May I interest you in some -oh, I don’t know, some BALONEY to start your week off right? I’ve been thinking about skylines lately since I like them a lot. It seems to me that every county seat within twenty percent of my hometown of Muncie’s population (about 68,000) has a better skyline than ours. I could go on and on with examples, but it’s a tough break for a place known since 1912 as “The Magic City1,” home to not only an award-winning architecture college but an active downtown development partnership, as well. I might be oversimplifying some, but I’ve long prepared to die on this hill: ever since I was a kid, I saw no reason not to found a huge, multinational conglomerate of some sort just to erect a 400-story headquarters downtown and make my own skyline here. The coronavirus sort of put a wrench in my plans.
Perhaps the most famous collection of tall buildings in the world is New York City’s. Editor Paul Keskeys of Architizer says it might be the “closest thing to a perfect skyline one could hope for2” because of its progression of famous landmarks that span individual styles, successes, squabbles, and slip-ups. Muncie’s tallest buildings are our boring hospital; the staid Ball State Teachers College; and the monstrous, fortified mast of obsolete microwave instrumentation known as the AT&T Building. I propose we adopt Springfield, Ohio’s skyline as our own. For a city of about the same size, it’s pretty impressive. There’s even a historic courthouse there to be discussed!
Clark County was founded in 1818. The current courthouse is Clark County’s third, or fourth if you count the tavern of John Hunt where regular sessions were held until an actual courthouse was built. By 1820, Madox Fisher and John Ambler completed the walls and roof of the county’s first real one, but the courthouse sat without floors, windows, and woodwork until it was eventually finished in 1828. Upon completion, the place was probably the most important building in the area since it hosted lectures, conventions, church services, and other events in addition to its prescribed duties3. It lasted until 1878 when it was sold and dismantled, an event that “disproved the ancient tradition that it was extra strong, as the mortar clove from the bricks with unusual ease4.” Oof! I love those old self-published county histories.
To get to the bottom of the present seat of justice, one has to start with our friends the Tolans. Practicing out of Fort Wayne, father T.J. and son Brentwood were responsible for some of the midwest’s most incredible courthouses, including our demolished one in Muncie. Designed in the popular Second Empire style of the day, their courthouse in Springfield featured corner projections topped with mansard roofs and dormers along with a pyramidal clock tower rising from its western side. There is a brick doppelgänger in Henry County, Illinois that I haven’t been to yet, but if you’re interested in seeing the building in Springfield, I’ve got a postcard of it below. Heck, I guess I’ve got a postcard of the courthouse in Cambridge too, if you’d like to compare. Aside from materials, the major difference is that the clock tower in Cambridge is oriented across the building’s long side. #lifehack
A huge fire that started near one of the building’s bathrooms gutted it during the wee hours of March 12, 19185. At the end of that long day, all that was left of the courthouse was its foundation which -hey, look at that- is still there today underneath the current building. Thus, you can’t “get to the bottom” of the present courthouse without thanking the Tolans. Gotcha!
It took six years for him to finish the gig, but local architect William K. Schilling designed a new courthouse atop the remains of the old one, and what he turned in in 1924 is dramatically different, not only from its predecessor, but from two of his most prominent buildings in town: the Oakwood Presbyterian Church and the absolutely ridiculous Art Deco post office just north of the courthouse on Limestone Street. The post office is just unbelievable!
The courthouse, well, it’s believable, which is in no way a slight towards it. It belongs to that group of neoclassical structures I wound up calling jewel-boxes that propagate the midwest. Last week’s courthouse in Kenton is a great example of one, as are the courthouses in, say, Sullivan and Delphi, Indiana. But Schilling added a couple of cool twists. The first, as I mentioned, was reusing the Tolans’ foundation. The juxtaposition of its rusticated basement arches and the smooth, stone block of its upper stories is an interesting contrast that really sticks out, in retrospect.
