Hendricks County- Danville (1912-)

The Hendricks County Courthouse in Danville, Indiana

Though its 1824 founding predated the start of the TV show by a hundred and thirty-six years, Danville has a real affinity for the Andy Griffith Show. Well, mainly Mayberry, the site of Andy and Barney’s foibles on CBS. How do I know this? Well, there’s the Mayberry Cafe for starters, a local institution right on Danville’s courthouse square for the past 31 years. Brad Born, the owner and operator of the restaurant, really loves the fictional place. “He always wanted to live in a place like Mayberry,” his wife Christine says, “and we’ve found the people in Danville are about as decent and loyal as you’d find in Mayberry1.” 

Cars fill this lot when the Mayberry of the Midwest Festival is going on.

The city has seen the likes of cast members Jim Nabors, Jean Carson, Rodney Dillard Bank, and Maggie Peterson stop by for breakfast or lunch, as have Karen Knotts and Dixie Griffith, who ventured into town for items like Aunt Bee’s Fried Pickles, Otis’s Basket of Wings, Myers’ Lake Special Catfish, or Ernest T’s Bacon Swiss burger. I never knew that Mr. Bass preferred Swiss on his burger instead of muenster (my go-to if given the option), or that Otis Campbell conquered his hangovers with sauces like sweet teriyaki, sriracha, mango habanero, or garlic parmesan. But I’m not here to spoil the fun- due to the influence of the restaurant, Danville hosts a yearly “Mayberry in the Midwest” festival including appearances by some of those secondary cast members and their offspring, tribute artists, a parade, a pancake breakfast, and an Opie look-alike contest2. I probably wouldn’t go, but you might!

Danville 1
The Hendricks County Courthouse, though small compared to some of its brethren, serves as a neoclassical anchor for festivities that take place in the community.

Though the festival kicks off in May (it was canceled this year due to COVID-19 concerns) it seems like summer in central Indiana hasn’t truly begun until some inebriate smashes into the restaurant’s  Ford Galaxie police cruiser parked out front3. Otis would be proud, though surely he’d find himself locked up again in the Mayberry County Courthouse, a small, overtaxed building that also served as city hall and jail for the one-stoplight community. I’m glad I have Danville’s courthouse to describe rather than that structure, which was little more than part of a soundstage with a convoluted layout. Nevertheless, the two towns sort of blur together for me. That’s unfortunate, since Danville -and Hendricks County as a whole- has a much more interesting history than Andy Taylor’s home.

I mentioned that Danville was founded in 1824. It established a post office a year after that4, and was incorporated as a legitimate town in 18355 . The first courthouse, a log structure, was built in 1826 and lasted four years, measuring 26×20 feet. 1830 brought a square, brick structure, which lasted for thirty-two years before Isaac Hodgson, designer of eight Indiana courthouse (though only Brookville, Greensburg’s, and Vincennes remain), had his way with a $60,000 gothic structure that collapsed under a heavy snow in 1912 and was abandoned6. Oops! Here’s a postcard of that old courthouse before the record snow. I was happy to acquire this just a few weeks ago: 

A postcard of the gothic, 1862 Hendricks County Courthouse.

They certainly don’t make them like that anymore, and they didn’t when it came to its replacement: to build the county’s first truly modern courthouse, officials selected Indianapolis architect Clarence Martindale. If you live around the area, you might be familiar with the neighborhood Martindale-Brightwood, named in part for Clarence’s dad, Judge E.B. The younger Martindale made his name designing a variety of buildings around Indianapolis, including the original portion of Hawthorne Elementary School on Rawles Avenue and its twin,  the Lucretia Mott School at Rural Street, built in 1904 and 1905 respectively. Among his other designs were the National Motor Vehicle Company building at the 1100 block of east 22nd Street, built in 19157. Though he was responsible for several houses of different styles, his Hendricks County Courthouse remains the pinnacle of Martindale’s portfolio. 

Danville 5
A projecting porch of doric columns separates the building’s second and third floors from its first. The bell in front remains from the previous, gothic-style courthouse.

And that courthouse is a landmark despite its quaint nature, consisting of two brick stories above a limestone water table. Measuring three bays wide, it features modified ten-over-ten windows with rowlock brick courses on either side of an entrance bay accessed behind a projecting porch of two doric columns that support a flat pediment with a hefty stone parapet. The upper story features two bays of six-over-six windows, with limestone lintels, that flank a course that projects above the main entry. The building is capped with another limestone parapet, rising to a curve above the central segment. Overall, the building looks like a narrow commercial garage that’s been gussied up over the years. Inside is a simple judge’s desk surrounded by simple balusters, an office in the back room, and two jail cells visible from the sheriff’s desk8. 

