Wyandot County, Ohio- Upper Sandusky (1900-)

I grew up as a birthright Quaker and attended a church of that persuasion through much of my childhood. Several years ago, my sister was married in the same sanctuary that my mom was, which was the same room that her mom was. Unfortunately, my great-grandma wasn’t married in the church itself, but she WAS joined in matrimony in 1935 at the home of the pastor, Howard Cope1. I only know of that guy’s existence because of a history my great-grandma prepared. It’s housed in Ball State University’s Archives and Special Collections. Cross-generational collaboration: It’s sort of cool! 

Most Quaker churches are simple affairs, but Muncie’s Friends Memorial Church missed that memo. Its Gothic Revival building cost a huge $20,886 in 1908 when it was designed by Fort Wayne architects Wing & Mahurin2.  Partially financed by Muncie wholesale grocer Joseph Goddard as a gift to his wife Mary, some aspects of the building are truly grand, but only on the outside. Here’s an old postcard that’s representative of the building from the corner of Adams and Cherry Street in Muncie’s Old West End. The interior is rather plain.

When I was a kid my mom was very involved in our church, serving on committees that met late into the night. Logistics made it necessary to bring my brother and me along, and we’d start the evening confined to the preschool area until the supervision got busy and I could break off and explore. I’ve seen the old church from the bottom to the top, from it’s lowest dirt floor to the highest louvers of its fifty-foot tower. After I blabbed a bit too much about one of my adventures, I was told the dirt basement I’d been in had once been the home to an Indian burial ground and even though I’d seen no ghosts or gangly skeletons, it still took me a while to go back down there. More than two decades later, research confirms the tall tale I was told. My friend Chris Flook, writing for The Star Press, later explained that one of Muncie’s first public cemeteries did sit where the church now sits3. Spooky! 

I assume most of the interments were moved elsewhere before Friends Memorial was constructed, but I’m unsure. I’m unlikely to find out, even, since the reason I mentioned the church in the first place was that it was immediately what popped into my mind when I visited the Wyandot County Courthouse in Upper Sandusky, Ohio. Prominently displayed on the lawn is a sign that says this: 

“1000 feet east- site of Fort Ferree

Main headquarters of Gen.
Wm. H. Harrison’s army in
The War of 1812.
Many of his soldiers who
died in battle are buried in
this courthouse yard4.

That’s not something I’ve encountered before, but its due to the fact that Upper Sandusky -named after its location on the river- was located near Fort Ferree, built, as the sign states, during the War of 1812. Even as a place that holds the bodies of two-hundred-year-old dead soldiers, the Wyandot County Courthouse represents living history. 

Fort Ferree was one of many small battlements built as storage facilities during the early days of our country’s history, and it was intended to help serve as a depot to help move artillery and supplies westward. After the war, most of those forts were abandoned, but one of the Ferree’s blockhouses served as Wyandot County’s first courthouse until 1850 or so4. Built in 1830, the Wyandot Council House, the place originally dispensed justice to Native Americans, as did an old jail until 1845 when a new one was built. The following year, commissioners awarded $7,000 to William Young in order to construct a courthouse. That did not happen.

Instead of doing his job, Young reassigned the contract to his guarantors, who subcontracted it to workers named Kennedy and Jenkins who were completely in over their heads. Three years after the first batch of paperwork was delivered, Wyandot County still lacked a proper courthouse, so commissioners entered into a third agreement and paid John H. Junkins $9800 to finish the building, less what the other builders had already been paid. Junkins managed to come through, delivering a two-story, brick courthouse of the Greek Revival mode to the county as the year 1849 wrapped up5.

A funny aside is that, according to legend, the incorporation of Upper Sandusky as county seat in 1848 led to a great deal of ill feeling amongst its residents. There were about 500 of them, half of which “held up their hands in holy horror6” over an oppressive $10 tax meant to ensure that the courthouse bell would ring at 9 O’clock every night so its constituents would know when to go to sleep. There was no courthouse bell then, though, as the courthouse hadn’t been finished, so it’s just a story- albeit a hilarious one.

