I never thought that researching our state’s historic courthouses would give me reason to crack open a book about cruise missiles, but that all changed today. Why? The Putnam County Courthouse in Greencastle has a buzz bomb, a legitimate German V-1 (Vengeance Weapon 1) flying missile, on its courthouse square as part of its county veterans memorial. It’s only one of ten in the country. How’d it get there? Keep reading to find out.
Today we might know Putnam County as the home of DePauw University, the site of eight covered bridges, myriad old highway alignments, or the home of Cagles Mill Lake, Indiana’s first flood control reservoir with some good fishing to boot. Interested in the bridges and infrastructure? Jim Grey’s got your back- read everything he’s ever written about the place here.
Back in the early 1800s, none of that existed. Actually, Putnam County didn’t exist either- its land was ceded from Owen and Vigo counties, along with parts of of Monroe and Parke counties acquired via the Treaty of St. Mary’s1, an “agreement” with the Miami Indians in 1818. The county was actually formed in 1822, the year after Greencastle -the area’s most prominent community- was founded by Ephraim Dukes, who named it after his hometown in Pennsylvania2. Some scholars indicate that the county seat was first located in an unofficial town called Bedford, but they concede that locating the ghost settlement is impossible. Unfortunately, county records from 1822 to 1828 are unavailable, so no one truly knows what the county’s first courthouse looked like or where, exactly, it was3.
In 1828, county commissioners signed an order to pay an Amos Robertson money that “may become due on the last payment on the courthouse contract,” though a second report the following year indicated that “[we] have proceeded to examine [the courthouse project] and beg leave to report that we find the same in an unfinished situation”. Robertson had defaulted. Commissioners turned to Arthur McGaughey to finish the building, paying him precisely $699.93 for the privilege. By September of 1829, the new courthouse was completed, “with the exception of one Venetian blind in the northwest corner of said house- upper window4.” Though finally nearly done, the courthouse was outgrown after only two years. A second building to house the clerk and recorded was soon built nearby.
By now, the story is familiar: every county grew up pretty fast, beyond the capabilities of their first courthouses (and their annexes, as the case might have been), so a second wave had to be designed and erected. Depending on the county’s location and when they fell into line, this second generation of courthouse often took shape as what Fort Wayne historian Daniel Enyart referred to as a “stylized” building, examples of which can still be seen in Nashville, Angola, and Paoli. These structures superseded earlier “Coffee Mill” courthouses like those seen today in Wilmington, Rome, and Corydon, which themselves surpassed the regular brick, frame, and log courthouses of the early-early 1800s.
Regardless of the specifics, Greencastle got a “stylized” courthouse in 1848. Contemporary art shows a building that basically looks like a small Greek temple. Two stories tall, the courthouse was three bays wide with a pair of columns framing a first-story entrance door and window above. Three chimneys projected from each side of the lengthy gabled roof, and the painting seems to indicate that the square didn’t quite take up the entire city block that the present courthouse sits on today5. We won’t belabor that structure, though. Putnam County got a new courthouse in 1905, and it’s what we see today.
Now, it might seem at first glance that Indiana’s 92 counties each have a courthouse design all to themselves. I certainly thought that when I started cataloguing them! Unfortunately, it’s not true- our state’s portfolio is full of identical twins, cousins, siblings, and triplets. Greencastle’s courthouse, designed by John W. Gaddis, fits the latter category as the first of three very similar designs. An eclectic attempt at neoclassicism, the limestone building rises two stories above a rusticated, fully-above ground basement for a total of three floors. Its north and south sides feature projecting, pedimented entryways supported by four Corinthian columns above recessed entrances to the first floor. Though the building was initially designed to feature clocks in its pediments, its circular portals were first finished with glass inserts. Overall, the courthouse cost $175,729 upon construction, about $5.1 million today if inflation calculators are to be believed. For what it’s worth, Gaddis also designed the romanesque courthouses in Saline County, Illinois and Perry County, Missouri. His 1919 Bell County Courthouse in Pine County, Kentucky closer matches the style he exhibited in Indiana, though it’s more restrained.
By the time the Greencastle courthouse was finished, work was long underway at Gaddis’ next courthouse in Huntington County 150 miles to the northeast. That structure added half a story to its three floors, along with a prominent dome and drum. Completed in 1906, the building cost nearly double what Greencastle’s did, $346,773. It even surpassed Gaddis’s final Indiana courthouse, Clay County’s in Brazil, which was finished in 1914 and serves as a bridge between his first two in terms of style and scale. In looking at the buildings side-to-side, it’s not hard to see a common lineage.
