Fayette County, Ohio- Washington Court House (1884-)

The 1884 Fayette County Courthouse in Washington Court House, Ohio.

Life has a funny way of working out. In 2011, I got a job responding to “ask the expert” type emails for Jarden Home Brands, the manufacturer of the Ball brand of jars, lids, and other home canning supplies. The gig was only intended to last three months, but I was asked back after a month’s furlough to join the marketing and brand management team. I spent three years in that capacity before HR got wise to my permatemp status and laid me off. I was screwed until my boss gave me a good recommendation to his brother, a real estate investor.

I’ve been in the trenches, and I think we all have a love/hate relationship with marketing that depends on what side we’ve encountered it from, or else we’re all cynical enough to truly loathe it. Early in my tenure at Jarden, the company was trying to decide whether or not to purchase Lifoam Industries, a business best known for manufacturing coolers; namely those rigid foam ones stacked up next to the Walmart exit. The problem was that we already owned Coleman. Whose grandparents didn’t have a beat-up old 54-quart Coleman steel belted cooler? They’re iconic. Just like the courthouse we’ll talk about in another couple of paragraphs.

Here’s the southeastern side of the courthouse.

In addition to Ball and Kerr jars, my division also made Diamond matches, and Pine Mountain artificial fire logs. Ball, Kerr, and Diamond have been around for more than a century, so our management of those brands was more like simple stewardship. Though Pine Mountain was a relative newcomer from the 1980s, our sister division the United States Playing Card Company, had been churning out Bicycle branded playing cards since bicycles were a new novelty worthy of naming a playing card after.

I know from experience that properly marketing a new product to an old audience can involve a lot of brands, sub-brands, and special trademarks. For example, we had our Ball® FreshTECH™ Automatic Jam & Jelly Maker. Bicycle had cards licensed by Coca-Cola. Pine Mountain and First Alert cooperated to create a creosote-busting fire log, and when the company bought Yankee Candle, a balsam-and-cedar log was introduced.

Here’s the courthouse in Washington Court House, Ohio, seat of Fayette County. By virtue of its name it represents a weird bit of co-branding. You can’t really name a place after a courthouse if it doesn’t have one, after all, but I guess truth-in-advertising mores never bothered Ohio’s village of Coolville, which actually shares the rest of the Buckeye State’s humid continental climate. What’s more is that I know for a fact that the mostly-agreeable citizens of Defiance don’t accurately represent that city’s name either. And the road to Jelloway in Knox County? Let’s just say that it’s not the route you’d want to take for any raspberry-flavored powder. Powder, though- well, maybe.

The northeastern face of the building -pictured at right- is the only side not to have exterior stairs leading to its first full story.

But at least there’s a courthouse in Washington Court House, which is good. But what’s this Washington business? Like I said, Washington Court House is the seat of Fayette County- there is no Washington County in Ohio. In fact, the closest one’s two-hundred miles away here in Indiana. Are the community’s founders guilty of a little obfuscation for marketing’s sake?

Let’s not doom-scroll; they aren’t- at least, not really. Washington C.H., as it’s often abbreviated, was simply called Washington in honor of our first president when it was founded in 1810. About ninety years later, someone appended the words “Court House” to the end of its name, purportedly to distinguish it from other towns in Ohio1 like Guernsey County’s Old Washington; Crawford County’s New Washington; Washingtonville near the eastern state line; and Port Washington, a village along the Tuscawaras River. Now it’s starting to make sense! I still say they should have just named the county Washington, though. 

The courthouse is barely visible from its northwestern side.

I can understand why it took about a century for the community to rally around naming itself after their courthouse since their initial attempts were pretty bland. The first one was built in 1813 using bricks burned from the clay excavated while digging its foundation. It burned down after fourteen years of use, and a second courthouse was built to similar specification aside from a fireproof interior and a thirty-foot-long wing to house county offices. Floors were white oak and poplar, the walls were plaster, and the fireplaces were brick. The year 1836 brought a bell purchased for a hundred dollars by Daniel McLean, and the county added another office wing in 1844. A third addition, 12×30 feet in area, was added to the building’s northwestern side in 18482. The building looked weird, as if perfunctory, one-story additions had been haphazardly connected to a stately, federalist structure. Of course, that’s exactly what had occurred, and early postcards depict that weirdo 1828 building next to the current one3. I’m sad to say that I don’t have one, but you can see a few images here

It’s been a while since we’ve mentioned him, but if you’re not already familiar with David W. Gibbs, you’re going to be soon. The architect behind Washington Court House’s third courthouse had quite a fertile cranium when it came to government buildings! We’ve already talked about his courthouse in Ohio’s Union County (and briefly mentioned its twin in Napoleon), but he also designed courthouses in Charlotte Michigan (1885) and Marion, Ohio (1886) that more closely resemble this one. I wouldn’t be shocked to learn that he’d used the same plans for the trio.

