Boone County- Lebanon (1911-)

Here’s the 1911 Boone County Courthouse in Lebanon.

I’m in an accounting class at Ivy Tech now. It sucks, but I guess it’s fun to reconcile expenses on a t-chart. I like to see how big the things that we take for granted really are, and writing out fictional CapEx debits really drives the practice home for me. I like doing this in real life, too: take the classic example, a traffic light. They’re nearly four feet tall! That’s big enough to make me feel a little queasy as I watch them sway above my Civic during a snowstorm. A while back, I saw photo of a piece of cross-sectioned Golden Gate Bridge cable. It was three feet in diameter! They look like guitar strings in all the photos I see. The columns at the Boone County Courthouse in Lebanon are sort of the same, at least as I review my photos. Up close, though, they’re really crazy.

Yes, one of the columns was sporting a boo-boo, but these are legitimately unlike anything you’ll see anywhere else.

Courthouse columns are funny: unless you’re standing right in front of one, it’s kind of hard to consider their mass in any way but through the abstract notion that you’d be crushed to smithereens if one fell on you. Most courthouse columns are made of several pieces of stone connected together, but architect Joseph T. Hutton just had to be different when he designed Boone County’s courthouse: The building’s eight primary columns measure 35 feet and five-and-3/4 inches of straight-up, one-piece limestone1. Really! The rough-cut pillars were shipped to Lebanon from their quarry by workers who extracted the stone from the earth. Onsite, they were refined by artists on the square prior to being installed at the courthouse’s north and south entryways. It’s often repeated that the Boone County Courthouse has the world’s largest single-piece columns2!

Now, don’t get me wrong: Indiana is a state of what I’ll call “maybe” records. Maybe the West Baden Springs hotel has the world’s largest dome, but maybe it doesn’t anymore (actually, it was from 1902 to 19133). Maybe Alexandria has the world’s largest ball of paint (in fact it does, and you can go add a layer4). Maybe the Boone County Courthouse has the world’s tallest single-piece columns, and so on. But it actually seems to hold the record5, and the building truly lives up to its expectations. After all, William Shatner married his fourth wife there6 and if that’s not a Hoosier-style claim to fame I don’t know what else would be.

Here’s a representative example of the east and west facades of the courthouse, where the courthouse, which also sport impressive columns.

Captain Kirk likely left the place from under those massive pilasters, which support a gigantic pediment upon which perch allegorical figures of Agriculture, Industry, and Justice. Above those, an enormous dome reaches 84 feet into the sky. It’s 52 feet wide; totally covered inside with ribbed stained glass5. Above the dome sits a very interesting feature to me, a lantern of equally massive scale. It’s almost a tower on its own -indeed it’s probably the size of the tower at Paoli- and it features four clock faces aimed towards the cardinal directions. Although the importance of a community clock has diminished since we all got smartphones and iWatches, I believe a courthouse clock is still a great feature. I love this one. It has a commanding presence that draws people in from miles around.

And there are tons of people in the surrounding miles- Boone County, at the northwestern corner of the circle city donut, is currently one of the fastest-growing areas in Indiana. In 2017, the county led the state in growth by increasing its population by 2.5%7. Interestingly, as of the 2000 census, eastern Boone County was actually the absolute center of Indiana’s population8. I would have assumed it’d be Indianapolis, but then again, I’m no sociologist.

We would both be crushed by those columns if they ever fell. Thankfully, I’m sure they won’t- at least for another 110 years!

I’ve heard the Boone County Courthouse described as one of our state’s finest several times but never really found that. Then I went there. Hoo boy- those locals were right. Based on all of the attributes that I cherish, it’s quite clear to me that we have a great courthouse in Lebanon. Unlike many Indiana counties where geopolitical development was a true struggle, it was a relatively simple process to get to the present structure. Originally, the 1830-era seat of Boone County was in Jamestown, though no courthouse was ever erected there. By 1833, county government moved to Lebanon where a log courthouse lasted until 1839. A brick 1840 courthouse similar in appearance to those in Corydon, Rome, and Wilmington burned down in 1856, but a new, Gothic Revival9 courthouse was quickly erected to replace it. Eighteen years later, a fire consumed that building as well, though it was rebuilt to its original specifications. By 1912, the county had grown tired of the old courthouse and constructed the building that we see today.

