May/Jun 2000

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A rich patchwork
Hamilton County, Ind. blends the old with new

By Peggy Sailors

The restored courthouse is a county landmark./ Hamilton County CVB photo
Ever since a top-down restoration put the luster back on the striking Hamilton County, Ind., courthouse six years ago, the century-old beauty has stood tall in Noblesville, a history-rich community of 25,000. Today, the elegantly styled courthouse has reclaimed its spot as the center of attention in this growing suburban county 20 miles north of Indianapolis.

In 1879, completion of the soaring redbrick and limestone landmark heralded the coming of an industrial boom in Noblesville. A bustling town rose practically overnight from the rolling farmland, and Noblesville hoped to rival Indianapolis as an industrial and trade center. That dream was short lived, though, as Indianapolis quickly grew into its role as state capital.

For decades following, it seemed as though towns in Hamilton and other counties surrounding Indianapolis were destined to become little more than suburban bedroom communities of the capital city. Luckily for Hamilton County, much like the newly constructed courthouse had cast an invigorating glow over the community, the mid-1990s restoration of the landmark sparked a revitalization of Noblesville and much of Hamilton County.

Step back in time at Conner Prairie

Three miles south of the Noblesville courthouse square, the fate of the Hoosier capital was determined in 1820 at the estate of William Conner near the White River. It was here that commissioners voted to move the capital to Indianapolis. Conner had built a trading post and brick home there in 1802, and today it’s one of three historic areas at 218-acre Conner Prairie, a nationally recognized living history museum known for its accurate yet entertaining approach to telling the history of Indiana and the Old Northwest.

Conner Prairie is Hamilton County’s time capsule./ ©Jack Olson photo;
As you walk the compact village and chat with the residents of Prairietown, you’ll think that you’ve stepped back in time. That’s because it’s always 1836 there. Costumed interpreters play the roles of a carpenter, blacksmith, schoolmaster, innkeeper and other villagers. At the Pioneer Adventure Area, you can try your hand at candle dipping or butter churning, then step next door and tour the Conner home. In June, concerts under the stars with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra get underway for the season at the grassy outdoor amphitheater. For more information, call (317) 776-6000 or 1-800-966-1836.

Rich history blends with new developments

Along with Conner Prairie, history-rich Hamilton County is a colorful and inviting patchwork of old and new. Pockets of genuine historical charm like that of Conner Prairie mix comfortably with newer developments. Among those developments, Hamilton County is quickly becoming a playground of greens with 15 daily-fee golf courses.

Along with these green gems, you’ll find a treasure trove of finely made crafts tucked in the countryside. Near Strawtown, the Bundy & Company showroom displays wood-carved waterfowl decoys, which the company makes. On the way to Bundy, you’ll see the Strawtown Pottery. Matt and Diane Garrison sell stoneware pottery, which they make in their studio, a 1930s general store overlooking White River. Watch potter Sherry Bastine shape and decorate wares that draw on techniques and styles from the 18th and 19th centuries in her Noblesville pottery shop.

Shoppers flock to downtown historic Noblesville and its more than 50 cafés, specialty and antique shops. First, trace the county’s history at the 1875 Sheriff’s Residence and Old Jail, now a museum next to the courthouse. As you stroll the brick-lined sidewalks edging the square, Victorian furniture in the window of the Noblesville Antique Mall is sure to catch your eye. Nearby, lovers of antique toys are drawn to Bound to Be Found Antiques. Across the square, you can relax and enjoy a sundae at Alexander’s, an old-fashioned ice cream and candy shop.

Just off the square, look for the Lake and Lodge Outfitters sign made of huge log letters. Owner Gerry Hiatt says, “most shoppers plan on staying a few hours, then end up spending the day” browsing the antique sporting goods and rustic furniture. On Friday evenings during the summer and fall, vintage railroad cars of the Hamiltonian Dinner Express depart the Fishers Station and take diners to Cicero and the Anvil Inn or continue further to Atlanta where they feast on gourmet fare at Fletcher’s.

Across from Conner Prairie you can overnight at the Frederick-Talbott Inn. As you linger over coffee in the sunny breakfast room, you’ll recall the rich blend of old and new that gives Hamilton County a fresh, inviting and history-rich appeal.

For visitor information, call the Hamilton County Convention and Visitors Bureau, 1-800-776-TOUR.

Peggy Sailors is a contributor from Indianapolis, Ind.

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