I’m getting pretty tired of hearing the phrase “these trying times,” or any of its simple derivatives. Aren’t you? I don’t know what secret cabal decided that the insipid saying was the only approved sentence for every person in the media to lead a story with, but it’s really getting old!
Word choices aside, I do understand the sentiment. With coronavirus ripping through our state like Yogi Bear at a Jellystone picnic, we are really making our way through a scary moment in history. I can’t say that I’ve been the best example of caution after heading to locked-down Lake County for courthouse photos a few weeks ago, but while there I minimized social contact and did my best to stay safe from a distance.
When news magazines began to report about Coronavirus being a big enough deal to cause a lot of problems, my first reaction was that of course I’d die from it. I’m morbid! My second though was that if I did, someone would have to clear out all the empty Powerade bottles from the trashcan in my room. How mortifying that would be, so into the dumpster they went. That was my only shameful secret, so I thought about the prospective death toll. What legacy would those people leave? Kids? Work accomplishments? The results of their hobbies? My hobbies, including this one, are cornerstones of who I am. What would theirs be? Or in the case of those 100,000 who have died- what were they?
I’m 29. I’d probably drop my courthouse project, some LEGO designs I’ve done, the pizza robot I’m restoring, and all of the useless facts about NBA basketball I’ve accumulated over the years into a physical cornerstone that was to represent my life. What would be in yours? Residents of Parke County chose some typical items for theirs, including historical documents, stamps, coins, photos, and, weirdly, examples of grain grown in the county1. I guess we’re all entitled to a curveball in our coronastones. Mine would probably be a pipe I got from my dad or maybe a non-sequitur like a random flip-flop. Certainly nothing I’ve grown, since all of that amounts only to a series of kidney stones. On second thought…
Anyway, Parke County was formed in 1821 from land originally controlled by Vigo County2. Temporary county seats were formed in Armiesburg and Roseville that year, although Rockville was named county seat in 1822. They say that the place got its name from after the county’s new commissioners selected its site and toasted their decisiveness by smashing a whiskey bottle on a stone nearby3. Not a kidney stone! But regardless of how it was named, a log courthouse was built in 18264, two years after the town came into its own as an actual village and not just a theoretical place on some parchment. Log cabins don’t last very long, so a standard “coffee mill” courthouse -a two-story brick square with a hipped roof and two-tiered central cupola- was built in 1832 by Matthew Stewart, a local5. My research indicates that, at best, those coffee mills used to have a functional lifespan of about fifty years, and by 1879, commissioners felt the urge to build anew. To that end, they hired T.J. Tolan and his son Brentwood.
Readers here should be pretty familiar with the Tolans. Combined, they were responsible for six other courthouses in Indiana, along with at least four more in neighboring states. The Tolans’ influence even expands to the architects of four more Indiana courthouses designed by Fort Wayne’s Wing & Mahurin. George Wing was T.J.’s primary draftsman before Brentwood took his spot.
For his part, T.J. Tolan designed courthouses in Van Wert, Ohio; Bloomfield, Iowa; LaGrange, Indiana; Springfield, Ohio; and the topic of today’s post, Parke County’s in Rockville. His later works -particularly the courthouse in Rockville- featured elements of Brentwood’s Beaux Arts leanings, while retaining the the old man’s preferences. The firm’s next courthouse was Kosciusko County’s in Warsaw, which ended up completed a year after T.J.’s death. Brentwood was at the helm.
For a while, the younger Tolan kept some of his dad’s inclinations in mind while he designed courthouses in Muncie (1887) and Columbia City (1890). After that, though, he was free! Brentwood’s 1894 LaPorte County Courthouse is a totally different breed from his others as it was done in the Richardson Romanesque mode, and his magnificent 1902 Beaux Arts Allen County Courthouse is competitive with most state capitols. In fact, some believe that Wing & Mahurin helped him6 with it. Afterwards, Brentwood retired back to western Ohio at the age of 47 where he lived out the rest of his life designing minor municipal buildings before he died in 19237. With that many courthouses to his name, the guy needed a break! As a former five-year-old who went from designing cathedrals and courthouses in a combination of LEGOs, Lincoln Logs, and blocks to tiredly building a bland, wooden Meijer replica in kindergarten based on the tastes of my peers, I can relate.
