Caldwell is the county seat of Noble County. It is a small town with roots dating back to the 1850s. Before that it was farmland that had been in the Caldwell family since the days of the early New England pioneers coming here from Marietta. The town was officially founded in 1857, but growth was slow. By 1860 the population was not much over 100 people. During the next census the population had tripled to just over 300!
Today Caldwell is still a small town by anyone's standards. But there are still a few gems in Caldwell for visitors to find.
The original courthouse built in Caldwell was the first structure built. While it was still under construction, a temporary court house was built. The original court house was also built of brick made from the clay dug to form the foundation.
In visiting Ohio's 88 counties, I must say that Noble County's Courthouse is perhaps the plainest courthouse in the state, but when you consider its history, visitors to Noble County might want to check it out. Most of Ohio's county courthouses have been rebuilt multiple times, each time bigger and grander. The Noble County Courthouse in Caldwell is a 3-story brick edifice that many visitors might suspect it to be a local elementary school. It was actually built during the Great Depression. the brick was manufactured over in Ava. The labor to build the courthouse was provided by the Civil Works Administration. When everything is considered, the Noble County Courthouse is exactly the kind of court house that more counties should consider... substance over style.
In 1853 when Noble County was formed, a new jail was ordered built. The contractor for that job skipped town leaving the jail unfinished. Today it is known as the Historic Jail Museum.
Located on the far southeast corner of Caldwell where SR 564 dead ends into SR 78 there's a little drive going back off of SR 564 along Salt Run. Visitors will see what looks like an old caboose on blocks. That's the spot. It was here in 1814 when Silas Thorla and Robert McKee were digging a well looking for salt brine, which they found. But they also found oil mixed in with the brine. The men soaked up the oil with blankets then took the brine and boiled it down for the salt. They also found that people would pay money for the black liquid if it was bottled and sold as a cure all. The well opening is still there, still seeping the black stuff.
In recent years the oil boom has returned to Noble County. Fracking is deep drilling more than a mile below the surface where shale deposits have been found that contain oil and natural gas. These deposits are small but widespread and when put under pressure with the right equipment, those deposits can be extracted to the surface. The results: big pay checks for land owners who have leased the mineral rights to the oil companies.
A single new well is now producing almost 500 barrels of oil and 600,000 cubic feet of gas every day.
Since the late 1980s, Caldwell has featured Appalachian artisans and craftsmen displaying their wares on the Historic Square in downtown Caldwell. The long running event is held the second weekend of June each year. Besides the arts and crafts, there are also live entertainment and food vendors.
Noble County is one of the least populated counties in the state (Vinton County is the least populated county) and it stands to reason that the Noble County's county seat would also be underpopulated as well.
It took several generations of citizens to bring to fruition the creation of Noble County. All those living within the proposed confines of the new county were in agreement that the county should be carved out. This united effort fell apart however, when it came to deciding where the county seat would reside.
One contingent, which included John W. Noble the namesake of the county, felt the county seat should be located in the already established Sarahsville which was near the center of the county. The other contingent, that group which was most vocal behind the scenes to establishing Noble County, wanted it to be established at a point that was more central to their farms. To that aim they promised a large track of land that would be given to the county as a donation to build the county seat upon. That tract of land was part of the Caldwell farm.
The arguments in favor of each site became quite heated. In the end those favoring the Caldwell farm decided on a shrewd tactic. They elected more members to the board of commissioners, regardless of their political leanings, than did the Sarahsville contingent. In the end after a special election held by Noble County voters, and by a margin of just 150 votes, the Caldwell faction won and after a few more legal maneuvering, the Caldwell farm site was selected. The site was surveyed and plotted and the name of the new town would be Caldwell in honor of Joseph and Samuel Caldwell, the owners of the farm.
The namesake of the town, the Caldwells date back to Robert Caldwell, a former resident of Chester County, Pennsylvania and a teamster during the Revolutionary War. In 1795 Robert Caldwell, and his wife Jane Fulton Caldwell, moved to the Northwest Territory and settled in Washington County which was at that time the only county in the Ohio Country. Here he purchased a piece of land on the recommendation of Rufus Putnam. Over the next 13 years, he realized that perhaps that property was perhaps not the the best for his growing family and in 1808 he moved to the west fork of Duck Creek with his sons and began clearing the land. Robert died in 1831. It should be mentioned here that Robert's wife, Jane Fulton was the niece of Robert Fulton, inventor of the steam engine. Together, Robert and Jane Caldwell had 11 children who lived and farmed in Noble County.
It was Robert's son Samuel, that was among those leading the fight for the formation of Noble County and it was his suggestion that the county commissioners use a tract of the family farmland to be used as the county seat.