Back in Greencastle, not a lot has changed, aside from the clocks. In 1983, the south elevation finally got one, a copper-tinted affair featured in my pictures6. The north side of the courthouse was left with an unsightly louvered vent. That all changed in 2017, when new, backlit, Smith and Bell clock faces were installed in both the north and south sides of the building, deleting the old faces and vents, along with the old glass inserts which were removed by crane and flatbed7. I’ll have to go back to see them in action. Unfortunately, a huge waymarking sign for IN-231 significantly mars the front view of the courthouse. I hate it.
Now’s the part of the post when we’ve finally made it to the courthouse green. Here it is, the square’s most prominent feature, its Viquesney “Spirit of the American Doughboy” statue, one of more than 150 casts created at full size and one of Indiana’s eleven. But I know what you’re really here for, and now we get to talk about it: That buzz bomb! It’s certainly unusual, to say the least.
First off- what were these things? Well, like I mentioned, the Germans called them V-1s, short for Vengeance Weapon 1 and knew them in code as “Cherry Stones8.” They were basically early cruise missiles. Using a jet engine that pulsed fifty times per second creating a characteristic buzzing sound9, the V-1s were first used to target London on June 13, 1944 in retaliation for the allied landings in Europe during Operation Overlord, the Battle of Normandy. More than 9,500 were launched at southeastern England until October, 1944 when the Nazis switched to sending nearly 2,500 towards Antwerp, Belgium10. But eventually the war was won, and eventually the bombs stopped buzzing. The US -and its allies- emerged victorious.
So how’d tiny Greencastle get it’s very own V-1? Well, in 1947 J. Frank Durham, a navy reservist and native of Greencastle, was receiving explosives training in Maryland when he heard an announcement that all obsolete captured enemy projectiles would soon be disposed of. He made a list of forty items he wanted and asked the officer in charge to set them aside to donate to Greencastle’s VFW. Scoffing, the officer replied that it’d take an Act of Congress for him to get the materials, so Durham got to work. His efforts were successful: later that year, Senator William Jenner informed Durham that the Secretary of the Navy had signed his ordinance, sending it to the Senate and the House. In 1948, it passed11, and Greencastle became the home of one of the nation’s ten examples of a Nazi V-1 Buzz Bomb.
It was that easy! I’ve recently been on the prowl for a Thunderbolt-1000 tornado siren, something with much less notoriety than an early cruise missile but still owned by the government. Maybe all I have to do is ask for one! I know Indianapolis recently upgraded their whole system to new 2001-SRs, but maybe I can drive down to Greencastle and appeal to the officials there for an old one with the same sense of generosity that netted them their Buzz Bomb. I might have to take that negotiation master class I keep seeing advertised on YouTube- we will see! Meanwhile, if you hear a loud, oscillating noise coming from my house, please know that it’s not a Buzz Bomb- that’ll still be happily stationed at Putnam County’s 1905 courthouse for years to come.
Putnam County (pop. 37,505, 41/92)
Greencastle (pop. 10,310)
Cost: $175,729.68 ($4.68 million in 2016))
Architect: John W. Gaddis
Courthouse Square: Shelbyville Square
Height: 3 stories
Current Use: County offices and courts
1 Peggy Tuck Sinko: Indiana Atlas of Historical County Boundaries, John H. Long, Ed., Charles Scribner’s Sons, Simon & Schuster Macmillan, New York, N.Y., 1996,
2 “History” Putnam County, Indiana. Putnam County Auditor. Web. Retrieved 4/12/20.
3 Enyart, David. “Putnam County” Indiana County Courthouse Histories. ACPL Genealogy Center, 2010-2018. Web. Retrieved 4/12/20.
4 Weik, Jeese W. “Weik’s History of Putnam County Indiana” 1910. B.F. Bowen Company [Indianapolis]. Print.
5 Courthouse History. Keith Vincent. 2018. Web. Retrieved 4/12/20.
6 “Projects” Installation of Two Clocks in the Putnam County Courthouse Facade. The Heritage Preservation Society of Putnam County. Web. Retrieved 4/12/20.
7 “Courthouse Clock Installation” The Banner Graphic. April 14, 2017. Web. Retrieved 4/12/20.
8 Zaloga, Steven (2005), V-1 Flying Bomb 1942–52, Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing
9 Werrell, Kenneth P. (1985), The Evolution of the Cruise Missile, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama: Air University Press.
10 “The defence of Antwerp against the V-1 missile” (PDF). Defense Technical Information Center. 1971. Web. Retrieved 4/12/20.
11 “J. Frank Durham Endowment for the Buzz Bomb War Memorial”. The Putnam County Community Foundation. 2020. Web. Retrieved 4/12/20.