Life's Better Here: Columbia City 2011

By Eric Olson

August 17, 2011 Updated Aug 17, 2011 at 6:08 PM EDT

COLUMBIA CITY, Indiana (Indiana's NewsCenter)-The Whitley County courthouse is an awe inspiring site, looking down as it has since 1888 on Columbia City’s courthouse square…a part of town that tells the story of a community that reinvents itself even in the toughest of times.

There have been three Whitley County courthouses, the first a former one room school house, the second more formidable but also inadequate to county needs until the current courthouse was built 124 years ago. And the businesses that grew up around the courthouse reflected the town’s expansion, catering first to the needs of a wilderness farming community, then to those of a growing urban population.

In 1910 fire destroyed an entire block of downtown businesses and ten years later, fire consumed Columbia City’s flagship industry and biggest employer, the Harper Buggy Factory. The town cleared the rubble and reclaimed the site for future growth.

Columbia City is doing the same thing to this day. The town is cleaning up the old Dana Brake components site contaminated with asbestos and petroleum waste. The old plant will be ready soon for new tenants.

“This will open up a huge area when new industries come back into the city,” says Columbia City Mayor Jim Fleck, “where we can continue to utilize the space that we have. It’s gonna do a lot for our economy.”

And the historic courthouse square? It hasn’t been forgotten. A downtown redevelopment commission is making low interest loans for owners to rehab their buildings, to fill empty storefronts and lure the next wave of commercial opportunity, to take its turn in the shadow of that magnificent county courthouse.


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