“Good, better, best. Never let it rest! Until the good is the better and the better is the best!”
That sing-song quotation, hilariously misattributed to St. Jerome who was born in the year 347 before contractions existed, has actually been around only since 1897. It appears to have been well-known at the time based on its appearance in that year’s edition of Christian Work: Illustrated Family Newspaper– Volume 62, page 195, to be exact1. Painted on the wall of the Yorktown Elementary School gymnasium without attribution, the saying didn’t help me beat the president’s physical fitness test for pull-ups in 2001. But now, nearly twenty years later, I find it apropos for a trio of courthouses in Indiana developed by A.W. and E.A. Rush around the turn of the century.
I’ve been to and taken pictures of every courthouse in Indiana, but it wasn’t until I was fifteen or twenty into Ohio afterwards that I realized something: Viewed as an alphabetical or other arbitrary grouping, our courthouse portfolio seems extremely diverse. It is somewhat diverse, but maybe it was due to the way my trips were slapped together that I almost never ran into courthouse designed by the same architect in the same day. That changed when I started Ohio, then happened again during trips to a good chunk of Michigan’s: a lot of the courthouses I found were similar, and some were even nearly identical! Some quick field research showed that my hunch was correct. A lot of architects were, naturally, free agents hoping to crank out as many commissions as they could. Because of that, they tended to design a lot of similar buildings. They may have even reused -or sold- their plans. Could you blame them? Maybe if you’re a Sex-Pistols-over-the-Ramones kind of guy or gal you could, but I’ve always been a Misfits fan.
In terms of Indiana courthouses, there are brothers in Vevay and Madison even though we don’t have architect David Dubach to thank2. Instead, we’ve got the slimy Switzerland County Commissioners in Vevay who used Dubach’s plans for their own structure. John W. Gaddis’s courthouses in Huntington, Brazil, and Greencastle are also clearly siblings, differing only in height and the ornamentation of their domes, as are Gordon Randall’s courthouses in Anderson (now demolished) and Frankfort. We don’t need the help of Maury Povich to find the shared DNA between the neoclassical courthouses in Rockport, Delphi, and Petersburg since the test proves that the insatiable Elmer Dunlap was the father of all three. Finally, we can figure out John Bayard’s classical revival structures in Newport and Sullivan without a guide. That’s what brings us to the Rushes, whose set of triplet courthouses is my favorite such grouping in Indiana despite the 159 miles that separates them.
So who is this mysterious Rush family? E.A., or Arthur as he was known, was son of A.W. Though his dad died in 1923, the younger Rush designed buildings all over the midwest, concentrating in Grand Rapids and, surprisingly, Tulsa, Oklahoma3. Despite their trottings, the Rushes were able to carve out enough time to design three Indiana courthouses.
Now, courthouses are only as opulent as their constituents are willing to approve- or their commissioners are willing to cram down their throats. Here in Muncie, our new jail and courthouse currently being built inside a former middle school finished in 1996 is getting features like lots of windows and skylights specifically because it’s a retrofit of an existing structure rather than a new build4. The people of Pulaski County didn’t have a ton of money to throw around, but they still commissioned the Rushes to design a courthouse for them in 1895 to the tune of $50,000 all told. Though inflation calculators are tricky, that works out to being $1,531,000 in 2020 dollars, while the new judicial center in Muncie is expected to top out at, well, a shitload. ($45 million5).
Just east, officials in Fulton County were excited about what the Arthur and A.W. were cooking up in Winamac, so they decided to fling $100,000 at them for their own courthouse in Rochester, delivered in 1896. Taller and larger than Winamac’s, the Fulton County Courthouse set a new standard for what the Rush family could design in Indiana. That was shattered in 1898, though, as the two ventured south to Rushville where they had no relation to the town’s namesake but managed to complete the county courthouse in 1898 at an unheard-of cost of $250,000- five times Pulaski County’s spend, and twice and half again Fulton County’s. That’s $7.8 million today.
Let’s take a quick look of each courthouse in chronological order to compare. What should, but might not be apparent given the different distances I took these photos from, is, first off, their height. The Pulaski County courthouse is 106 feet tall. Rochester’s bests that by fourteen feet, clocking in at 120. Rushville’s pistol-whips and curb-stomps both, though, reaching a crazy 196 feet into the sky, good for Indiana’s sixth tallest if we don’t include the modern high-rise in Indianapolis. The bulk of the buildings is notable as well, in addition to their ornamentation inside and out. A layman might make a case for all three to appear the same, but as always, the devil’s in the details.
