I love collections and always have, at least since my parents labeled me “Mass Destructo Man” in my earliest days when I’d tear around the house, ransacking the place to find like objects to sort by size, color, shape, and so on. From youth to adulthood, my favorite hobbies have always been collections. I especially love ones that are never-ending! Take early-1900s Ball Mason jars. I collected them when I worked in marketing there, and there are infinite numbers of different shades you can find from when the early factories would switch from, say, a batch of blue glass to amber.
I’ve always approached this project as a hobby of collecting photos, facts, and blog posts about Indiana’s historic county courthouses. Unfortunately, the state has a finite amount of them and after 118 buildings, the well went dry. I was on track to finishing up all of them in Ohio before COVID-19 hit. Today, we’ll discuss the Darke County Courthouse in Greenville. Hopefully after we exhaust what I have now, I’ll be able to finish the rest of what Ohio has to offer.
Greenville -population 13,000 or so- is about an hour away from my hometown of Muncie, sitting about 20 minutes into Ohio on 571-E, a continuation of IN-28, and it’s where I decided to go first on my first Courthousery trip in Ohio. Locals of my parents’ generation know Greenville as the home of the Triangle, a club and dance hall where they could get three-two brew, a low-alcohol beer unavailable in Indiana but served to 18-year-olds until 19821. It made sense for me to stop here.
Aware of those Triangle stories, I’m ashamed to admit that it took me a few years prior to my visit to realize that the town doesn’t solely exist for the purpose of picking up a 6-pack of Sam Adams Cherry Wheat at the Walmart on a Sunday. For one, if you hang a right into town onto Broadway Street just into town you’ll find the Maid-Rite Sandwich Shoppe, home of the amazing and ubiquitous loose-meat burger best served with mustard, pickles, and onions. From there, a quick glance down the road will give you a glimpse of Greenville’s courthouse. Whether you’re in town for the burgers, the Annie Oakley festival, or to be disappointed at just now finding out that the KitchenAid Experience retail store has closed2, I recommend that you swing by the courthouse. It’s not much like anything we have in Indiana.
Now, this courthouse is not the county’s first. That one was completed in 1824 by John Craig for a sum of $525. A modest, wood-frame building that served for nine years before business grew too great for it, the building found second life as, ironically, a business itself for another seven years before entering a third stage as a home at least through 1880. By that time, it was located on Third Street next to the Odd Fellows Hall, complete with additions to its front and rear. As best I can tell, neither of those buildings still exist today.
The 1833 courthouse was built at the center of the public square you’ll drive through to get to the current one from Maid-Rite. Built by a James Craig for $2490 from plans that Allan LaMotte drew for $10, the courthouse was typical of the era as a two-story, brick building with a hipped roof surmounted by a cupola. Craig, the builder, went over budget by $34.63 by supplying pine shingles instead of oak and $7.43 worth of sand3. That structure lasted much longer than its predecessor.
John Kennedy once said that the time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining4. There was nary a cloud in the sky over Darke County in 1870 when officials determined that Main Street in Greenville wasn’t going to cut it as the town’s primary thoroughfare anymore and that they’d better pounce on a spot on Broadway for a new seat of government. Commissioners acquired land there, and quickly built an Italianate sheriff’s residence and jail, concurrently purchasing lots to the northwest for an eventual new courthouse.
Work on the current building -an Edwin May design- happened pretty quickly, beginning in 1873. May, if you’ll recall, was a prolific architect of Indiana courthouses for nearly thirty years, drawing up plans for nine of them along with the Hoosier State House5. Unlike his projects in Indiana that have mostly been substantially altered or demolished, the Darke County Courthouse remains pretty close to his original intent. It’s a grand building, “Corinthian with American treatment” in style and described by W.H. Beers’ county history as “an ornament to the city and an honor to the county” upon its dedication on August 3, 1874. Others describe the building as Italianate and Renaissance, though I’d venture to suggest a clear Second-Empire influence similar in ways to the Henry County Courthouse in New Castle, Indiana.