For a person passing by, the most prominent feature of the courthouse is its entry portico with four doric columns that support a tall parapet and central clock above an entablature that reads “Clark County Courthouse.” Behind the building is the Clark County Offices and Municipal Courts Building. Designed by architects Kline Meier and completed in 19886, the building rises five stories and is attached to the rear of the courthouse by an elevated glass walkway. The north side of the building features a crappy-looking, single-story entrance of brick that I took a picture of but was ruined by the sun. Avoid that angle!
Though I’m happy to designate Schilling’s courthouse design as a member of the neoclassical jewel box group, its almost a composite of styles given its prominent dome, which is invisible from certain angles. Though not easily seen, the dome sits on a high, octagonal drum and adds an interesting splash of color and height to the courthouse to ensure it contributes to Springfield’s great skyline.
And about that skyline: Wow- especially for a city of only 60,000 souls. The modern, jagged, E.F. Hutton Tower is Springfield’s tallest structure, rising 165 feet or so above street level. It’s followed by the former Springfield City Hall, a Richardson Romanesque building completed in 1890 with a clock tower that rises to 155 feet while the rest of it is, bizarrely, just about ten times as long as it is wide7. You’d be forgiven for thinking it was the courthouse and the building, or the front of it at least, very closely resembles the Union County, Indiana Courthouse in Liberty. Next tallest is Springfield’s 1906 neoclassical Hull Building at 134 feet tall, followed by the 120-foot Tecumseh Building which was built in 1922. Shorter, modern buildings like Springfield’s 1979 City Hall are interesting and help flesh out its bigger picture. Without its modern addition, the courthouse probably only rises 65 feet tall or so. But if I were depicting a skyline of this city in LEGOs, I’d just have to add it.
Back in Muncie, we’ve got a few shorter buildings that help build out our uninspired skyline too, like the Muncie Central Fieldhouse and a selection of some really great church towers. But that’s not enough for me. We need something majestic- I’m tired of comparing my city to random ones I travel to in Ohio, though I was both happy and to see Springfield’s devolve in real time with the demolition of the decrepit Crowell-Collier printing plant downtown8. I don’t know who we need to contact to transfer ownership of Springfield’s skyline -and courthouse- to us Munsonians. The mayor? Jim Davis? Some important-looking man in a suit?
At any rate, I’m sure I’ll figure it out. For a city of Muncie’s size, Springfield’s got such a great skyline that truly has tall buildings than span decades of styles and influences. I’m sick of acquiescing and admitting that even Anderson’s got the upper hand here. Let’s unite to make this happen! Meanwhile, Springfield’s not too far away, and its got a solid courthouse, to boot, with a great history that spans nearly a hundred-and-fifty years. Let’s set up a trip!
Clark County (pop. 134,083, 64/88)
Springfield (pop. 59,132)
Cost: $115,000 (1.74 million today)
Architect: William K. Schilling
Courthouse Square: Shelbyville Square
Height: 2.5 stories
Current Use: County offices and courts
1 “Story of the magic city: a souvenir of Muncie, Indiana” Central Indiana Gas Company [Muncie]. 1912. Print.
2 Keskeys, Paul. “How Do you Build the Perfect Skyline?” Architizer [New York]. Web. Retrieved 2/5/21.
3 Thrane, Susan W., Patterson, B., & Patterson, T. “County Courthouses of Ohio” Indiana University Press [Bloomington]. November 1, 2000. Print.
4 “The History of Clark County, Ohio” W.H. Beers & Co. [Chicago]. 1881. Print.
5 “Clark County Courthouse – 1918” Springfield Fire Journal and Ohio Fire History. September 17, 2019. Web. Retrieved 2/5/21.
6 Deacon, J. “Clark County”. American Courthouses. 2008. Web. Retrieved 2/5/21.
7 Springfield, Ohio” Emporis. Emporis GMBH. 2020. Web. Retrieved 2/5/21.
8 Newton, Riley. “‘Our grandchildren will call us foolish’: Crowell-Collier buildings to be demolished” The Springfield News-Sun [Springfield]. August 14, 2019. Web. Retrieved 2/5/21.