So long, 2019! And so long to the 2010s as a whole. As this chronological and calendric milestone draws nearer, retrospectives for the past decade have began to flood the websites I read and the radio stations I listen to- they’re everywhere! Despite the last ten years being formative for me as the first decade of my adulthood, I haven’t had much time or energy to deeply reflect on the decade’s closure. But one thought did manage to sneak through recently: I’ve been a pipe smoker for ten years. As I began to consider that little tidbit as my deadline loomed in front of me, I realized that there’s a lot in common between pipes and courthouses.
First, though, the pipe-smoking: I was turned on to the hobby by my dad when I first moved out to live on my own. A prodigious puffer like his old man before him, dad had a penchant for smoking a saxophone’s worth of discount vanilla Cavendish while editing books and working from his home office. Or any other chance he got. Just driving around- like when we passed many of the county courthouses we’ve already talked about? Forget it- he’s the only person I’ve ever met who permanently affixed a cork pipe knocker and ashtray to the dashboard of two cars. The pastime enthralled me, and a mixture of osmosis and secondhand smoke soon beckoned me to join him. Finally, I’d been elevated from simple spectator to an active participant in the sport.
And smoking a pipe is truly a sport. At first, I was terrible at it- couldn’t keep a pipe lit to save my life. Gradually, though, practice brought improvement. I learned how to use a false light at the onset of the session to form an insulating layer of ash that helped keep the pipe from going out. I studied up on smoking slowly and deliberatively to avoid tongue bite. I quickly grasped how to never smoke the pungent, drugstore cherry tobacco from anything but a disposable corncob. Finally, I memorized the ritual of cleaning and polishing necessary to make a pipe last a lifetime. The investment in time paid off- over the years, I’ve developed a nice little rotation of Peterson straight-stemmed Dublins from Ireland – which I prize for their smokeability and unique geniality- along with a few Danish pipes from Stanwell, whose mid-century bent apple variations I find to be aesthetically superior to their counterparts, if a tiny bit colder in execution and use. What a pompous assessment!
Snobbery aside, the trajectory of my project followed a related path. Though I initially stumbled to each of our state’s courthouses in haphazard fashion, I eventually developed a logical routine that worked and was appreciated.
At its core, a pipe is a piece of working art, as is a courthouse. Both have distinct jobs to do, but beyond that, it’s an artist’s prerogative to make a statement in their design. You don’t have to go far across Indiana to find a traditional, workhorse courthouse like my Petersons. Others, like the Kosciusko County Courthouse in Warsaw, take more of an exuberant approach. Just like my Stanwells.
Now, at first glance, there’s not much similarity between the courthouse and the pipe- one has a clock tower and one doesn’t, for example. Even their underlying design language differs widely too. The courthouse is a spirited concoction of Second Empire, Italianate, and Beaux Arts tropes, while the pipes belong to the understated, organic mid-century modern revolution, closer to courthouses in Indianapolis and New Albany that I’ve already written about. A deeper dive, though, reveals a more common lineage than is apparent on the surface.
In 1881, Brentwood Tolan had a problem. He’d been laboring as the “& Son” of his aging father T.J.’s Fort Wayne architectural firm for nine years, doing much of the company’s anonymous legwork. Sure, his Beaux Arts tendencies were occasionally allowed to peek out through the design for the Parke County Courthouse in Rockville through his advocacy of monumental staircases, arched windows, and classical details2, but by and large, T.J.’s preferences towards the waning Second Empire style usually won out, as seen in the firm’s courthouses in LaGrange (Indiana), Van Wert (Ohio), Springfield (Ohio), and Bloomfield, Iowa. The joys of pipe smoking aside, I will be the first to tell you that trudging along in your father’s footsteps is not at all fun. I’m sure Brentwood felt the same way.
Sixty years and four thousand miles away in Denmark, Poul Nielsen had his own problem. Just like T.J. Tolan unintentionally blocked Brentwood’s early rise up the ladder of prominent courthouse architects by still designing his own structures, World War II cut off the supply of the country’s preferred English pipes, simultaneously disrupting the importation of raw briar. Nielsen, manager of a wood products company, needed to supply his countrymen with pipes, so he turned to the unusual material of beechwood3. After the war ended, briar became available again and Nielsen -embracing the popularity his new product line had attained- decided to compete with the London pipe-makers his countrymen had previously preferred. Part and parcel of doing so was producing pipes under a new, British-sounding name. That’s how a Danish company began manufacturing pipes under the name of Stanwell. The rest is history.
