If you could design the perfect historic downtown it might look a bit like the seat of Lake County in Northwest Indiana.
The preserved heart of this city is set around a palatial courthouse dating to 1880, and the surrounding old brick storefronts contain family-run shops for knick-knacks and one of a kind gifts.
Just one block away is Crown Point’s venue for community events, hosting a farmers’ market, weekly summer concerts, festivals and an NHL-size rink in winter.
Crown Point has a couple of skeletons in its closet, not least Public Enemy #1, John Dillinger, who escaped from the “escape-proof” jail here in 1934. You can visit his very cell at the Lake County Sheriff’s House and Jail.
1. Downtown Crown Point
Compact and easy to get around on foot, Crown Point has a handsome downtown area with some imposing architecture. Much of this is clustered around the Courthouse Square, preserved by the historic district of the same name.
The buildings here, including the majestic Lake County Historic Courthouse (1880), are a snapshot of a period of growth in Crown Point at the end of the 19th century and start of the 20th century.
As well as the exquisite storefronts on the north, east and south sides of the square, check out the Lake County Criminal Court (c. 1920), the Masonic Temple (c. 1920), the Carnegie Library (1908) and the Peoples Bank Building (1915).
Squeezed into this district is a rare amount of adorable mom and pop stores, for gifts, toys, collectibles, jewelry, home design and antiques.
2. Lake County Historic Courthouse
Affectionately known as the Grand Old Lady, the magnificent linchpin downtown is this former courthouse building inaugurated in 1880.
Eclectic in style, the building has elements of Romanesque Revival architecture in its round arch windows and Greek Revival in its pediments, cornice and capitals.
The three towers came a little later, in 1908, and are capped with white finials and a flagpole. Today the courthouse contains offices, a variety of shops, a restaurant, the chamber of commerce, a city court and a museum.
This monument is rightfully adored but was in fact threatened with demolition until it was rescued by dedicated local residents and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.
3. Lake County Sheriff’s House and Jail
This grand Second Empire-style edifice was built in 1882 and served as the county sheriff’s residence until the 1950s and the jail until 1974.
From the outside the complex is a sight to behold, with its mansard roof, corbeled central tower and large porch with Tuscan columns.
The building made national headlines in early 1934 when John Dillinger was imprisoned here, only to escape not long after on March 3. The property was added to the National Register of Historic Places and opens for tours on Thursdays and Saturdays, May through late September.
Led by a historian, you’ll look around the sheriff’s house, restored to its early 20th-century splendor, learn the inner workings of the jail and see the cell that once held John Dillinger.
4. Lake County Historical Museum
If you visit Crown Point between May and October, make some time for the museum on the second floor of the Old Lake Courthouse. The museum was established in 1982, but the historical society that manages it goes way back to 1875.
Inside you can pore over four rooms resonating with 200 years of history. One preserved space here is the Clerk’s Office.
For decades Crown Point was known as Marriage Mill, because of the quick turnaround for marriage licenses, and many famous people including Cassius Clay, Rudolph Valentino, Colleen Moore and Tom Mix came to this very room to get their license.
There’s also an entire room dedicated to the history of agriculture in the county, along with an exceptional inventory of militaria and rich collections of clothing, household appliances, toys, musical instruments, tools, furniture and much more.
5. Deep River Waterpark
Crown Point is home to one of the largest summer water parks in the Midwest. Operated by Lake County parks and recreation, Deep River Waterpark has 14 different attractions including a wave pool, lazy river, play zone for little ones, a Courthouse-themed water play structure and a wealth of rides for all comers.
You’ve got the Kraken six-lane slide racer, the Storm ride complex, Cannon Bowl rides and a choice of speed slides. Unlike many water parks, this attraction is cooler-friendly, so you’re free to bring your own refreshments.
In winter there’s recreation of a different kind, at a 14,500-square-foot skating rink, with skate rentals and concessions available.
6. Bulldog Park
The main public park for downtown Crown Point is just a block away from Courthouse Square. Home to a recreation center, spacious pavilion and amphitheater, Bulldog Park is a go-to for community events in the city.
The farmers’ market is held here on Saturdays during the summer, and there’s a whole slew of other events, from the free Summer Concert Series to cruise nights to July’s Taste of Crown Point where you can sample the best of the city’s food and drink scene.
Bulldog Park is a year round family attraction, with a splash pad for children in summer and an NHL-size hockey rink in winter.
7. Erie Lackawanna Trail
Crown Point is at the south end of the longest off-road trail in Northwest Indiana, taking you as far as Hammond. Just over 17 miles long, the Erie Lackawanna Trail is on the right-of-way of a once vital former freight railroad that shut down in the 1980s.
Running through six communities in Lake County, including four downtown districts, this multi-use path has been developed in phases since the mid-1990s and promises a light, family-friendly journey with lots of interest on the route.
