As many times as I’ve been to Angola over the years, I’ve never actually ventured within the city limits.
Let me explain: Sure, I’d been to Pokagon State Park for the toboggan slide there, but that’s way northwest of the town up on Lake James. Same goes for the now-defunct Fun Spot amusement park, where some friends and I rode the Afterburner and Zyklon roller coasters near the eastern banks of Crooked Lake. If you go to Fun Spot (well, you can’t anymore, it’s permanently closed), you’ve got to go to Caruso’s next door for some of the best meatballs you’ve ever tasted. Further ahead, Fremont -along with its outlet shops- are a good eight miles away. Probably the closest I ever got to actual Angola was when I was tracking the concrete microwave towers of AT&T’s first transcontinental line, but that 191-foot1 structure was still two miles southwest of downtown.
In a roundabout way (future pun alert), all this is meant to illustrate that I should have found time to make it to Angola proper before March, 2016 when I took these photos. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the place is absolutely charming. I’m not always a fan of boutiques, but local businesses like Sassafras & Sage, Bent Fork Art Studio, and Monument Pizza – along with longtime stalwarts the Brokaw and Strand theaters- packed the historic buildings around Angola’s courthouse square. As I’m writing this now, it looks like the 278-seat Strand closed just six months after I visited, which sucks. Just like modern space and infrastructure requirements have forced some of our old courthouses to crumble, the film industry’s conversion to digital distribution has wreaked havoc on lots of historic old theaters.
Downtown Angola is unique in that it’s one out of only five county seats in the state to feature what’s called a Lancaster square. Think of a typical city block formed by a grid of evenly-intersecting streets- that’s a Shelbyville square, and about 85% of Indiana counties have one. Now think of a large traffic circle and square it off- that’s a Lancaster square. Combine the two and you’ve got a Harrisonburg Square. Around 6% of counties in the state have a Lancaster Square, including Steuben, and about 3% have a Harrisonburg. Another 6% of counties flat-out don’t have one at all2.
Most often, the courthouse sits at the middle of the square, but Angola’s is different: as far as I can tell, neither of its courthouses have been sited there! After Isaac Glover and Abner Winsor3 tried to secure their village of Steubenville (now the site of Pleasant Lake) as the county’s first seat, Cornelius Gilmore and Thomas Gale, the founders of Angola, agreed to build a frame courthouse for $2,000 on the site of the present structure4. In 1867 it was moved slightly northwest to the south side of East Maumee Street, where it stood until at least 1885 in use as a business.
That same year, construction began on Angola’s second courthouse, the one that graces the square today. We’ve got Freeborn Patterson to thank for the design, and though I can’t find any information on his greater portfolio, I do know that he’s buried at the Old Angola Cemetery on West Stocker Street. The courthouse is similar to Nashville’s in Brown County, though more intricate. Bricks for the building were manufactured at Lake James by Holms and Miles from LaPorte5, while the foundation is fieldstone. Architecturally, the building shares Greek Revival proportions and Italianate details. Instead of columns, the main facade -facing north- has relief pilasters joined by rounded arches that delineate its bays, a motif also used on the other sides of the courthouse. You enter the building from a double door in the middle, above which hangs a small, iron, balcony. Above that is a circular window, and above even that is a tiled roof with an octagonal cupola sitting on a square base with a captain’s walk.
Originally, the courthouse featured county offices on the first floor and a massive courtroom that took up the entire tall second story. But increasingly-limited space in the seventy-year-old building led to a 1937 project that lowered the roof in order to add a third floor6, along with adding a two-story addition to the building’s rear. Overall, the addition was done quite well, featuring a sympathetic design while making modern concessions like its cement foundation. Unfortunately, it doesn’t match the overall scale of the old courthouse, ending right around where the second floor was divided in half. Fortunately, the arrangement led to the preservation of the building’s southern roof brackets, and the courthouse doesn’t really suffer aesthetically.
I mentioned Caruso’s earlier, the cross-generational Italian staple that I always try to stop at. Though it satisfies my needs for fried calamari and spaghetti, Steuben County’s appetite for additional administrative spaces was satiated about twenty-five years ago by the former Angola High School, built in 1932 and closed in 19907. Apart from old courthouses, old schools are a huge interest of mine, and while I didn’t snag any photos of the Steuben Community Cente, as its now known, I was happy to have a two-for-one special on my trip. Come to think of it, old theaters are another big draw for me. Add in the Brokaw back on the square and I guess we’ve got the hat trick!
As it turns out, I didn’t take any photos of the Brokaw either- or the Strand. Bummer! But from its parking lot or really anywhere around the square it’s easy to see how -despite its prominence- the courthouse isn’t even the city’s main landmark. That honor falls to the Steuben County Soldiers’ Monument, which rises seventy feet above downtown and forms the centerpiece of Angola’s Lancaster Square. Now, early photos from prior to the monument’s construction indicate that at various times\ the square (also known to locals as the circle or the mound) featured floral arrangements, hitching posts, street lights, and at times nothing at all8. After years of attempts to get a monument built, though, residents finally convinced enough people to sign a petition that satisfied county officials in 1916, who contracted Matt Haley of Boston to build the obelisk, made from 300,000 pounds of Barre Granite and bronze9. The base of the monument is four hundred square feet and features four life-size statues representing infantry, artillery, cavalry, and the navy. Up top, an allegorical figure of Columbia holds a flag and crowns the whole affair with an uplifted wreath.
I didn’t have as long to meander around Angola as I would have liked since it was getting dark and I had a date waiting for me at Coney Island in Fort Wayne; my great aunt Connie. Even though I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, for a town that checks off essentially all my interests (abandoned amusement parks, Italian food, old courthouses, old schools, and old theaters), I left feeling stuffed. Who knows? Maybe someone will open up a Showbiz Pizza there- then I’d really have to move. Until then, I highly recommend taking a trip to Angola. While you’re there, make sure to stop at its 153-year-old courthouse.
Steuben County (pop. 34,358, 45/92)
Angola (pop. 8,649)
Built: 1867. Renovated and expanded in 1937.
Cost: $27,000 ($462,000 in 2016)
Architect: Freeborn Patterson
Style: Greek Revival/Italianate
Courthouse Square: Lancaster Square
Height: 72 feet
Current Use: Courts and some county offices
1 “Concrete Microwave Towers” Industrial History. February 14, 2015. Web. Retrieved 1/6/19.
2 Indiana’s Historic Courthouses. Indianapolis: Courthouse Preservation Advisory Commission, 2011. Print.
3 “History of Steuben County, Indiana: Together with Sketches of Its Cities, Villages, and Towns” Inter-State Publishing Company [Chicago]. 1885. Print.
4 Enyart, David. “Steuben County” Indiana County Courthouse Histories. ACPL Genealogy Center, 2010-2018. Web. Retrieved 1/6/20.
5 National Register of Historic Places, Steuben County Courthouse, Angola, Steuben County, Indiana, National Register # 75000051.
6 Indiana Landmarks (2013). Steuben County. Indianapolis. Indiana Landmarks. Web. Retrieved 1/6/20.
7 Marturello, Mike. “Steuben Center has served community 25 years”. KPC News [Kendallville]. February 24, 2019. Web. Retrieved 1/6/20.
8 Smith, John Martin. “Angola and Steuben County in Vintage Postcards” Arcadia Publishing [Chicago]. 2001. Print.
9 “Steuben County Soldiers’ Monument” Steuben County Through The Years. Local History Department, Carnegie Library of Steuben County. Web. Retrieved 1/6/19.