I took a lot of lessons away from the week I spent in Richmond with my mom researching the hundred and fifty year old diary written by my great-great-great aunt during reconstruction as she taught freed slaves in Mississippi, especially lessons that are apropos to my project to document, write about, and understand our state’s historic courthouses. One of the lessons is that it’s probably a good thing to find a way to connect to your ancestors, particularly those who you never had a chance to meet. For me, one of those people is Joseph E. Shideler.
Joseph was born in 1863 in Lancaster Township, Huntington County; seventy-five miles north of where Mary Jane Edwards grew up, three years before she wrote her diary, and a hundred and twenty-two years before the two shared common blood via my siblings and me. Obviously, I never met the man, but I knew his grandchildren fairly well since one was my Grandpa Hayes.
Joe Shideler cast a big shadow over the small city of Huntington. He was the county’s auditor from 1919 to 1923 and after ninety-six years, his portrait still hangs in the courthouse. What’s the auditor, you say? Essentially, he was Huntington County’s CFO, controlling disbursements and receipts of county funds, creating financial statements and annual reports, maintaining payroll for official employees, and so on. Today, the Huntington County auditor also acts as the secretary to the county council and is responsible for preserving plat maps and the county’s GIS systems, which I use frequently in my research. I’m very grateful to the auditor’s office!
Joe Shideler would have known two Huntington County courthouses in his lifetime since the county’s first, a two-story frame building located off the square and later used as a restaurant1 was torn down in 1856. Its replacement, which sort of looked like the Steuben County Courthouse in Angola, was built by William McGrew and David Silvers and lasted forty-five years before being demolished to make way for the current courthouse in which hangs Joe’s portrait. Here’s an old postcard I recently bought of it.
The 1906 courthouse, designed by John Gaddis, might seem underwhelming when compared to others in the state’s portfolio. Gaddis designed three in Indiana, and his others appear nearly identical to Huntington’s. In the early 1900s, neoclassical architecture had taken over the mantle of more elaborate Beaux Arts designs, but the building’s a treasure- it’s the only building in downtown Huntington to take up an entire city block, and the only one that features a greenspace. At four stories, the Huntington courthouse dwarfs its cousin in Brazil and its dome, featuring a prominent drum, is different from its counterpart in Putnam County. The architect himself noted that the building’s design “is Grecian architecture, using the Ionic and Corinthian styles, which are noted for their beauty of detail and elegance of proportion2.”
Built largely oolitic limestone from Bedford, Indiana, the courthouse features a granite base and a flat roof topped by its stained glass dome and cupola. Each symmetrical side of the building features a central, projecting entrance portico with a triangular pediment and clock. Four groups of Corinthian columns support the pediment, resting on second-story balconies.
I thought that my former office in Fishers with its mural made of colored Ball jar lids was impressive, but Joseph Shideler worked in a pretty extraordinary space, at least from the outside. But in addition to his prominence as a local official, Joseph was a distinguished member of the Huntington Central Christian Church and Elks Lodge. Before he was an elected to office, he taught school, worked as an accountant, served as a deputy postmaster, and spent eight years as the county’s deputy auditor. In 1926, after he left office, he ran for the Republican chairman of Huntington County and lost by only two votes. His final job was in the offices of an investment company, but his time there was short-lived.
On December 1, 1926, Joe was driving home from work when he suffered a fit of apoplexy- a stroke. Somehow, he managed to stop the car himself and flagged some bystanders down to help. They ushered him to his home on Salamonie Avenue in Huntington and called for a doctor, but it was too late- he succumbed to a second stroke before help could arrive, dying at the age of 643. Though he’d been out of office for three years, the county courthouse closed down during his funeral so local officials could pay their respects4. His obituary ran in papers as far away as the Indianapolis News5, and he’s buried in Lancaster Cemetery near where he was born and attended school.
Joseph wasn’t the only Shideler of the day to dabble in politics. His daughter-in-law, Maro (my great-grandmother) served as chief deputy under three auditors in Huntington County. Born in 1899 in Paris, Texas, Maro Earhart studied business in high school and at university before moving to Rock Creek township near Markle and marrying Howard H. Shideler, Joe’s son and the assistant cashier at Citizen’s State Bank in Huntington, in 1921. In January of 1926, Maro declared her candidacy for auditor as a Republican- unusual for a time when few women held public office. “With her pleasing personality and her long period of contact and training in the auditor’s office,” The Huntington Herald said, “Mrs. Shideler offers her future services to the taxpayers of the county, and friends insist that her candidacy for that office will be well-received6.” Though she lost the election, she remained a prominent citizen due to her involvement in the Huntington County Women’s Temperance Union and the Sigma Phi Gamma sorority before moving to Kent, Ohio and Fort Wayne, where she continued to work in the auditor’s office at the Portage and Allen County courthouses until her death in 1964.
