Today we’re going to talk about all kinds of things.
One of my favorite childhood memories was seeing the illuminated clock of the old Elkhart County Courthouse in Goshen wave howdy to my brother and me towards my dad’s house every other weekend when we’d visit him. Since most of my courthouse visits over the course of this project were taken during the daytime, I never got to see an old-fashioned, lit-up clock tower. But that changed on my penultimate trip.
As a birthday present, my mom came with me to the southwestern tip of the state. Even though we started early, the plan was ambitious- we’d hit Pike, Gibson, Vanderburgh, Posey, Warrick, Spencer, and Dubois in quick succession before heading home. After we’d made it to the first six, an errant southbound turn down the cable-stayed William H. Natcher Bridge towards Kentucky threatened our ability to get to Jasper before nightfall Luckily, we made it just before sundown. Even luckier, halfway around the courthouse square, the clock lit up. Perfect!
Now, I’ve gone to great lengths to describe many of our state’s courthouses as unique among their peers, and I may have exaggerated that for some based on my fandom of our state’s courthouse portfolio as a whole. Let me just say, though, that the Dubois County Courthouse is truly unique. For starters, it’s one of only three in the state that sit on a Lancaster square- a modified city block close in design to a roundabout or traffic circle1. As a point of comparison, 76 counties across the state feature the Shelbyville square, a much more common design that takes the form of a traditional grid. A third, even more uncommon style of courthouse square is the Harrisonburg design, which is found in three counties and combines the other two types.
The layout of the courthouse square seems to have impacted the design of the building itself, which measures 144 feet long by almost 66 feet wide. It was the only one in Indiana designed by Milburn, Heister & Company of Washington, D.C., who completed it in 1911. Compared to many of our old courthouses with clock towers, it’s a relative shorty, only reaching a hundred feet skyward. But that’s still tall, and the only taller building in town is the 1880 St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, five blocks north with a bell tower that rises an enormous 235 feet2. Jesus!
The east and west sides of the courthouse are pretty much identical, though the eastern face is generally considered to be the primary entrance and features a massive, rusticated Soldiers and Sailors monument. Standing above a raised limestone basement, the building features the same yellow Huntingburg brick (historically manufactured just eight miles south3) that courthouses in Petersburg and Boonville used for their own distinctive look.
Overall, the building is judged neoclassical due to its central block, end pavilions, and central porticos topped by triangular pediments, and those porticos are the main show here. But scroll up from the porticos and you’ll see that this courthouse, unlike most neoclassical ones, has a hipped roof. It’s gigantic, and it’s weird for this style of structure. Wooden joists, beams, and decking support it in the attic, and although it was originally roofed with terra cotta tile, it’s been replaced with asphalt shingle over the years. On top of that, even, is the cupola, covered in sheet metal and featuring a tall drum, six-over-six windows facing each cardinal direction, and four clocks. The original clock mechanism, cast by E. Howard & Co. from Boston, is still in use4, though the 1845 bell from the previous courthouse isn’t. Never fear, though- it’s still on site, perched up in the tower. The yellow brick, classic porticos, hipped roof, unique cupola, and courthouse square all combine to form this weird, tasty drink that’s different any other courthouse in the state. Think of making hot Swiss Miss hot chocolate with water, but use milk and a pinch of cayenne pepper instead. That’s what I mean.
Now what about that old 1845 courthouse I mentioned? Per old postcards, it was a simple, rectangular Greek Revival building measuring four bays wide by nine long. Facing east, the courthouse had a recessed balcony supported by two rows of two columns with a small, two-level belfry above a shallow, gabled roof5. Unfortunately, I don’t have a postcard of it, but a fun thing my brother and I used to do in preschool was to take Silly Putty, slap it over a photo in the newspaper, and stretch it out until it made us laugh. If you want to see what the old Dubois county courthouse looked like and have a newsprint image of the Martin County Courthouse in Shoals, take some putty and make a transfer of the image. Stretch the length of the building back a ways, then reduce the belfry down by about half. There you go- instant analog Photoshop. For a much lower monthly fee, I might add.
