Williams County, Ohio- Bryan (1891-)

The 1891 Williams County Courthouse in Bryan, Ohio.

I’ve learned a lot while venturing to new counties for this hobby. One thing I’ve realized is that communities often build courthouses in response to newfound economic status. Money -or the prospect of it- just burns a hole in their pockets! Gas boom? Great! Let’s commemorate our growth with a new, e-x-p-e-n-s-i-v-e temple of justice that can be seen from miles away. I wish Muncie would do this every time a Dollar General sprouts up.

Occasionally, counties experience the opposite and industry rises to meet the status of their existing courthouse. Today we’re venturing to one of those places, a fantastic land of candy and metal lithography that follows that trajectory. Welcome to Bryan, Ohio!

Williams County was organized in 1820 and officially detached from parts of its surroundings four years later1. Like most counties, the place has gone through a succession of minor courthouses, including an 1842 Greek Revival structure built by Giles Tomlinson2. But nothing much happened in the area until the dawn of the 1890s, when commissioners hired Toledo architect Edward Oscar Fallis to design a courthouse suitable for the new century. Yes, for any frequent viewer of Frasier, the man had a phonetically-unfortunate last name. To paraphrase the Czar of the Cigar, though, sometimes a clocktower is just a clocktower- and E.O. knew how to design one. 

The east and west fronts of the courthouse are symmetrical, while the north and south sides display a sense of whimsical unbalance.

By my count, Fallis designed seven courthouses across the midwest, and all of them but one are still standing. You could actually make a day trip to five of them if you started in Bryan; it’d take just about six hours to get to each. Fallis’ buildings followed an interesting stylistic progression. His first two courthouses in Monroe, Michigan and Rushville, Illinois were done in the Renaissance Revival style3 in 1880 and 1883. They feature low-pitched roofs, classical details like columns and pilasters, and parapets that hide each roofline.

Fallis’ next two courthouses in Adrian, Michigan and Independence, Kansas were dramatically different from their older siblings, done up in red-brick with heavy Romanesque Revival influences including rounded arches and towers along with complicated rooflines that resemble those found in your everyday McMansion. Fallis may well have continued designing courthouses this way for the rest of his life had it not been for the emergence of a massive, cloaked fellow by the name of Henry Hobson Richardson onto the scene. Never heard of him? Well, suffice it to say that he’s part of “the recognized trinity of American architecture4” along with Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan. Not quite content with what Romanesque Revival had to offer, Richardson singlehandedly forced its evolution into a new mode called Richardson Romanesque, which eclectically blended the older style’s elements with his own preferences, things like square towers, sparse fenestration (window spacing), and castle-like parapets that emphasized solidarity. Almost immediately, Fallis followed Richardson’s lead through the designs of his own courthouses in Albion, Indiana; Paulding, Ohio; and Bryan. 

I was able to see the clock tower from three miles away. It’s 160 feet tall.

The Williams County Courthouse is tall, and it exudes a sense of permanence that comes from deep within its three-foot-thick brick walls. Outside, it’s got rounded corner turrets, paired columns, and corbelled arches with no visible keystones. During construction, Scottish workmen cut the Berea and Amherst stone on site while simultaneously adding to some of the more intricate details found around its exterior. Heavy stone massing that contrasts its brick construction accentuates the building’s base and belt courses, but my favorite features are its asymmetrical north and south faces around the building’s roofline, which feature large, open turrets across from a smaller ones that are capped off. Of course, the courthouse also has a 160-foot clocktower that’s twenty-six feet square and topped with a low, pyramidal roof. That’s my second-favorite feature, and it can be seen from miles away. I wasn’t really paying attention, but I first noticed it on the horizon where US-127 and OH-15 converge about three miles south. That’s awesome! 

The inside is pretty great too, so I’ve been told, with heavy use of Georgia marble and hallways that extend outwardly from the tower’s support columns. Unfortunately, a glass skylight that provided the building with fresh sunlight was removed when a fourth story was needed for additional office space5. That sucks for purists, but it didn’t alter the building’s exterior any, and it kept the courts inside the venerable old landmark. Concessions must often be made.

Heavy stone massing, making up the bottom first-and-second stories of the courthouse, is a hallmark of the Richardson Romanesque style.