The building’s dome is my favorite of its features- even more than the single-shaft columns. It has no business being this tall. Were it not for the verdant entryways into Lebanon’s downtown, I’m sure it could be seen for miles.

So…Boone County debited the Gothic Revival account and credited the enormous-looming-neoclassical-behemoth one. Did I get that right? Maybe I need to check my grades. Nonetheless, that works for me! I live near Ball State, where the original campus consists of nothing but Gothic Revival buildings. I’ve had my fill. I value the replacement, with its unique features, more than I’d value its predecessor.

Before we go, the citizens of Lebanon didn’t just build a huge courthouse. In 1931 they built Memorial Gymnasium, the 2,200-seat home of the Tigers and their star Rick Mount, who was the first high school athlete to appear on the front of Sports Illustrated10 and spent several years in the ABA. Two years after Mount graduated, the gym closed. It was purchased by the city in 1974 and sat empty aside from an appearance in “Hoosiers” until 1996, when it was turned into a health club11. I love basketball, and I love when I can shoehorn some trivia in here.

While I don’t have a photo of Memory Hall, it and the courthouse are necessary stops for fans of historic architecture and Hoosier history.

Over my studies, I’ve learned that the accounting equation falls apart when both sides don’t match up. Here, it’s pretty clear that they don’t- our state’s portfolio gained a lot with the construction of the current Boone County Courthouse. Its single-piece column design, massive pediment, enormous dome, and huge clock-bearing lantern make it one of our state’s best. Meanwhile, the history behind Lebanon’s Memorial Gymnasium -now known as Memory Hall- make it a necessary stop for a local basketball enthusiast. I’d really encourage anyone nearby to debit cash and credit gas in order to make the short trip to Lebanon to check them out.

Boone County (pop. 60,477, 27/92)
Lebanon (pop. 15,781).
26/92 photographed.
Built: 1911
Cost: $265,000 ($6.8 million in 2016)
Architect: Joseph T. Hutton
Style: Neoclassical
Courthouse Square: Shelbyville Square
Height: 128 feet
Current use: Some county offices and courts
Photographed: 8/20/15

1 Enyart, David. “Boone County” Indiana County Courthouse Histories. ACPL Genealogy Center, 2010-2018. Web. March 2, 2019.
2 Taylor, R.. Stevens E.W., and Ponder, M. A. Indiana: A New Historical Guide. Indiana Hist lyrical Society [Indianapolis] 1990.
3 O’Malley, John W. “The Story of the West Baden Springs Hotel” Indiana Magazine of History. Indiana University [Bloomington]. 1958. Print. 
4 “World’s Largest Ball of Paint” Roadside America. Doug Kirby, Ken Smith, Mike Wilkins. Web. Retrieved 2/17/21.
5 6 Johnson, Seth. “William Shatner Talks Music and Indiana Ties” NUVO [Indianapolis].February 3, 2019. Web. Retrieved 2/17/21.
6 Counts, Will; Jon Dilts (1991). The 92 Magnificent Indiana Courthouses. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. Print.
7 “More than half of Indiana communities saw population growth in 2017” Business and Innovation. News at IU Bloomington [Bloomington]. Web. March 2, 2019.
8 ”Population and Population Centers by State: 2000″. United States Census. Archived from the original on 2013-06-22. Web. March 2, 2019.
9 Indiana Landmarks (2013). Boone County. Indianapolis. Indiana Landmarks. 2013. Web. Retrieved 2/16/21.
10 Neddenriep, Kyle. Historic Hoosier Gyms:: Discovering Bygone Basketball Landmarks. The History Press [Charleston]. 2010. Print.
11 Drummond, Cameron. “State of Basketball: Part 4 – Memory Hall” Inside the Hall [Bloomington]. Web. Retrieved 2/17/21.

One thought on “Boone County- Lebanon (1911-)

  1. I tried my first “real” jury trial in that courthouse. Real meaning with a lawyer on the other side. This was in the 80s when people were starting to appreciate their old courthouses again.

    As we waited for the verdict late in the evening one of the local lawyers led us up for a peek in the guts of the done. It was a fascinating place.

    I think it was the only courtroom I was in that had ashtrays on counsel tables.


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