We’ve talked at length about how impressive that ornate Allen County Courthouse is. It’s truly the most monumental courthouse in the state. But Gaddis pulled out all the stops for neighboring Huntington’s, and the interior further differentiates this courthouse from its peers elsewhere- it, too, is a stunner! Upon entering the building to start the workday, Maro -and Joseph- would have gone through one of four grand entrances, down hallways with marble wainscoting, and up marble staircases, probably passing under the rotunda-, which was open from the first floor all the way to the fourth. The building’s primary hallways and courtrooms were finished in mahogany, but the auditor’s office, along with the rest, were finished in oak.
In the event that Maro or Joe needed to go into one of the courtrooms, the two would have encountered ceilings that were twenty-two feet high, each with four stained glass skylights. Each courtroom featured a large mural behind the judge’s bench, and the assessor’s office was home to twelve murals of its own, each picturing one of Huntington County’s townships. Today, the building still features its original mosaic tile floors, as well as a large eagle mosaic underneath the stained glass rotunda. Stained glass rotundas didn’t really fit into the neoclassical school of architecture, but as counties got away from the fortresslike stylings of Richardson Romanesque courthouses, they were the “in” thing to do7, sort of like wearing a classically-tailored suit while donning a man bun.
Thankfully, the courthouse’s lavish interior has held up much better than my friends’ man buns! I’ve not actually been in the Huntington County Courthouse, although Maro’s daughter, my Aunt Connie, and I have been planning a trip in earnest for the past couple of years. Aunt Connie, actually my great aunt, recognized my love of architecture early on. When I was five or six, she walked around Fort Wayne’s courthouse with a disposable camera to take photos of the building for me to draw later. She compiled the photos into an album for me, making sure to stick a star over the window of the auditor’s office where her mom worked. A year ago, she and I got to tour the inside of the Allen County Courthouse and I saw her office firsthand. It was an experience I treasured, and now that I know more about Maro and her grandfather Joe, I appreciate it even more.
This genealogy bug has been a weird one to get, but it’s been kind of cool to find how my interests in history line up with the experiences of my ancestors from a hundred years ago. Just over the past months I’ve discovered relatives who served their counties and communities, paved the way for women to run for office, and even taught freed slaves. It’s a little overwhelming, to be honest, and I feel a little guilty by sitting here and simply writing about their accomplishments. Maybe in 3019 some great-great-great-niece or nephew will stumble across this blog or my Facebook page and feel compelled to document each of the Pizza Huts I spent so much time at. If that day ever comes, I hope that they’ll be happy to share a slice of Super Supreme with me from across the decades. Until then, though, I’ll continue to research and write about Indiana’s county courthouses- and build up those Hut Rewards points.
Huntington County (pop. 37,124, 42/92)
Huntington (pop. 27,391)
Cost:$346,000 ($9.4 million in 2016)
Architect: John W. Gaddis
Courthouse Square: Shelbyville Square
Height: 130 feet
Current Use: County offices and courts
1 Enyart, David. “Huntington County” Indiana County Courthouse Histories. ACPL Genealogy Center, 2010-2018. Web.
2 National Register of Historic Places, Huntington Courthouse Square Historic District, Huntington, Huntington County, Indiana, National Register #92001163.
3 “Jos Shideler Dies Suddenly” The Huntington Herald [Huntington]. December 2, 1926. 1. Print.
4 “Offices to Close” The Huntington Press [Huntington]. December 4, 1926. 7. Print.
5 “Joseph E. Shideler Dies” The Indianapolis News [Indianapolis]. December 2, 1926. 19. Print.
6 “Mrs. Maro Shideler is Candidate for Auditor” The Huntington Herald [Huntington]. January 9, 1926. 1. Print.
7 Indiana Landmarks (2013). Huntington County. Indianapolis. Indiana Landmarks. Retrieved from http://indianacourthousesquare.org.