out although they’re asymmetrical. Even though arched transoms above the first floor have been bricked in, the pattern is repeated in windows on either side of the entrance.

As with every courthouse that sports one, my favorite feature is the clock tower. Noble County’s is square and nearly as tall as the building itself. The tower’s lower segment features rectangular and arched openings along with stone belt courses. Above the lower segment is a wide belt that, unusually, curves outward. Above that is the clock. The clock face is different than most- it’s black and recessed, while the numbers project in white from the face of the building. I’d never seen this arrangement before, and Fallis’s Williams County Courthouse in Ohio doesn’t feature it. It’s part of what draws me to this building, I guess. The low, hipped roof of the clock tower contrasts the building’s high-pitched roof and adds some distinction between the elements, and although the building is Romanesque, it seems to my eye to have some significant Italianate influences.

The square clock tower features a unique clock face and low-pitched roof.

Tthose influences, coupled with its distinctive Romanesque styling, drew me to this courthouse while driving around with my dad during trips up to his house in Elkhart. It seemed like he would always take a random route through some teensy county seat just to make the drive interesting and clearly, that tendency wore off on me! Even though Albion hasn’t seen the success that some of its peers have over the years, I’m sort of happy. Prosperity often brings the means to build a new courthouse, and I’m thankful that we still have this landmark to appreciate.

Noble County (pop. 47,536)
Albion (pop. 2,349).
Built: 1887
Cost: $101,604 ($2.69 million in 2016)
Architect: E. O. Fallis & Co
Style: Richardson Romanesque
Courthouse Square: Shelbyville Square
Height: 136 feet
Current Use: County offices and courts
Photographed: 8/15/15- 4/92

Sources Cited
1 “Lincoln Highway” Arch. ARCH, Incorporated. 2018. Retrieved from
2 Tuttle & Goodrich, An Illustrated History of the State of Indiana. Indiana: R. S. Peale & Co. 1875. Print.
3 Hunter & Hunter, Albion and Noble County. Charleston: Arcadia Publishing. 2015. Print.
Counties of Whitley and Noble, Indiana. Chicago. F.A. Battey & Co. 1882. Print.
5 McPherson, Alan. Journeys to the Past: A Traveler’s Guide to Indiana State Historical Markers. Bloomington. Authorhouse. 2008. Print.
Complete Survey and Atlas of Noble County, Indiana. Chicago. Andreas & Baskin. 1874. Print.

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