For one thing, this is an excellent way to reach no fewer than six local brewpubs and craft breweries without using a car, while there’s a string of parks and nature preserves on the route where you can pause in the shade in summer.
8. Crown Point Farmers’ Market
The spacious pavilion at Bulldog Park, a short hop from Courthouse Square, is the location for Crown Point’s farmers’ market. This vibrant community event takes place every Saturday morning, June through September.
On a normal market day there are more than 40 vendors, offering freshly picked fruit and vegetables, herbs, plants, flowers, pickles, cheeses, arts and crafts and a changing choice of prepared foods.
Most weeks there’s live music at the market, and you can make it a family outing with a splash and on hand at Bulldog Park.
9. Crown Brewing
Just southeast of Courthouse Square is a craft brewery that has revived a historic tradition in Crown Point. Crown Brewing opened in 2008 but took the name of a much older brewery in the city.
The original Crown Brewing was the largest brewery in the Chicago area at the turn of the 20th century, producing 30,000 barrels a year, before going out of business in 1916.
Easily spotted for its tall chimney by the Lake County Sheriff’s House & Jail, the new Crown Brewing has made a name for its English-style beers, including Porters and Brown Ales.
The mainstays here are Industrial Porter, Dude Java Porter, Mayzie Cream Ale, Beauregard Blue and Special Forces IPA.
These are joined by a host of seasonal beers, guest beers and wines. The food menu is extensive, but the specialty here is fresh baked pizza, courtesy of Carriage Court Pizza just next door.
10. Antique Shopping
In recent times Crown Point has emerged as a bargain hunter’s dream, where you can pass hours sifting through treasures, from historic furniture to collectibles to retro homewares. What’s great is that many of these stores can be found on or near Courthouse Square.
When we wrote this article a few names in the heart of Crown Point were On the Square Antique Emporium (116 S. Main St), Blue Ribbon Vintage (111 W Joliet St), Orangehaus Company (112 ½ S Main St) and Antique Vault & Records (14 Courthouse Square).
There are also two sizable antique malls a stone’s throw from the square, at Antiques on Main (142 N Main St) and Crown Antiques (545 E 110th Ave), five minutes east of downtown.
11. Lemon Lake County Park
On more than 400 acres, ten minutes southwest of downtown Crown Point, Lemon Lake County Park became the very first Lake County park when it opened in 1972.
If you’re into disc golf then this is the place to go, as there are no fewer than five courses here, all in excellent condition.
And if you’re new to the sport there’s even a pro shop to get you started. Among the other amenities there’s an expansive and well-designed playground, a sledding hill in winter, two sand volleyball courts, picnicking, fishing ponds and an open play field.
12. Crown Point Sportsplex
Just east of downtown, Crown Point parks and recreation maintains a gigantic complex, serving as a sports and events mecca for the area.
Mainly geared towards baseball/softball, the Crown Point Sportsplex has three 300-foot fields, one of which is a championship facility with PA systems, stadium seating for 750 spectators and an observation deck.
There are also six lighted diamonds with skinned infields, and two lighted turf fields for soccer, football and lacrosse, all equipped with bleacher seating and scoreboards.
The complex also has a concessions stand, batting cages and playground, while the Crown Point Skate Park is a few steps away.
13. Oak Knoll Golf Club
Opened in 1925, this well-regarded public course sits less than a mile west of downtown Crown Point.
The first thing to mention about Oak Knoll is its playability. With wide fairways, even terrain and a simple layout, the course is designed to accommodate players of all ages and standards.
There are two drivable par 4s here, and the biggest comes in the approach to some of the greens, which can be quite small.
Oak Knoll is also affordable, and at the time of writing you could play 18 holes with a cart for as little as $25.
14. Lake County Fair
Set in the south of Crown Point are the sweeping Lake County Fairgrounds, which feature beautiful brick exhibition buildings, a historic grandstand, a fishing lake, covered bridge, wooded hills and meandering paths.
The fairgrounds are open 365 days a year and host a variety of events and trade shows all year. But the annual highlight is, of course, the Lake County Fair, dating back to 1852 and held across ten days in early August.
This is the second-largest county fair in the state, with a packed schedule including a carnival area with over 30 rides, a free petting zoo, a massive array of food and beverage vendors, agricultural exhibits, horse shows and monster trucks.
15. Crown Point Bridge
That historic covered bridge at the fairgrounds warrants a closer look. This structure was erected in 1878 on the Flatrock River some 200 miles away at Milroy in Rush County.
The bridge became obsolete during highway improvements in the 1930s, and a preservation effort led to the bridge being dismantled and brought to a gully at the Lake County Fairgrounds.
A single-span burr arch truss, the bridge is 105 feet long, with an impressive ten-foot portal at each end.