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The Journal Gazette

  • Terri Richardson | The Journal Gazette Whitley County Courthouse

  • Terri Richardson  | The Journal Gazette Business owners in downtown Columbia City have allowed artists to paint murals on the side of their buildings.

  • Terri Richardson  | The Journal Gazette The Whitley County Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center offers visitors a warm, welcoming feeling, says Jennifer Romano, executive director.

  • Terri Richardson  | The Journal Gazette Cole Bear of Columbia City watches his son, 1-year-old Isaiah, go down the slide at Morsche's Park. The park is a go-to place for residents.

Sunday, June 23, 2019 1:00 am

Our towns

Old, new brought together in redeveloping downtown

TERRI RICHARDSON | The Journal Gazette

About Columbia City

Population: 9,044 (2018 census estimate)

County: Whitley

Founded: 1839

• The city was first known as Columbia and didn't become known as Columbia City until 1854 when postal confusion caused a change in the name.

• The Whitley County Historical Museum is housed in the Columbia City home of Thomas Riley Marshall, Indiana governor and 28th vice president of the United States.

• The city has several murals downtown with plans to add more.

Those traveling U.S. 30 no doubt will see the busy side of Columbia City as cars whoosh past the fast-food restaurants, plazas filled with clothing stores and other businesses. But take a left off the main highway into downtown and visitors will get a different view of the Whitley County city.

Talk to those working and living in Columbia City and you'll probably hear the same things about the city: It has a small-town charm and people are friendly.

Downtown is filled with historic homes and businesses that blend together to make the city a fresh take on old and new.

Businesses are within walking distance from each other in a kind of circle with the Whitley County Courthouse sitting in the center. On one side is the Chapman's Brewing Co. and a bank; across the street is a boutique; on the backside of the courthouse is city hall; and on the other side is a doctor's office and a church.

At Brew'ha Coffee House on Main Street, which has turned into a hot spot for a diverse crowd to socialize, locals and workers gather to work on their laptops and grab a cup of coffee.

Brittany Straub, who was born and raised in the Columbia City area, is working on her laptop while her 4-year-old daughter, Lakelyn, is sitting across from her munching on chips. Straub says she loves the small-town feel, the fact that she feels safe and how the city is “good for raising a family.”

Erin Thomas, who operates Indiana Physical Therapy, is sitting at a high table also tapping away on her laptop. She has operated her business for three years in Columbia City and says she really likes the community. “Everyone's polite, kind,” she says.

“I love how hard they're working to improve and create,” said Thomas, adding there is the Downtown on the Square events, First Fridays and farmers markets.

Jennifer Romano, executive director of the Whitley County Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center, says the city is redeveloping its downtown and business owners are transforming spaces to make the downtown more vibrant and welcoming.

One of the things happening, at least unofficially, Romano says, is that business owners are having artists create murals on the side of their buildings, which brings an appreciation and enjoyment of art in the community. “Seeing the artwork on the downtown buildings is a cool thing,” Romano says.

In the visitors center, a local artist is featured each month. The center has been doing it for two years and there is no shortage of artists, Romano says.

“We're a wonderful, warm and welcoming community,” she says. “That's a feeling you get from walking down the sidewalk; people wave at each other, people say hello.”

trich@jg.net