New Life in Noble for Historic Buildings

Two historic properties in Noble County that were at significant risk in recent years now have new chances to help local communities thrive.

The Albion Opera House will soon become a law office and the "old" East Noble Middle School in Kendallville is slated to become a community learning center. Both historic structures faced possible demolition not that long ago, but thanks to the collaborations of many like-minded citizens and organizations their futures look much brighter. 

The Albion Opera House, located on the north side of the historic Noble County courthouse square on West Jefferson Street, was built in 1884 by Charles Albert Howard, a local farmer and entrepreuner. Howard's Opera House served as host to many unique events and even served as temporary county offices in the mid-1880's while a new county courthouse was under construction. In the early 1900's, the building served as a venue for Noble County Common School Graduation ceremonies and during World War II was an armory. Indiana Preservationist magazine at one time considered the opera house one of 17 endangered historic places in the state of Indiana.

In September 2014 a volunteer organization, the Noble County Courthouse Square Preservation Society, joined forces with another called the Super Town of Albion Revitalization (STAR) Team to close on the purchase of the building. About one month later the two organizations met with Todd Zeiger of Indiana Landmarks, an agency that provided funding for the purchase, to determine next steps in their mission to preserve the building in a way that would allow a business to locate there.

The STAR Team took the lead from there and was awarded a $1,700 grant to conduct a rehabilitation study in 2015. For the next three years the STAR Team continued to act as steward of the property and held multiple fundraising events. They opened the building to the public multiple times to help raise awareness and build even more pride and desire to save the building, as well as raise the funds to cover utilities. The site served as host the past few years to Christmas bazaars, Halloween activities, and was featured during the Noble County ALL-IN Block Party during Indiana's Bicentennial celebration in 2016. Though there were times the STAR Team was feeling somewhat desperate about the burden of expense to keep the building while vacant, they never gave up. Their efforts paid off when, in January 2019, local attorney Everett Newman and his wife, Helen, purchased the property. Work is now underway to remodel the interior and give the structure a second chance to serve the community as a law office.

Kendallville High School opened in 1915 at the corner of Mitchell and Riley Streets and served East Noble Middle School students until 2017. School officials began discussing options for the newly vacant building in February 2018 and decided to post for qualifications from developers potentially interested in repurposing the structure. Some envisioned possibilities including mixed-uses that might support life, work, and play, as well as emerging high-tech, innovative uses that might boost the local economy. Existing amenities were cited to include a theater, classrooms, gynmasium, art studios and more.

In March 2018 a group of interested citizens making up the Historic Kendallville Task Force, and East Noble School Corporation, invited the community to the table to discuss the future of the building as well. The task force included representatives of the Kendallville Area Chamber of Commerce, Noble County Convention and Visitors Bureau, The Dekko Foundation, and various government officials. Missing from initial discussions, however, were young adults, millenials. About a month later they also came to the table and, although the twenty-somethings in attendance were not currently living or working in Kendallville, they are natives who expressed the building was "worth saving".  

A few months later, in September 2018, the school board surprised many in the community when they voted to solicit bids to demolish the school, citing that the associated costs of repurposing the site were not economical. This announcement brought a flurry of letters to the editor, water cooler discussions, and ultimately lit a new "fire" among preservationists and philanthropists in the community. At the urging of many, schools officials took a step back and, after a series of meetings, demolition plans were at least temporarily haulted.

This week Kendallville City Council members adopted a resolution, with school board approval, allowing it to enact two agreements that will pave the way for the city to accept title to the now-vacant school campus. The Dekko Foundation has agreed to provide a $1 million endowment that will be maintained to demolish the building if the learning center doesn’t pan out, as well as to fund any and all carry costs while the city owns the property. 

The current status of these properties, and the long road from probable demolition to one paved with community investment and prospects for entrepreneurial growth, youth engagement, leadership development, and cultural enhancement have left many in the community beaming with pride and appreciation.