Split Decision

While at a recent speaking engagement in Lafayette, I chatted with a man from nearby Otterbein, a dot on the map in northwest Indiana, with a population around 1,200.  I wasn’t familiar with the town, despite my having visited much of the state several years ago for a book I was writing, called Indiana Curiosities.

“What county is Otterbein in?” I asked Town Administrator, Ron Shoup.

“Otterbein is in Benton County…and Tippecanoe County,” said Ron.

When I first heard this, I remembered a story I wrote years ago about the town of College Corner, which is located on U.S. Highway 27 in eastern Union County and is geographically split by the Indiana-Ohio state line. Today there are two distinct city governments, although these two tiny towns share some services. But in what has to be one of the most bizarre examples of multistate commerce, the trustees of West College Corner, Indiana, and College Corner, Ohio, decided more than 50 years ago to build a high school overlapping the border.

And it gets weirder. Not only was the high school split in half, but the school gymnasium is half in one state, half in the other—which meant that when players traveled down the basketball court, they were running from one state to another and, during Daylight Saving Time, the clock used to change by an hour after every score because at one time Indiana did not recognize DST. In recent years, the high school was transformed into an elementary school, ending the traditional basketball rivalries, but the gymnasium remains an oddity and attracts visitors from all over.

People in the area will tell you there used to be a tavern that was also split by the state line, creating a watering hole with two different drinking ages. We can’t find any evidence of this, but it’s a great story either way.

Now back to Otterbein. Let’s make this simple (kind of). If you live in the city of Otterbein and want to go to the local high school, you’ll be in Benton County. If you then cross Meadow Street, which runs north and south, you can enter the Tippecanoe County Courthouse.  But remember, you’ll still be in Otterbein.  Nuts. I said I’d make this simple. Let’s try this. You’re in Otterbein and want to go to the…

grocery store: It’s in Tippecanoe County.

gas station: Fill ’er up in Tippecanoe County.

Ice Cream shop: Benton county. Enjoy.

hospital: Get well in Tippecanoe County.

drug store:  Off to Benton County you go.

Nite Owl Pub: After about an hour, you won’t care which county you’re in.

Again. You have not left Otterbein.

Here’s a warning for those with a lead foot: Don’t try speeding through Otterbein. Be prepared to get a ticket from either the Otterbein Police, the Tippecanoe County Police, or the Benton County Police. There could be Indiana State Troopers watching for speeders, too.  I’m not sure why I’m telling you this.  It’s not like you’ll have a choice who stops you.

I asked Ron if the Otterbein Town Council had to be made up of a certain number of folks from each county. “Heck no,” said Ron, “they’ll take anybody. They took me, didn’t they?”

– Dick Wolfsie spent his career sharing his humor, stories and video essays on television, radio and in newspapers. His columns appear weekly in The Paper of Montgomery County. E-mail Dick at [email protected] aol.com.