Paulding County is a desolate place and I was not shocked to find out that it is the sixth-least-populated county in all of Ohio1. Perfect- I love places like that, especially since lately it seems like the my head has been the sixth-least populated cranium in all of Muncie over the past few weeks. Even though two federal highways -US-24 and US-127- run through Paulding County and make it more accessible than ever before, we can probably chalk the sparse population of the place to first impressions. The county was created in 1820 and organized nineteen years later in the middle of an uncharted, 1,500-square-mile wetland surrounding the Maumee River watershed known as the Great Black Swamp2. From Michigan to Indiana, Paulding was the only county completely encapsulated by it, and the place was exceptionally inhospitable. It was nearly as bad as the traffic court branch in half of a run-down Ayr-Way on Indianapolis’s far east side.
I’ve heard but can’t verify that the earliest few settlers of Paulding County aphoristically claimed that they could only grew two crops per year- frogs and ice. Then there was the malaria- it seemed like the pioneers were always coming down with what they called “ague4”. Nevertheless, a county needs people, and enough eventually stopped and stayed to organize a county seat at New Rochester on the Maumee River. Two years later it was moved to Charloe when a guy named B.F. Hollister spent $10,000 to build a brick courthouse3. Unfortunately, aside from the Charloe Snow Cone stand and the Charloe Store that sells gas, pizza, Skoal, and Coors, that’s where the town’s story ends. A trio of speculators from Van Wert came to the area in 1848 in order to establish a new community at the geographical center of the county. The seat of government promptly moved to Paulding Village, as it was first christened, and the businessmen cashed in on the relocation5. As best I can tell, nothing remains of Hollister’s courthouse.
The move to Paulding was so fast and growth was so slow that the county government was content to use two small buildings -a wooden one with room for a court and jury, and a brick one for the officials themselves- for more than thirty years. Though the state mounted an organized campaign to drain the swamp starting in the 1850s, it took forever until James B. Hill from nearby Bowling Green invented his “Buckeye Traction Ditcher6”, a machine that could lay down drainage tiles at plaid speed. By the 1880s, Paulding County was ready for a growth spurt, spurred on by factories and sawmills that utilized its dense forests7. Commissioners began planning for a new courthouse, looking far and wide for inspiration.
Well, okay- they went to Celina, Ottawa, Lima, and Findlay8. But that qualified as far and wide back then! After deciding that none of those courthouses would serve as a good model for their own, they tracked down architect E.O. Fallis of Toledo to design a scaled-down version of his courthouse in Lenawee County, Michigan.
Around this time, Paulding County really started to grow. But residents still dealt with the persistent problem of malaria. Though much of the swamp had been drained, the culprit this time was a 2,000-acre9 manmade lake called Six Mile Reservoir, built some forty years earlier to supply water to the Wabash and Erie Canal. Unfortunately, the canal was long dead by the 1880s -its usefulness usurped by the railroads- and by 1887 the stagnant reservoir was described as “a nuisance and breeder of disease, often flooding valuables lands in the vicinity, and causing sickness in the summer months on account of the fearful stench10.” This would not do for a county entering its boom years, so a drunken band of 200 locals raided the place and captured the guards before dynamiting two locks and the lake’s bulkhead and destroying its earthen walls with picks and shovels11. Malaria remedied, the county was now ready for its new courthouse. Sometimes the best civic progress comes from the minds, hearts, and explosives of vigilantes! Please don’t do so today.
Fallis’ courthouse was completed in 1888 and it does resemble his work in Michigan, most notably with regards to the brickwork and four-front style, which means that none of the building’s faces are intended to be the primary one and that each are equally prominent. Both courthouses make extensive use of brick corbelling, the decorative brackets underneath the buildings’ cornices. Though the courthouse in Paulding is only two-and-a-half stories, it manages to reach a total height of 163 feet thanks to its unique tower, which defies my own ability to explain it beyond saying that it rises from a square base, has arches, and is topped by a smaller dome common to the courthouse in Michigan. Here, the similarities end to my eye, at least on a macro level. Though the Lenawee County Courthouse indeed a larger building that the courthouse in Paulding, it’s actually thirty-two feet shorter. Fallis’ later courthouses in Bryan, Ohio and Albion, Indiana share more obvious traits than those found in Paulding and Lenawee counties, but I will say the golden onion dome at the top of the tower is unique to both Paulding’s and Adrian’s courthouses.
There’s one more interesting thing to mention about the Paulding County Courthouse. During the mid-1870s, two county judges traveled to Nova Scotia in order to purchase some sheep from an inventor named Alexander Graham Bell. While there, the pair made note of a curious device he was working on that would let people communicate with each other from distances further than the prevailing ‘tin-cans-on-a-string’ method offered. When Bell’s patent of an “apparatus for transmitting vocal or other sounds telegraphically” was challenged in 1876, the judges served as corroborating witnesses, helping uphold his patent. Later on, as thanks, he gifted the new Paulding County Courthouse with his new communications apparatus12. And that’s about the craziest thing ever. It’s not enough that the county rose up from an impenetrable swamp to wind up with one of Ohio’s most interesting and beautiful courthouses. It also got one of the first telephones! Hey- if you have to call in a favor, it pays to know the inventor of the means to do it.
Paulding County (pop. 18,760, 83/88)
Paulding (pop. 3.445).
Cost: $40,000 ($1.021 million today)
Architect: E. O. Fallis & Co.
Style: Richardson Romanesque
Courthouse Square: Shelbyville Square
Height: 163 feet
Current Use: County offices and courts
1 “Ohio Counties by Population” Ohio Demographics. Cubit Planning, Inc. 2020. Web. Retrieved 11/17/20.
2 Mitsch, William J. & James G. Gosselink. “Wetlands” John Wiley & Sons [Hoboken]. 2007. Print.
3 “Paulding Communities Cut Out Of Great Forests” The Toledo Blade [Toledo]. April 5, 1953. Web. Retrieved 11/8/20.
4 “Paulding County, Ohio” Ohio Bicentennial Commemorative Edition. Turner Publishing Company [Paducah]. 2002. Print.
5 ”Feature Detail Report for: Charloe” United States Geological Survey. United States Department of the Interior. Web. Retrieved 11/8/20.
6 Hill, J.B. “Traction Ditching Machine.” US Patent 523790. July 31, 1894. Retrieved 11/17/2020 .
7 “Paulding, Ohio” Ohio History Central. The Ohio History Connection. Web. Retrieved 11/17/20.
8 Thrane, Susan W., Patterson, B., & Patterson, T. “County Courthouses of Ohio” Indiana University Press [Bloomington]. November 1, 2000. Print.
9 Nice, Jane. “‘No Compromise!’ The canal and the Reservoir War” The Times Bulletin [Van Wert]. Web. Retrieved 4/27/20.
10 “Situation Unchanged” The Marion Star [Marion]. April 28, 1887. 1. Print.
11 Howe, Henry. “Historical Collections of Ohio” Henry Howe & Son [Columbus]. 1889. Print.
12 “Paulding County Courthouse” The Supreme Court of Ohio & The Ohio Judicial System. The Supreme Court of Ohio [Columbus]. Web. Retrieved 11/16/20.