Much more substantial than its predecessor, the structure -built three blocks south of Greenville’s Lancaster Square- was designed with an interior that put consideration towards public convenience. Upon entering the building, a resident would find a large corridor that separated offices for the county commissioners, auditor, and treasurer to the right; along with rooms for the recorder, probate judge, and probate court to the left. Twisting staircases on either side provided access to the sheriff, clerk, and courtroom on the second floor, while the third floor contained offices for the county surveyor and prosecutor.
The exterior of the building is stone, and it was built as a big rectangle with central projections on three sides, each featuring Corinthian pilasters on rusticated bases. Perhaps the style of columns led earlier architects to attribute the building’s overall description to that mode of architecture. From the front, textured blocks frame the main entrance, which provides support to a stone balcony on the building’s second floor. Above a shallow, heavily-bracketed pediment, a statue of justice rises in front of a squat, mansard roof that provides foundation for the building’s tower, said to reach 160 feet in height by an old Sanborn Map7, though that’s a measurement I dispute after being there. Apparently, the building’s cornice, brackets, and eaves were designed to mirror those of the 1870 sheriff’s home and jail next door. That building, now home to the Darke County Commissioners’ office, remains in good condition. So does the courthouse, as a matter of fact, much of which results from the the state of its clock tower.
As I said, I cut my teeth in corporate marketing, so I know bullshit when I see it. But all of that jiggery-pokery just has to come second to what’s found in self-published local histories. Case in point: The W.H. Beers history describes the clock tower of the Darke County Courthouse as “a fine tower, in which is contained a clock that is nearly perfect in construction as modern science and artistic skill can produce.” Ope! I dribbled salsa down my shirt.
It is a fine tower, don’t get me wrong, but let’s continue: “Whether borne upon the ear in the hours of night, or calling the industrious populace to resume or cease from toil, by day, the musical, measured strokes which knell the passing hours, teach a constant lesson of punctuality, diligence and transient existence.” Bullshit! A bell rings at set times. Some are annoyed, and some set their watch to it. Some work, and others don’t. We get it! All those old county histories were self-published anyway. Wait- so’s this blog!
Times change, and not just via a watch that falls behind, though it took nearly a hundred years for the clock tower to be altered. In 1973 it was removed when part of its gutter fell streetward. Let’s all for a second try to imagine this building with no tower, before realizing that it’s maybe not great without it. Though many wanted to demolish the building entirely, a group of locals created a Project Dome Committee as part of the county’s bicentennial effort to replace the clock tower8. Eight years later, on July 2, 1983, a helicopter placed a replica tower onto new columns, just seven years after the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places without it. That’s a huge win! Today, the building is an unusual kind of stunner -the Paget Brewster of courthouses- towering over the rest of Greenville.
Darke County (pop. 51,113, 48/88)
Auburn (pop. 12,694).
Cost: $170,000 ($3.66 million in 2016)
Architect: Edwin May
Style: Second Empire/Italianate/Corinthian
Courthouse Square: Shelbyville Square
Height: 160 feet (?)
Current Use: County offices and courts
1 Genovese, L. “Death of 2.3 beer doesn’t bother many” Daily Kent Stater [Kent]. October 1, 1982. Web. Retrieved 10/19/20.
2 “KitchenAid Experience store in Greenville to close in late July” Dayton Daily News [Dayton]. June 24, 2020. Web. Retrieved 10/19/20.
3 “The History of Darke County, Ohio” W.H. Beers & Co [Chicago]. 1880. Print.
4 Kennedy, J.F. “State of the Union Address”. Washington, D.C. January 11, 1962. Web. Retrieved 10/19/20.
5 Enyart, David. “Architectrs” Indiana County Courthouse Histories. ACPL Genealogy Center, 2010-2018. Web. 10/19/20.
6 “Darke County Courthouse” The Supreme Court of Ohio & The Ohio Judicial System [Columbus]. Web. Retrieved 10/19/20.
7 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map- Greenville, Ohio. 1920. Sanborn Fire Insurance Company. Library of Congress. Web. Retrieved 10/19/20.
8 Thrane, Susan W., Patterson, B., & Patterson, T. “County Courthouses of Ohio” Indiana University Press [Bloomington]. November 1, 2000. Print.