I started this project back in 2011 as a delayed response to a local courthouse possibly getting the axe. Thankfully, a grassroots campaign of activists, residents, and enthusiasts stepped in, and Randolph County kept their historic building. The nude calendar that members of an elderly bridge club published may have had something to do with it too1.
Nevertheless, the courthouse was saved! And what’s more, its renovation and expansion seems to have sent a ripple effect throughout the rest of the state. Eight years after the fact, here’s what’s transpired:
- A clock tower was restored to the Montgomery County Courthouse.
- The ailing old clock tower of the Washington County Courthouse was repaired.
- Yet another tower, this time simply housing a bell, was totally rehabilitated at the old Martin County Courthouse.
- Additions to courthouses in Dearborn and Cass counties ensured their use for years to come, and a planned expansion of the LaPorte County Superior Courthouse in Michigan City will eventually do the same2.
It’s pretty evident to me that Hoosiers in general have garnered a newfound appreciation for historic courthouses across the state! Aside from county officials in Winamac. Apparently, Indiana’s pride in our old buildings stops just short of the Pulaski County line.
Winamac is home to a fine old courthouse, the first of three Richardson Romanesque courthouses designed by A.W. and E.A. Rush in the 1890s. Like its substantially more expensive siblings in Rochester and Rushville3, the courthouse is a squarish, stone structure with projecting entrances on each face, topped with a hipped roof and a central clock tower. The top of that clock tower stands 106 feet above your feet; probably a little higher, really, since it sits on an elevated plot downtown. Otherwise, the building’s 88×96 foot floorpan4 is a little smaller than a CVS, or the Walgreens across the road from it.
Obviously, the height of the courthouse is a key difference between it and your corner pharmacy- the next-tallest building in Winamac is across the street, and it’s two stories. Well, three if you count the mansard roof, which appears to be phony. But there’s certainly no mansard roof to be found on our friend the Pulaski County Courthouse, no sir. Henry Hobson Richardson and his acolytes pretty much did away with them, along with the Second Empire style as a whole.
Richardson appeared on the architectural scene during the waning days of the Victorian era, and boy did he have some shit to kick, developing his eponymous style in the process. I’ll leave it to you to google what Romanesque means, but Richardson’s version featured rough-cut, rusticated stone (I’m a fan already- my favorite pipes have been fashioned from rusticated briar), rounded-off arches, recessed entrances and windows, and -most importantly- turrets and towers! Next time you see a courthouse and remark to yourself about how much it resembles a castle, look no further. Richardson’s your man.
There are plenty of these courthouses around Indiana, at least nine more beyond the Rush brothers’, depending on how much you want to quibble. But despite the style’s popularity around the turn of the century, Winamac’s courthouse is the only example of it in all of Pulaski County. So it’s interesting in a vacuum, but what makes the building more interesting in the context of our portfolio of historic courthouses is its specific details- mainly, its lack of them. The missing ostentation is, I’m sure, what helped construction costs stay under $50,000 in 1895 money5, compared to its younger brother in Fulton County ($150,000 in 1896), and the $250,000 officials in Rush County plunked down for its progenitor. At a quick review of the three, what stands out to me is the amount of plain, rectangular one-over-one double-hung windows that populate the second and third floors, along with the semi-exposed basement. The stark simplicity of the courthouse’s south front also underscores its thrifty design.
But good things come to those who wait, as my parents always told me when they’d leave me in the car as the grocery shopped. The same goes here- interesting details abound, as long as you know where to look. Let’s start at the north elevation- it’s the building’s main entrance, after all. This front is characterized by three connecting archways that define the second story of the main entrance projection. A thin molding caps them, but terminates at each side with an enormous carved leaf. Likewise, the molding ends in the middle elbow at two oversized masks carvings. Above these, framing the center of the facade, carved imposts rise to just below the building’s third floor, implying a balcony in front of the courthouse’s recessed midsection, which peaks at a high gable surrounded on either side by a stubby, pyramidal tower. At the crux of the gable projects an interesting carved tree design.
Despite its relative simplicity towards its peers, the courthouse is impressive! Especially for a town the size of Winamac! Hungry? Gotta go to Subway, McDonalds, Pizza King, or One Eyed Jack’s. Thirsty? Diamond Lil’s and Tippy’s have you covered. Want groceries? Too bad- we’ve got the Dairy Barn and a Dollar General. For real food, you’d best hotfoot it down to Logansport, or at least to the Fingerhut Bakery up at Bass Lake.
We’ve now set the scene: The building is a gem. So why be the first since the Carter administration to bulldoze a historic courthouse in Indiana? The short answer, based on a report prepared for the county, is that it’s old. Pshaw! Ohio County still uses a courthouse that’s fifty years older! It’s not big enough6, the report continues, to house the county’s needs. Again- a fully-throated pshaw! Officials in Marshall, Adams, Lawrence, Henry, Switzerland, Tippecanoe, Benton, Fayette, Martin, Brown, Randolph, Franklin, Jefferson, Morgan, St. Joseph, Grant, Scott, Greene, Hamilton, Wayne, Hancock, Lake, Dearborn, LaPorte, and Steuben counties – commissioners of all the courthouses seen above and more- all added on to their historic buildings’ exteriors, or at least found additional space inside attics to add more functional room. That aspect of the argument doesn’t seem to hold water for me, although God be with those trying to navigate those Rubic’s Cubes of a floorplan.
