CROWN POINT | The Grand Old Lady celebrated her 135th birthday Sunday with hundreds of friends, music from bygone eras sung by the Merrillville and Crown Point high school choirs, a silent auction and slices of birthday cake.
Festivities at the Old Lake County Courthouse brought together those who have made history, some who have preserved history and others who can enjoy that preservation for decades into the future.
“It has stood the test of time. It’s an iconic symbol and an historical part of the community,” Crown Point Mayor David Uran said in kicking off the birthday party.
“The community has embraced it and the people will enjoy it for years to come,” he said. “The Grand Old Lady is a beacon, (a symbol) of setting a goal that tomorrow is better than today.”
Those guests coming from out-of-town included two Crown Point native sons who have earned national renown – noted neo-impressionist artist James Paul Brown, 75, from California, and NASA astronaut Jerry Ross, 65, from Houston.
Examples of Brown’s watercolor images of President Ronald Reagan, actor James Dean and master chef Julia Child filled the courthouse’s West Hall. During the celebration’s opening in the Maki Ballroom, Brown said he planted some of the trees that still surround the old courthouse because his mother was a member of the Crown Point Garden Club.
Ross signed copies of his book "Spacewalker" in the ballroom while in the upstairs courtroom, a DVD of his space shuttle missions played throughout the afternoon. Proceeds from the book and DVD sales as well as a sweater Ross donated for the silent auction went to the Old Lake Court House Foundation Inc., headed by Martha Wheeler.
Ross, who made more trips into space than any other American astronaut, said he enjoys connecting with young people to help them “understand what a great country this is” and to take advantage of all their educational opportunities.
“Then use God’s help to get us where we want to be,” he said, adding that 45 years ago his grandfather, Joe Ross, was one of those Crown Point residents who helped save the old courthouse from the wrecking ball.
Wheeler said the birthday celebration was as much a collaborative effort as the preservation of the old courthouse. Among those underwriting the party were the Crown Point Community Foundation, the Sheriff’s House, the Old Homestead and the city of Crown Point.
The feeling of coming home permeated the party as longtime residents and those who moved to the area recently gathered to share refreshments.
Judith Root said whenever she returned from college, she’d look for the clock tower atop the courthouse.
“It was home. It’s security,” said Root.
Marge Wilke and her husband, Carl, moved from Midlothian, Ill., to Lakes of the Four Seasons seven years ago.
“When we first saw the courthouse, we said ‘wow!’” she said as she stood in line to have Ross autograph her book. “You have to see it in person.”
Phillip Arteaga, 20, of Munster, said he came be inspired by those like Ross.
“It’s great motivation for the area and a great motivation for local students,” said Arteaga, a sophomore engineering student at Purdue University Calumet in Hammond.
Stephanie Neal, of Crown Point, brought along her five children ranging in age from 11 to 3-year-old twins.
“We are doing a 4-H project called History for Fun. It’s all about learning about history. This is the perfect place,” Neal said, as the children enjoyed birthday cake.