Of course, architects reusing or slightly adapting their designs for other buildings is nothing new, and though it might have happened in Washington Court House, it doesn’t cheapen this structure in any way. Though the exterior itself is a fantastic landmark -its 135-foot clock tower can be seen from miles away as I discovered when I stopped here on my way back from Myrtle Beach in 2015- the building’s best known for its unique, third-floor murals that depict female spirits of electricity, telegraphy, and the U.S. Mail. Who would have thought that Columbia herself could get stuck in a drift behind the wheel of a Grumman LLV? Thankfully, the spirit of that vehicle isn’t depicted in the murals, but the pictures have gotten enough fame that, at one point, a sign on the south side of the courthouse green even provided directions for visitors to find them4

I tend to be more concerned with the exteriors of the courthouses I go to, and there are some great details to be found around the hundred-foot square building5 but my photos don’t really reflect them due to rain that continually obstructed my camera lens, an issue soon to be fixed. The building’s raised basement is composed of smooth stone and features rectangular windows. Stairs on each side of the structure aside from its northeastern face provide access to its main entrances, recessed within monumental arches below projecting, columnated, porticos. The courthouse’s first full story has arched windows framed by carved faces within circular portals and rusticated stone.  The top floor resumes the smooth stone motif of the first story, albeit with Corinthian pilasters and a decorative frieze. Up above, the courthouse is topped with its large, open, belfry which was still under construction when its original Seth Thomas clock was installed6

Col. Alonzo Coit ordered his men to shoot through the doors at right towards rioters attempting to break into the building.

That’s all well and good, but Gibbs’ courthouses in Marion and Charlotte have many of the same features. What they don’t have are bullet holes in their doors- just a decade after the courthouse was completed, a crowd gathered outside the building in hopes of lynching a convicted rapist, a black man named Jasper Dolby who’d assaulted a white woman. Although Governor William McKinley dispatched the state militia to subdue them, the rioters swarmed the courthouse’s entryways the following day, attempting to break them down despite numerous warnings. Stationed inside, Colonel Alonzo B. Coit ordered his troops to fire through the building’s doors, an effort that ultimately killed five people in the mob and injured many others. Though he stood trial, Colt was acquitted7 and subsequently, the doors were never replaced: you can still see the bullet holes today at the southeastern entrance of the courthouse8, along with an explanatory plaque that, quite plainly, describes the event the “Washington Court House Riot of 1894” without sensationalizing it. If only brand marketing could be so plainspoken!

It often isn’t, though. My Uncle Dave and I still laugh at a sandwich my employer through high school and college offered, the Subway® Cold Cut Combo. It is -and has always been- made up of turkey-based ham, salami, and bologna. Of course, none of the real varieties of those lunch meats have ever been made of turkey, but I’m glad to see their origins advertised, perhaps, more prominently than back in my day. I’m not sure Washington Court House’s Courthouse is that egregious an example of marketing hokum, but I am sure that its nomenclature makes sense to its constituents. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters.

Newell Brands’ Ball brand closure plant is to the left. An old power house -now a machine shop- is center. The 150-foot tower looming behind it all is a former batch tower from when Ball made glass in Muncie.

A few months ago, I was burned out and totally exhausted. I’d been in school for the past two years and fell one class short of my supply chain and logistics degree although I lucked into a worthless associates’ degree in general studies and a certificate in the field. I was broke from the intermittent funds a freelancer makes, and I’d just started a job in a completely new field and wasn’t sure I measured up.

But similarly to the naming of the Fayette County Courthouse, my career has taken an esoteric turn. I thought I’d seen the last of my professional association with Ball until Newell Brands (a combination of Newell-Rubbermaid and Jarden Corp.) hired me as a temporary quality analyst at their closure plant in Muncie back in October. I’m happy to say that after six months of proving myself in a factory setting, I was finally hired full-time on Friday after trying in different capacities for a decade. I’m looking forward to continue my connection with the Ball brand, exploring an old factory full of tunnels, learning all I can, and participating in some cross-functional developmental opportunities that have to do with my latter-day field of study once I officially start on June first.

Not only that, but I’ve put away eight-thousand dollars in savings, I’ve got a car that hasn’t been totaled, and I’m back to writing about courthouses. Things are finally looking up for me! One day I’ll look back on the past couple years as Washington Court House does their 1894 insurrection. But maybe minus such a garish placard.

Fayette County (pop. 28,525, 74/88)
Washington Court House (pop. 14,114).
Built: 1885
Cost: $45,000 ($1.21 million today)
Architect: David W. Gibbs
Style: Second Empire
Courthouse Square: Shelbyville Square
Height: 135 feet
Current use: County offices and courts
Photographed: 11/2/2019

1 “City Explains Its Reason in Deciding Name” The Newark Advocate [Newark]. September 5, 1931. 12. Print. 
2 Allen, Frank M. “History of Fayette County Ohio: Her People, Industries, and Institutions” B.F. Bowen & Company, Inc. [Indianapolis]. 1914. Print.
3 Courthouse History. Keith Vincent. 2018. Web. Retrieved 3/8/21.
4 Thrane, Susan W., Patterson, B., & Patterson, T. “County Courthouses of Ohio” Indiana University Press [Bloomington]. November 1, 2000. Print. 
5 National Register of Historic Places, Fayette County Courthouse, Washington Court House, Fayette County, Ohio, National Register # 73001433.
6 “Fayette County Courthouse” The Supreme Court of Ohio & The Ohio Judicial System. The Supreme Court of Ohio [Columbus]. Web. Retrieved 3/8/21.
7 “Col. Coit Acquitted” The St. Joseph News-Press [St. Joseph]. March 9, 1895. Print. 1.
8 “Bullet Holes in a Courthouse Door” Travel88. Web. Retrieved 3/8/21.

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