I’m not sure if Brentwood Tolan (or T.J., for that matter) sobbed at the first grade book fair over the lack of architectural picture books while all of his puerile friends happily leafed through Captain Underpants, but I did, and I guess that sentiment informs this blog. The Parke County Courthouse would have fit well into one of those books too- its listed on the National Register of Historic Places as being part of the Rockville Historic District.
Second Empire in style given its mansard roofs and French Renaissance influences, the courthouse is faced with limestone while its base around the water table is actually sandstone. Two and a half stories tall, the structure is capped with a central three-story tower and dome. Each of its sides features an embellished entrance, while entry to the building is gained from underneath an arched portico. I’m terrible at describing windows, but the Parke County Courthouse features segmental-arched ones on its first floor8. What’s that mean? Think of a normal, rounded arch, cut through a circle at its horizontal center. Now take your knife half again as high of what remains and trim- that’s a segmental arch, a shallow arc that doesn’t reach its full downward slope as part of a a semicircle. The second story of the courthouse features conventional arches, while dormer windows open from the roof.
Overall, the building sits as the first entry into a veritable trilogy of courthouses designed by the Tolans, followed by Warsaw’s and Muncie’s with those two being nearly identical to each other aside from some dalliances regarding ornamentation. Alas, Rockville is 122 miles and more than two hours from Muncie, while Warsaw is only 93 miles away, a trip that takes 13 fewer minutes. The Muncie contingency makes up a big part of my readership here, and if they were interested in seeing what we once had, I’d have to advise them to go see the courthouse in Warsaw first. Rockville would make a great secondary trip! A spin-off of the trilogy -Indiana’s own Rogue One, is visible in Columbia City by way of its clock tower. If we were to gather in force, remove it, and truck it down to replace Parke County’s tower, we’d be in business. Of course, we’d have to ship the resulting building back to Muncie, but that could be accomplished by means of hijacking the thing that NASA uses to move rockets here and there.
The Parke County Courthouse is a landmark for those passing by. Indeed, I first passed it on my way for a weekend at Turkey Run State Park while my project was in limbo. “Damn,” I simply thought to myself after passing courthouses in Crawfordsville and Rockville before getting there and unfurling my tent. On my way home, the courthouses in Terre Haute and Brazil called to me after meeting a friend for coffee at a local shop on Wabash Avenue. I should have brought a camera, I said! It wasn’t often that I made it to that side of the state.
That trip reinvigorated my passion for Indiana courthouses. While Rockville and Parke County are mostly known for their covered bridges, I think the courthouse there should take similar stature over the course of those festive proceedings- it is truly a great one that matches up with a great celebration, and indeed, some festivities do center there. While I can’t remember how much wheat I saw growing nearby or what kind it was during my trips through the area, I’m glad some of it’s preserved in the old cornerstone. I’ll still stick with the contributions I’ve set aside for my coronastone, though. What’s going in yours? Anything to honor our state’s historic courthouses? Pizza robot? A blog? Any kidney stones?
Parke County (pop. 17,202, 76/92)
Rockville (pop. 2,591)
Cost: $110,000 ($2.73 million in 2016)
Architect: T.J. and Brentwood Tolan
Style: Second Empire
Courthouse Square: Shelbyville Square
Height: 2.5 stories
Current Use: County offices and courts
1 “History of Parke and Vermillion Counties Indiana” B.F. Bowen and Company [Indianapolis]. 1913. Print.
2 “About Parke County” Parke County Convention and Visitors Commission [Rockville]. 2020. Web. Retrieved 6/4/20.
3 Taylor, Robert. “Indiana: A New Historical Guide” Indiana Historical Society [Indianapolis] 1989. Print.
4 Indiana Landmarks (2013). Parke County. Indianapolis. Indiana Landmarks. Web. Retrieved 6/4/20.
5 Enyart, David. “Parke County” Indiana County Courthouse Histories. ACPL Genealogy Center, 2010-2018. Web. Retrieved 6/4/20.
6 Enyart, David. “Architects” Indiana County Courthouse Histories. ACPL Genealogy Center, 2010-2018. Web. Retrieved 6/4/20.
7 “Westside Cemetery, Delphos, Ohio” Find A Grave. Ancestry.com, LLC. Web. Retrieved 6/4/20.
8 National Register of Historic Places, Rockville Historic District, Rockville, Parke County, Indiana, National Register # 93000471.