Well, it’s time to talk about a courthouse in Ohio again, and I can’t think of any more qualified than Allen County’s in Lima. It houses courts within the boundaries of the Buckeye State, so let’s get started!
The most direct route from my house in Muncie to Lima is to take IN-67 to the state line, continue on OH-29/US-33 to Wapakoneta, and finish the trek via I-75; it takes a hair under two hours. I did not take that route to the courthouse, so we’ll sluggishly gallivant that way while I write and you read.
I was watching Hulu the other day when I noticed something jarring: The computer monitor at the lost luggage kiosk Frasier visits in “Don Juan in Hell: Part 1” isn’t plugged into anything. Of course I’ve caught the errant boom mic or two over the decade I’ve obsessively watched the radio psychiatrist and his show, but spying the empty IEC port on the back of that airport CRT made me feel like I’d stumbled across some weird piece of forbidden knowledge never meant to be discovered, like I’d entered a mystical shrine in a deep, icy cave or like I’d stuck my finger all the way down my belly button instead of only going partway and getting that weird feeling or something.
Maybe I’m a hypersensitive millennial prone to effortless hyperbole, but the experience really was jarring. It’s a jolt to be removed from the moment via a shattered fourth wall or something else that unexpectedly varies a tiny bit from what we’re used to! Or it can be, that is, if we even notice the difference at all. I recently became aware of something called “change blindness,” a bias against visual perception and the concept that “seeing is believing1”. That episode of Frasier really drove home the idea for me. As did the photos I’d taken of the Allen County Courthouse once I reviewed them. Speaking of driving and courthouses- ah! I see we’re back on the interstate now, finally bearing down on the old building.
Above is a photo of the courthouse tower. Upon first glance the belfry seems typical, especially of architect George Maetzel’s work (he did the ex-courthouse in Columbus, along with others in Sidney and London2) and Second-Empire architecture in general. But lean in and peer into your screen to take the closer look that I must not have bothered to take during my brief time around it. The clocks are missing their hands! Sure, go ahead and brag- you saw it instantly. I know. You’re a more observant courthouse documentarian that I am!
Though the clocks’ lack of hands went over my head with a sonic boom’s deafening “woosh,” I did at least recognize that the courthouse was undergoing significant work while I was there. There’s really no other reason to park such a huge crane behind it! The clock’s amputation was actually part of a project started in 2017 and completed the following year to renovate the tower and repair the building’s ancient roof in order to stop leaking that was destroying the inside of the courthouse. Fully unfurled, that big crane measures 175 feet tall3, forty feet higher than the courthouse, if old Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps are to be believed4.
The project to redo the upper floors of the building are part of a greater, multi-phase effort to relocate all the courts to the historic building, which was constructed in 1882. For phase two, commissioners have hired the Cleveland firm K2M to establish what appears to be a total reconfiguration of the building, for the weirdly-specific convenience of area “real estate professionals5.” That would mean that the rest of the offices held in the historic courthouse would need to shift over to the adjacent justice center.
In addition to Frasier, I’m also a fan of Quentin Tarantino movies. He’s a director most associated with violence and interrupted timelines. Normally we look at a courthouse’s history in ascending-year order, but today we’ll go backwards, Tarantino-style, because Allen County has one of the most intriguing amalgamations of law enforcement buildings I’ve ever stumbled across on one campus. There’s the courthouse, of course, which is attached to that justice center I mentioned. Built in 1990, it’s a five-story structure designed by Dayton architects Lorenz and Williams (responsible for that city’s Kettering Tower and courthouse square complex from the 70s), along with Phillips Swager Associates of Peoria, Illinois. Though the justice center is massive and blocky, it does incorporate pilasters and textures that suggest depth while the upper story is set back and rendered in a darker shade of concrete reminiscent of the old courthouse roof’s coloration. The two buildings are connected by a skybridge that passes over a driveway for county personnel. The walkway is functional, boring, and unadorned, though I appreciate the space between the buildings and am thankful that they don’t run up together
The next-oldest building on site is the 1960s-era former sheriff’s office, constructed to replace an 1871 “German style6” brick sheriff’s home. Yes, at one point the jailer was required to live at the jail, and his wife was required to be matron of the lock-up, cooking meals for all the inmates! By midcentury, thankfully, this was no longer the case. Today the sheriff resides at his own dwelling while his office is in the justice center and his wife is free to do as she pleases. The old facility is, apparently, home now to some office that wasn’t readily obvious.
