Folks in Danville, Indiana, seem proud of their courthouse, and it was easy to see why when we toured the building during a recent visit.
We have a fondness for visiting vintage county courthouses when we travel. The courthouses themselves are often beautiful architecturally, but checking out the markers, monuments, fountains and public art that also decorate many courthouses and their grounds is a great opportunity to learn a little about a county's history and culture.
The current courthouse in Danville is actually the third to stand on this particular plot of land.
The first courthouse at this site, the geographical center of the county, was a one-story log building measuring 30 feet by 40 feet built in 1826 for $147.
Improvements to that first building included adding brick facing in 1831 and building an annex during the 1840s, but the county outgrew the log building by the late 1850s.
The next courthouse was a Gothic-style building with a bell tower and a 100-foot-tall observation tower built in the early 1860s at a cost of $60,000.
This building cut an impressive presence, judging from photos I've seen of it online, but the most spectacular impression it created must have been its demolition in 1907.
Danville residents awoke with a start around 8:30 in the morning of January 9, 1907 when a very loud crash rang through town.
The courthouse roof collapsed in on itself, rendering the building unsafe and too costly to re pair.
Fortunately, there were no injuries as it was early enough that no one was in the building, but the County Council quickly voted to replace the damaged building.
Crowds gathered to watch the demolition of the building with its two tall towers, and I suspect many people purchased some of the many postcards issued to commemorate the event.
Indianapolis architect Clarence Martindale designed a neoclassical-style building with traditional Greek and Roman architectural elements like Doric columns, pilasters and pediments to serve as the new courthouse.
Construction, using Indiana, or Bedford Oolitic, limestone and the talents of many local farmers and craftspeople, started in 1912.
P.H. McCormack Co. of Columbus, Indiana, served as the contractor and builder, and it cost $225,000 by completion of the project in 1914.
United States Vice President Thomas Marshall, an Indiana Democrat who served under President Woodrow Wilson, spoke at Masonic ceremonies for the laying of the building's cornerstone on May 29, 1913. The next White House visitor Danville and the courthouse would see would be Republican President Ronald Reagan, who spoke in the courthouse rotunda in 1987.
The exterior of the courthouse remains largely unchanged, and an early 2000s renovation restored many of the interior's original elements like woodwork, wall stencils, stained glass windows, light fixtures, brass accents and faux finishes.
The building earned a place on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002.
Court was in session when we visited the courthouse, so we missed being able to see the large mural in the circuit court room commemorating George Rogers Clark's 1779 Liberation of Vincennes. This victory led to weakening of the British hold on the Northwest Territory. The Brits ceded the entire territory to the Americans in 1783, and that land eventually became the states of Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and the eastern portion of Minnesota.
The 4-foot 5-inch by 18-feet 8-inch painting on canvas is the work of American muralist Edgar Alvin Payne. Payne specialized in subjects depicting the American West and this 1914 work is the only known example still existing of Payne's collaboration with his wife, and commercial artist, Elsie Palmer Payne.
I found some information for this article in Danville (Images of America) by Jeffrey K. Baldwin and the Hendricks County Historical Society, which also has some interesting photos of the 1860s courthouse and construction of the current courthouse.
Midwest courthouse fans might also like to check out Michigan's County Courthouses by John Fedynsky.
Thanks to the Hendricks County Convention and Visitors Bureau for sponsoring my visit to Hendricks County, providing lodging, meals and a tour of Hendricks County attractions for my review during my recent visit there, with no further compensation. I was free to express my own opinions about the stay and experiences, and the opinions expressed here are mine.
© Dominique King 2013 All rights reserved