I think Henry Hobson Richardson would have been pleased with E.O. Fallis’ interpretation of his style in Williams County, but he died of Bright’s disease five years before it was completed aged only 47, just as his buildings were beginning to take off. Though he made tons of money for an architect of his era, Richardson’s “reckless disregard for financial order6” meant he died a poor man. Hey, though- go big or go home. You can’t take it with you! For his part, Edward Oscar Fallis died in 1927 at the age of seventy-six and is buried in Toledo. Richardson’s grave is a long, stone version of what we see today at modern ‘memorial parks’, flat and flush with the ground. Fallis’ is smaller yet, and neither fit the enduring majesty of the buildings they designed. I suppose that their buildings are better monuments to their lives! Who wants to build a clock tower in a cemetery after all?

The Williams County Courthouse was fifteen years old in 1906, when Arthur G. Spangler purchased a baking company in Defiance and moved it to Bryan7. Two years later, a dentist named Dr. Henry Winzeler sold his practice and founded the Ohio Art Company to make metal picture frames in a facility across town8. Under the watchful eye of Fallis’ Richardson-influenced courthouse, both firms grew over the next century. Today, the Spangler Candy Company makes Dum Dums, Bit-O-Honey, Smarties, NECCO wafers, and the ubiquitous and disgusting Circus Peanuts. Most people know Ohio Art for their famous Etch-a-Sketch line of toys, a brand that they sold in 2016. Today, though, they’re a major player in the arena of metal lithography, and I’m most familiar with them as being the former tinplate vendor for Ball mason jar lids.

No matter the changes and progress that happen in Bryan, the courthouse will remain towering over the community for many years to come.

Spangler Candy moved to its present location on North Portland Street in Byran in 1913. It started making suckers in 1922, created Circus Peanuts in 1940, bought the Dum Dums and A-Z Christmas Candy Canes brands during the 1950s, purchased Saf-T-Pops in the 70s, and announced a fourth-generation family member as company president in 2008. Meanwhile, Ohio Art moved to its present location on Toy Drive in 1912 before introducing new sand pails in 1923 and licensing Steamboat Willie from Walt Disney in the early 1930s. As plastic began to displace metal as a preferred material, the company became a major vendor for Kodak film canisters. In more recent times they’ve become a licensee of products from Coca-Cola, Campbell’s, Budweiser, and Nascar. Williams County’s 1891 Richardson Romanesque courthouse has reigned throughout all of the county’s major industrial changes, and still stands as a a landmark created in advance of -but not in reference to- to the ingenuity of its county’s industry.

This octagonal bandstand was built in 1935, replacing a previous wood structure.

Let’s give its forefathers, along with E.O. Fallis and H.H. Richardson, a virtual pat on the back, and give the building itself its due in the pantheon of great courthouses. Now- about that Fallis tour, err..a trip to all of his nearby courthouses. Give me a call! I’ll gladly tag along and be your guide.

Williams County (pop. 36,816, 66/88)
Bryan (pop. 8,251
Built: 1891
Cost: $185,000 (5.29 million today)
Architect: E.O. Fallis
Style: Richardson Romanesque
Courthouse Square: Shelbyville Square
Height: 160 feet
Current Use: County offices and courts
Photographed: 4/1/18 (I think)

1 “Ohio: Individual County Chronologies”. Ohio Atlas of Historical County Boundaries. The Newberry Library. 2007. Web. Retrieved 2/8/21.
2 Courthouse History. Keith Vincent. 2018. Web. Retrieved 2/8/21.
3 Deacon, J. “Williams County”. American Courthouses. 2008. Web.  Retrieved 2/8/21.
4 O’Gorman, James F. “Three American Architects: Richardson, Sullivan, and Wright, 1865-1915” University of Chicago Press [Chicago]. 1991. Print.
5 Thrane, Susan W., Patterson, B., & Patterson, T. “County Courthouses of Ohio” Indiana University Press [Bloomington]. November 1, 2000. Print. 
6 O’Gorman, James F. “Living Architecture: A Biography of H.H. Richardson” Simon & Schuster [New York]. 1997. Print.
7 “A timeline of some of the notable events in our history from our founding in 1906 to the present day.” The Spangler Candy Company [Bryan]. 2021. Web. Retrieved 2/8/21. 
8 “The Origins of Our Success” The Ohio Art Company [Bryan]. 2021. Web. Retrieved 2/8/21.

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