Naming his company Stanwell was Poul Nielsen’s lucky break. Back in the states, Brentwood found his own doubtful advantage- his dad died. In 1881, T.J. named Brentwood chief draftsman of a new courthouse project in Warsaw1, finally giving him some public legitimacy. Brentwood fully embraced his influences, drawing heavily from his work on the Rockville courthouse, so when T.J. perished in 1883 the resultant courthouse was undoubtedly Brentwood’s own. So much so, that he reused its design nearly verbatim for the 1887 courthouse in Muncie. Three years later, the younger Tolan’s Whitley County Courthouse in Columbia City retained the monumental staircases, windows, arches, and octagonal clock towers of its two predecessors, although it was rendered across a much smaller footprint more befitting of the community’s size. For about eight years, Brentwood had courthouse design down to a nearly interchangeable science4. I can’t blame him- it worked!
Back in Denmark, Nielsen’s business was growing, but he still employed Danes who were true masters at pipe design; real artists5. Meanwhile, Stanwell gained the ability to fine-tune its machinery to ensure that the progressive carvings of its expert designers could be mass-manufactured, just like Tolan’s courthouses. Though his buildings in Rockville, Warsaw, Muncie, and Columbia City were all similar to varying degrees, things like topography and budgets had an impact on the final design. In Nielsen’s case, things like the specific cut of briar made each machine-made pipe unique despite a replicated design. Each managed to retain its own identity and be its own piece of art.
Stanwell pipes build on long-established pipe forms, and so do Tolan’s limestone courthouses. The building in Warsaw features nods to his father’s Second Empire preferences through the use of mainstays like a mansard roof with straight sides, along with a central pavilion and paired windows. Beaux Arts came into play via the building’s arched entryways, porthole dormers, tall chimneys6, and the overall style of its 165-foot-tall iron clock tower. Towering over Warsaw in unparalleled fashion, many of our Muncie readers probably know how impressive the structure is firsthand, as it’s a somewhat popular pastime of local history fans here to go see it given its similarities to our own lost courthouse.
Many people have purchased Stanwell pipes from long distances too in order to get a great-smoking, elegant, pipe (including me!). Accordingly, Nielsen’s works have joined the couture of smoking pipes around the globe over the past seventy years, and Tolan’s courthouse has joined the upper echelon of architecture in the United States as appointed to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. But things change over the years: Stanwell production moved across Europe to Italy in 20127. In Warsaw, Indiana, the courts moved across the street after construction of a new Kosciusko County Justice Building was finished in 19808. Although the old courthouse in Warsaw now only holds offices for county administration, it remains a landmark that anchors downtown Warsaw in a way its successor just can’t. Far across the pond, the Stanwell brand remains a major player among European legacy pipe companies.
So pipes and courthouses: disparate on first glance, but containing several parallels as works of functional art and as solutions to problems and realizations of an artist’s influences and times. For me, it took much of the last decade to get really good at smoking a pipe, just as it did to haplessly wander to each of our state’s courthouses. Yet, through practice and work, both pursuits have provided me with a lot of personal satisfaction as I’ve taken the time to appreciate them. Even though I’ve now been to all of Indiana’s courthouses and I’ve long since developed a solid bench of my favorite pipes, as 2019 and the 2010s draw to a close I’m looking forward to a new year, and new decade no less full of more courthousery across the midwest, probably with a pipe riding shotgun. Some things just go well together.
I hope you all have a great New Year!
Kosciusko County (pop. 77.358, 20/92)
Warsaw (pop. 13,559)
Cost: $197,799.65. ($4.9 million in 2016)
Architect: T. J. Tolan & Son
Style: Neoclassical/Second Empire
Courthouse Square: Shelbyville Square
Height: 162 feet
Current use: county offices
1 Enyart, David. “Architects” Indiana County Courthouse Histories. ACPL Genealogy Center, 2010-2018. Web. Retrieved 12/29/19.
2 Klein, Fogle, and Etienne. Clues to American Architecture. Starhill Press [Washington, D.C.]. 1986. Print. 38.
3 Stevens, Basil. “Stanwell” Pipedi. S.E. Thile Handmade Pipes. Web. Retrieved 12/29/19.
4 Spurgeon, Bill. “Our Neighborhood” The Muncie Star [Muncie]. Decembe3r 15, 1995. A4. Print.
5 “Stanwell Pipes” Smoking Pipes. SPDC [Little River]. Web. Retrieved 12/29/19.
& National Register of Historic Places, Warsaw Court House and Jail Historic District, Warsaw, Kosciusko County, Indiana, National Register # 82000046.
7 “Stanwell Pipes” Smoking Pipes [South Carolina}. Web. Retrieved 12/29/19.
8 Indiana Landmarks (2013). Kosciusko County. Indianapolis. Indiana Landmarks. Web. Retrieved 12/29/19.