The present courthouse was dedicated in 1900. Its north and western entrances are shielded from the elements by protruding, carved pediments held up by Corinthian columns. The lower level of the building is rendered in rusticated stone which gives way to ashlar after the first story. A central dome caps the structure’s roof, while four smaller ones surmount its corners. Unfortunately, the Library of Congress’s Sanborn fire insurance map isn’t working as of this writing, so I’m unable to tell you how tall the dome rises. 

The main floor of the courthouse is largely taken up by a marble stair with fifty-two steps and brass griffins at the base of its handrails. The marble floor was built from stone carved in Rutland, Vermont, and the building’s pink marble tile and wainscoting came from a quarry in western Tennessee. Though the rotunda of the courthouse is a phenomenal piece of architecture, its courtroom is the centerpiece: Here, William G. Andrews’ four frescos -“”The Burning of Crawford” “captives” “Battle of Battle Island” and “The Journey of the Moravian Indians” dominate the space from arches above its walls7

In 1999, the building’s paintings were restored by hand, and new murals were added to the rotunda of the courthouse that depict the four seasons within the context of farming. Throughout the building are oversized reproduction of photographer Harry Kinley’s original images placed in the courthouse as part of a sesquicentennial celebration in 19958. Overall, a trip to the Wyandot County Courthouse is a treat. 

That’s especially true of fans of filmography: An early scene in The Shawshank Redemption, where Andy stands in front of the judge, was shot here. A marker confirms the occasion at the building’s front. 

Despite its status as a small town, Upper Sandusky relishes the majestic courthouse there.

My Quaker heritage probably influences me in more ways than I can readily attribute. But the Wyandot County Courthouse is a fantastic example of a great Beaux Arts courthouse, and its history is full of worthy tidbits. As far as other historic structures in my life, well, I’ve been remiss in going back to Friends Memorial aside from family events or the errant local history symposium. But with structures like this courthouse, there’s no need- even if both share the somber similarities of being constructed atop early burial grounds.

A twin of Upper Sandusky’s courthouse is in Fairmont, West Virginia. We’ll talk about that one another day. 

Wyandot County (pop. 22,000, 82/88)
Hamilton (pop. 6,696).
Built: 1900
Cost: $140,372.44 ($7.4 million today)
Architect: Joseph W. Yost and Frank Packard
Style: Beaux Arts
Courthouse Square: Shelbyville Square
Height: 2.5 stories
Current use: County offices and courts
Photographed: 11/2/19

1 Holloway, Rosemary. “Friends Memorial and its Pastors Over the Years” Friends Memorial Meeting [Muncie]. 1990. Print.
2 Holloway, Rosemary. “The Friends Memorial Meetinghouse: On it’s Eightieth Birthday; How the Building Came to Be.” Friends Memorial Meeting [Muncie]. 1988. Print.
3 Flook, Chris. “Bygone Muncie: Beech Grove Cemetery, Memorial Day observances grew together over the years” The Star Press [Muncie}. May 31, 2021. Web. Retrieved 6/6/21.
4 “Wyandot County Courthouse” The Supreme Court of Ohio & The Ohio Judicial System. The Supreme Court of Ohio [Columbus]. Web. Retrieved 6/6/21.
4 “Upper Sandusky” Touring Ohio. Ohio City Productions, Inc [Upper Arlington]. Web. Retrieved 6/6/21.
5 Baughman, Abraham J. “PaSt and Present of Wyandot County, Ohio” Clarke Publishing Company [Chicago]. 1913. Print.
6 “The History of Wyandot County, Ohio” Leggett, Conaway, & Company [Chicago]. 1884. Print.
7 Thrane, Susan W., Patterson, B., & Patterson, T. “County Courthouses of Ohio” Indiana University Press [Bloomington]. November 1, 2000. Print.  
8 Marvin, Ronald I. “A Brief History of Wyandot County, Ohio” Arcadia Publishing [Mount Pleasant]. 2015. Print. 

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