Oops- that’s the Mayberry courthouse! Danville’s is, by contrast, a much greater building- it combines a massive presence with simple, Beaux Arts details built from Indiana Oolitic limestone. Its four faces are symmetrical in contrast to Mayberry’s. If you look at any side of the courthouse, you’ll see that each facade is organized into three greater bays with two ranks of windows flanking a central entry point. Those framing bays consist of a tall surface foundation of smooth stone and two spans of windows on each floor. The windows on the upper floors are, importantly, separated by broad pilasters that project slightly from the building’s walls and separate the first floor from the second. 

Though it barely rises above the buildings that surround it, the Hendricks County Courthouse in Danville is a true landmark, surpassing its fictional brother in Mayberry, NC.

The central bay, containing the building’s entrances, consists of three tall, arched, door openings with a low balcony directly above the structure’s belt course. The tops of the courthouse’s columns and pilasters support a narrow architrave (a main beam supported by columns, I learned today), a wide frieze, and a projecting cornice. Above the central bay is a closed pediment with a small clock face9. This is visible on each side. Though the exterior is massive, it sort of manages to be hum-drum in the face of Indiana’s more elaborate courthouses, but that’s consistent with its neoclassical brethren. The impression goes away once you enter the building, as an enormous rotunda -hidden on the outside by the building’s parapet- comes into view. It is truly a majestic structure. Needless to say, it dwarves Mayberry’s. Old Andy wouldn’t have known what to do with all this space, not to mention the old Hendricks County Jail and Sheriff’s Residence on South Washington which he, Aunt Bee, and Opie would call home adjacent to Mayberry’s prisoners. Though it’s housed the Hendricks County Museum since 197410, the Italianate structure would have been right up Griffith’s alley. 

The Royal Theater sits just across South Washington Street from the venerable courthouse.

Andy Griffith and Don Knotts never made it to Danville to enjoy a Mayberry festival, and I think that’s a shame. The Royal Theater, a Tudor-styled cinema right next to the courthouse, could have shown a Matlock or Three’s Company festival they may have enjoyed. Nevertheless, the community embodies the quaint spirit of Mayberry through its ubiquitous cafe, as well as the hospitality of those who live there. In my experience, there’s a world of difference between what downtown Danville provides compared to what most of the rest of Indy’s recent suburban sprawl offers. Most of the surrounding communities have grown up big-time, pig-time in recent years and don’t have a natural anchor for their downtown, or a downtown at all aside from a few old buildings whose numbers are rapidly dwindling. I’m hoping that Danville’s true, honest, courthouse square keeps the place alive as a suburban destination. Despite my cynicism and reticence, if it takes the influence Andy Griffith’s homespun assistance, then I’m all for it.

Hendricks County (pop. 153,879, 11/92)
Danville (pop. 9,424)48/92 photographed
Built: 1914
Cost: $225,000  ($5.37 million in 2016)
Architect: Clarence & Martindale
Style: Neoclassical
Courthouse Square: Shelbyville Square
Height: 2.5 stories
Current Use: Courts and some county offices
Photographed: 3/12/16

1 ”About Us” The Mayberry Cafe [Danville]. 2020. Web. Retrieved 4/17/20
2 “Mayberry in the Midwest” Danville, Indiana. October 14, 2019. Web. Retrieved 4/17/20
3 Smith, Andrew “Mayberry Cafe car struck, damaged by motorist who fell asleep at wheel” RTV6. Scripps Local Media. June 16, 2019. Web. Retrieved 4/17/20.
4 “Hendricks County”. Jim Forte Postal History. Web. Retrieved 4/17/20.
5 Hadley, John Vestal. “History of Hendricks County, Indiana: Her People, Industries and Institutions.” 1913. B.F. Bowen [Indianapolis]. Print.
6 Enyart, David. “Hendricks County” Indiana County Courthouse Histories. ACPL Genealogy Center, 2010-2018. Web. Retrieved 4/17/20.
7 “National Motor Vehicle Co.” Hugh J. Baker & Company Collection. Indiana Historical Society. 2018. Web. Retrieved 4/17/20.
8 “Mayberry Courthouse” The Andy Griffith Show Wiki. Fandom. Web. Retrieved 4/17/20.
9 National Register of Historic Places, Danville Courthouse Square Historic District, Danville, Hendricks County, Indiana, National Register # 02001559.
10 National Register of Historic Places, Hendricks County Jail and Sheriff’s. Residence, Danville, Hendricks County, Indiana, National Register # 83000125.

2 thoughts on “Hendricks County- Danville (1912-)

  1. I had not been aware of the collapse of the previous courthouse. That one would be a real gem today.

    I made many trips to that courthouse years ago when Marion County cases were routinely transferred to neighboring counties. I appreciate the look through fresh eyes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It would! As I’ve acquired more postcards of older predecessor courthouses, I’ve gone back and added them to some posts. Lebanon’s would have been very interesting today as well, along with those in Huntington and Auburn.


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