Nope- it just seems like laziness on the part of county officials. But what else? The courthouse doesn’t comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. That’s important, but the county just added an elevator in recent years to partially fix the situation. If you’ve already an elevator, wouldn’t some other, presumably similarly intrusive interior additions make sense? I would think that they would.
Well, maybe they could do an internal revision, but the old courthouse doesn’t have enough security cameras. Even if it did, multiple entry points to the structure pose potential safety concerns to both county staff, and those who do business there. I needn’t mention that the courthouse annex of neighboring Starke County recently added single-point entry without any problems7, and that its historic courthouse already had it- along with courthouses (from my experience) in Lafayette, Huntington, Logansport, Danville, Peru, Frankfort, Rensselaer, Valpo, Monticello, Marion, and elsewhere that I’m forgetting. There are probably more.
So what else renders this historic building useless enough to demolish? The utility bill’s too high. I get that. Places like Pulaski County aren’t really growing. Nonetheless, sufficient parking just isn’t near8. And an old, outmoded fire protection system’s in place right now.
Not that I’m an expert on the historic courthouses of Indiana or anything, but humor me: I understand the demand of pragmatically accommodating a county’s business needs. Utilities are going to be a constant concern. But some other solutions are pretty apparent, such as some that a local “Save the Pulaski County Courthouse” group on Facebook proposed. A report they submitted to county officials indicated that, for much less than a grand, a new, adequate smoke alarm system could be installed in the old structure. Additionally, they mentioned that the creation of a single-point entrance would be quite easy. Again, I’m no expert, but it seems to me that two out of three primary doors on the building’s exterior probably lock, and if on the off-chance that they don’t, technology could quickly enable them to. These seem like quick fixes that an overanxious county government has gotten away from.
I signed the Facebook group’s petition and shared it on Facebook- my first instance of activism as a millennial! But despite my efforts (lol), the county suggested a different solution that involves the relocation of certain offices to the old masonic lodge downtown, as well as an addition to the modern justice center across the street. Offices housed in the old courthouse would relocate, and eventually the spot would be leveled and graded to house a parking garage. This is 2019, for God’s sake. That’s an unacceptable, lazy, solution.
Nevertheless, the county estimates a fix of the current courthouse to cost $12 million. I say we add on to the front of the modern justice center and move the courts there, keeping other county offices in the courthouse. If push comes to shove, let’s add on to the old building’s west side, by way of a connecting glass atrium just as courthouses in Marshall, Benton, and Scott counties did. Whatever the solution is, we need it fast.
At least I say we need it fast, but despite all the county’s fear-mongering, I don’t really believe this courthouse will be demolished. Thanks to the efforts of Randolph County’s citizenry, Indiana Historic Landmarks, local officials, and the power of the ballot, Winchester’s courthouse still stands tall- even taller actually, then it did before it was saved. With any amount of logic, commissioners in Pulaski County will keep the gem that they have. Nevertheless, I’ll keep a close eye on the findings. If I have to move to Winamac to save its historic courthouse with a vote, you’ll sure to find me there on the green with a sign and a frosty mug from Diamond Lil’s.
Pulaski County (pop. 12,534, 83/92)
Warsaw (pop. 2,332).
Cost: $50,000. ($1.5 million in 2016)
Architect: A.W. Rush & E.A. Rush
Style: Richardson Romanesque
Courthouse Square: Shelbyville Square
Height: 106 feet
Current use: County offices and courts
1 “Courthouse Girls bare all for building” The Indianapolis Star [Indianapolis] July 31, 2005: 1. Print.
2 “Michigan City courthouse to be expanded, LaPorte project on hold” The Northwest Indiana Times. March 2, 2018. Retrieved from https://www.nwitimes.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/michigan-city-courthouse-to-be-expanded-laporte-project-on-hold/article_fb089c00-aa34-54d5-9b17-5eeb50456eef.html.
3 Enyart, David. “Pulaski County” Indiana County Courthouse Histories. ACPL Genealogy Center, 2010-2018. Web. February 3, 2018.
4 National Register of Historic Places, Pulaski County Courthouse, Winamac, Pulaski County, Indiana, National Register # 07001282.
5 Pulaski County [Indiana Landmarks]. Retrieved February 3, 2019, from http://indianacourthousesquare.org/repository/counties/pulaski/pulaski.pdf.
6 “Pulaski County Debates Demolition of Historic Courthouse” [Indiana Landmarks]. Retrieved February 3, 2019, from https://www.indianalandmarks.org/2019/01/pulaski-county-debates-demolition-of-historic-courthouse/.
7 “Security Updated at Starke Count Annex Building” [WKVI]. Retrieved February 3, 2019 from https://wkvi.com/2019/01/security-updated-at-starke-county-annex-building/?fbclid=IwAR0m7HZfwcgqXX0E-maAsJ9LAzyGX-pErBBV4TX4-uA0qtf1vKrNA1TZzsU.
8 “Pulaski County Courthouse may be torn down’ The Pharos Tribune [Logansport]. Retrieved February 3, 2019 from https://www.pharostribune.com/news/local_news/article_3af2a473-daf6-5114-abec-40472481859e.html.