Near the turn of the century, Dubois County was undergoing some ethnographic changes. While many German Lutherans had come to Fort Wayne over the years, their Catholic counterparts headed to Jasper in huge numbers as the Fr. Joseph Kundek, a prominent citizen and the designer of the 1845 courthouse, began to advertise the area’s opportunities in German newspapers in Cincinnati and Louisville. The influx of people -flying in “like snowflakes7”- jump-started Jasper’s leap from its agrarian past into newfound industry centered around lumber and woodworking. As we’ve seen elsewhere, the influxes in population and industrialization left the old courthouse behind- it’d simply become too small.
While today the conversation might take a turn towards advocating preservation for preservation’s sake, in 1894, local officials -namely, the county engineer, auditor, judge, sheriff, and a county commissioner- took a trip to Chicago to witness some of the Beaux Arts and Neoclassical designs they’d heard rumors about at the Columbian Exposition. Needless to say, they came back enamored with the fair’s architecture and urban planning, and though it took fifteen more years to make their plans for a larger courthouse reality7, it was quite clear that the old Greek Revival building’s days were numbered.
By 1909, the old structure was gone, and by 1911, its replacement -the current one- was finished. Though officials studied examples of some of the most ostentatious architecture being produced around the turn of the century in Chicago, the new courthouse was completed at the paltry cost of $62,179- “Cheap!” In Mad Magazine parlance. It’s possible that reusing brick from the old courthouse, along with its old bell and some fireproof safes kept the costs down, but my theory is that the overwhelmingly German mindset of the area probably ensured that the building was frugally done. After all, you don’t buy a brightly-colored car because it’ll be too conspicuous. And even if you could afford a Cadillac, an Oldsmobile was plenty good enough8.
My name is Shideler. That’s pretty German, and I’ve already lived in Fort Wayne so maybe I belong in Jasper. But alas, I drive a Chevy Impala, not an Oldsmobile. And when I went to take photos of the Dubois County Courthouse there, I was in a Hyundai Elantra. Not very German of me to drive a Korean car, but it was my stepdad’s, although his family came from England.
Maybe the greater point is that the courthouse in Jasper is what happens when a bunch of Germans call for a building with French, Greek, and Italian influences after taking inspiration from American examples in Chicago. That’s a pretty uncommon pedigree if you ask me, perfect for marking its own entry in our state’s courthouse portfolio. American Exaberrance, we might call it! Perfect to me, too, for nearly marking the end of my project with it’s lit-up clock tower.
DuBois County (pop. 45,844, 48/92)
Jasper (pop. 13,380)
Cost: $62,179. ($1.5 million in 2016)
Architect: Milburn, Heister & Company
Style: Beaux Arts/Neoclassical
Courthouse Square: Lancaster
Height: 100 feet
Current Use: Some county courts
1 Indiana’s Historic Courthouses. Indianapolis: Courthouse Preservation Advisory Commission, 2011. Print.
2 National Register of Historic Places, St. Joseph Catholic Church. Jasper, Dubois County, Indiana, National Register # 80000033.
3 Ries, Heinrich. “The Clays of the United States East of the Mississippi River, Issue 11” United States Geological Survey. Government Printing Office [Washington]. 1903. Print.
4 National Register of Historic Places, Dubois County Courthouse. Jasper, Dubois County, Indiana, National Register # 95001538.
5 Courthouse History. Keith Vincent. 2018. Web. Retrieved September 30, 2019.
6 “Germans Come Flying Like Snowflakes” German Heritage. Dubois County Museum. Web. Retrieved on September 30, 2019.
7 Indiana Landmarks (2013). “Dubois County”. Indianapolis. Indiana Landmarks. Web. Retrieved September 30, 2019.
8 Cavanaugh, J.P. “Raised by Germans” J.P.’s Blog. November 6, 2015. Web. Retrieved September 30, 2019.