120 feet is nothing to sneeze at, by the way. It’s in the 68th percentile of courthouse heights in the state and taller than twenty nine our of ninety courthouses. But back to those details: they that make the Fulton County Courthouse notable among its siblings, after all. We can start with the lions: Large, carved stone cats sit on pedestals at center stage on the lower steps at all four of the building’s elevations. Small lion carvings also flank the last set of steps on the building’s north and south entrances, connected by scroll buttresses6– there are ten total. No one seems to have an idea why lions are here, especially given that Rochester Community High School’s mascot is the Zebras, commonly the prey of lions. I would imagine that it has to do with the cultural significance of strength and nobility that lions tend to carry, despite their status as maneaters. I suspect some patrons of the courthouse might agree with that assessment based on any verdicts they might have received from overzealous members of the judiciary.
Just as Rush County officials had to jam their opulent courthouse through, residents of Fulton County flinched at proposed overages beyond the Rushes’ proposed $70,000 cost. Entry changes, metal furniture, marble wainscotting, and more than a hundred dollars diverted for new spittoons7 added 42% to the cost, and after it was all said and done, a ceremony was held to christen the building and name each of the lions, “so the taxpayers who must foot the enormous bill of their cost may become more familiar with their pets and be able to salute them by name as they pass in to ‘behold the grandeur’ of the $175,000 unpaid for temple of justice8.” Oof.
The rest of the building, following the Romanesque mode popularized by Henry Hobson Richardson, is four stories tall and features rusticated stone, arched windows, and hipped roofs with cross gables. It towers over the rest of Rochester. Interestingly, the structure is the only building designed by the Rushes to contain semi-circular towers and conical turrets- a feature we see at the similarly-designed Hancock County Courthouse in Greenfield.
So, back to that “Good, better, best” quote. It’s tough for an observer -a tourist, really- like me to assign a value to a courthouse that represents immense civic pride for its town. But, objectively speaking, I think the good courthouse in Winamac is obviously something to be valued, particularly due to the hardship it’s gone through in recent years9. It appears a plan is in order to save it, which is great! I think the better courthouse, in Rochester, should be valued as well, particularly due to its prominence in the town and its ten lion statues and imposing tower. Finally, the Rush County Courthouse is a national treasure. The Rush triplets should all be assessed as parts of a timeline as well as independent entries into our courthouse portfolio. With them -particularly with regards to Fulton County’s- there is something for everyone. Even for A.W and E.A. Rush, along with St. Jerome and Mr. Dudley, my elementary-era gym teacher.
Fulton County (pop. 20,836, 72/92)
Rochester (pop. 6,218)
Cost: $150,000 ($4.31 million in 2016)
Architect: A. W. Rush & Son
Style: Richardson Romanesque
Courthouse Square: Shelbyville Square
Height: 120 feet
Current use: courts and some county offices
1 Fatherhorton. “Good, better, best; St. Jerome?” Fauxtations: Because sometimes the Internet is wrong. September 26, 2016. Web. Retrieved 1/10/20.
2 Courthouse History. Keith Vincent. 2018. Web. Retrieved 1/10/20.
3 Arthur “E.A.” Rush (1860-1948). TFA. Tulsa Foundation for Architecture. Web. Retrieved 1/10/20.
4 Ohlenkamp, Corey. “What will former school look like as a jail? Project still on schedule, and on budget.” The Star Press [Muncie]. 1/10/20. Web. Retrieved 1/10/20.
5 “Former Muncie Middle School To Become New County Jail” Indiana Public Media. WTIU.2/28/18. Web. Retrieved 1/10/20.
6 National Register of Historic Places, Pike County Courthouse, Petersburg, Pike County, Indiana, National Register # 00001138.
7 Indiana Landmarks
8 “Fulton County Courthouse Lions” Save Outdoor Sculpture clipping hiles. Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana. Print. Retrieved 1/10/20.
9 Kirk, Michael. “Pulaski County Courthouse may be torn down” The Pharos Tribune [Logansport]. 1/19/19. Web. Retrieved 1/10/20.