Behind the midcentury sheriff’s office is the awesome old jail, which dates back to the 1871 construction of the sheriff’s home that was once attached to the front of it. Now here’s something interesting: According to the county sheriff, the building had already been placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the time substantial alterations needed made to house more inmates. Rather than change the jail’s character (an old county history book said the building looked “like one immense granite rock7”), officials found a contractor to remove the building’s roof, pull out its guts from above, renovate its insides, and reseale it. Brilliant! If you can believe it, T.J. Tolan -the architect behind the ornate courthouses in Van Wert, LaGrange, Warsaw, and Rockville designed that “miniature Bastille” Would have fooled me!
Back to the main event: the current courthouse is Allen County’s third. The first dated from the early 1800s and was log, though with an unusual hipped roof and a single chimney. It was replaced in 1840 with a classic revival building designed by Orlando Boughton for $13,325. Two stories of brick and stone with pilasters along its flanking walls and four doric columns that supported a portico, the courthouse met its match as Lima found itself on the leading edge of an oil boom that made it a world-renown builder of locomotives. That tends to happen, of course.
The current courthouse cost $360,000 and is about 120 feet square, with ashlar standstone and smooth stone trim8. Though it isn’t as obvious in Frasier, I mentioned violence as a hallmark of Quentin Tarantino’s movies. In 1933, John Dillinger was freed from the Allen County Courthouse after some of his gang members shot and killed the sheriff9, so there’s that. There are better resources out there to read about it than what I can cobble together here!
I hate stumbling across an inconvenient courthouse only to nab photos of work being done to it. But at the end of the day, my photos of the Allen County Courthouse illustrate a specific moment, just as the screenshot of Frasier does. But while the sitcom’s error doesn’t suit the rest of its output, my images of the courthouse in Lima show a building being prepared to serve its constituents for another century. Whether or not the clocks have hands (and whether or not I might have missed them when I was there), I’m grateful to have snagged the building at that juncture! Now for a trip back.
Allen County (pop. 102,351, 64/88)
Lima (pop. 37,117)
Cost: $360,000 ($9.19 million today)
Architect: George H. Maetzel
Style: Second Empire
Courthouse Square: Shelbyville Square
Height: 135 feet
Current Use: County offices and courts
1 Rensink, Ronald A. “Change Blindness” McGray-Hill Yearbook of Science & Technology. McGraw-Hill [New York]. 2005. Print.
2 “George H. Maetzel” Emporis. Emporis GMBH. 2020. Web. Retrieved 1/22/21.
3 “Allen County courthouse exterior renovations near completion” Aug 1, 2018. Your Hometown Stations. Block Communications. Lima. Web. Retrieved 1/23/21.
4 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map- Lima, Ohio. 1911. Sanborn Fire Insurance Company. Library of Congress. Web. Retrieved 1/24/21.
5 Ellerbrock, Josh. “County may borrow for courthouse work” LimaOhio.com. June 8, 2018. AIM Media Midwest Operating, LLC. Lima. Web. Retrieved 1/23/21.
6 “History of the Allen County Jail” Allen County, Ohio Sheriff’s Office [Lima]. Web. Retrieved 1/24/21.
7 “History of Allen County, Ohio” Warner, Beers & Co. 1885. Chicago. Print.
8 Thrane, Susan W., Patterson, B., & Patterson, T. “County Courthouses of Ohio” Indiana University Press [Bloomington]. November 1, 2000. Print.
9 “Allen County Courthouse” The Supreme Court of Ohio & The Ohio Judicial System. The Supreme Court of Ohio [Columbus]. Web. Retrieved 1/24/21.