Last week, we talked about an old high school gym and how its massive construction sort of mimicked Newton County’s actions from years earlier when they decided to create a great courthouse regardless of the area’s population. From the 1920s through the 1950s basketball’s popularity was at an all-time high. It wasn’t confined to Kentland, though. In 1926, Lebanon city officials built the octagonal Memory Hall as an addition to their high school. Seating 2,200 people, the gym was home to the Lebanon Tigers through the 1968 season when a new school building was constructed. Although the old high school has been turned into apartments, the gym is still a sight to behold.
Though basketball was a big part of the community, it didn’t really contribute to the area’s growth. Through zoning and the outward sprawl of Indianapolis, Lebanon’s Boone County, at the northwestern corner of the circle city donut, is currently one of the fastest-growing areas in Indiana. In 2017, the county led the state in growth by increasing its population by 2.5%1. Interestingly, as of the 2000 census, eastern Boone County was actually the absolute center of Indiana’s population2. I would have assumed it’d be Indianapolis, but then again, I’m no sociologist.
I’ve been through Lebanon -strictly for courthouses, not for old gyms- three times. I didn’t know until today that the town had been founded in 1832 by a settler who noticed a grove of hickory trees that reminded him of a biblical site3. Initially, I went there as my first big trip around the state in 2011. I intended to hit up every courthouse surrounding Indianapolis, starting with Hancock County. I got a few decent photos of the Richardson Romanesque building there on my phone, but midway through the shoot I managed to accidentally select a setting called ‘incandescent’. I took courthouse photos in Shelbyville, Franklin, and Martinsville not knowing anything was amiss. I set off north from Martinsville up the curvy, hilly, routing of IN-39 towards Danville, still not even thinking about the setting of my phone camera while I concentrated on the road. I attributed the weird phone display to the screen reflecting poor outside lighting. From Danville, I finally made it to Lebanon, followed by Frankfort in Clinton County- taking photos all the way. After Frankfort, I faced a boring drive through cornfields through Tipton- where I’d already taken photos. Quick trips through Hobbs, Elwood, Orestes, and the northern part of Alexandria followed as I turned eventually south to my house in Muncie.
I got home, looked at the photos, and was crestfallen. Most -aside from the three I took in Greenfield- were unusable due to the filter I’d inadvertently triggered. No amount of Photoshop magic helped create a consistent image, and after weeks of attempted edits, my disappointment was enough to stop my project completely. After a couple of years, I got access to a decent camera, as well as the gumption to start my project up again with new photos. I made it back to Boone Counthy on August 20, 2015- nearly three years after I went there for the first time. I even stopped there a second time, on my way home after Montgomery County installed a replacement clock tower in May of 2018. As nice of a city it is, I hope to not go back in the near future!
Despite the growth of the area, Boone County’s communities have mostly managed to stay true to their histories downtown, as long as you ignore what Whitestown’s trying to do4. Downtown Lebanon is a perfect example of the area’s appreciation of heritage, as is its courthouse, a true stunner. At first glance, though, I didn’t necessarily have that opinion. To me, the structure looked pretty close to the rest of the neoclassical courthouses built from around 1903 through 1929. It was limestone, had big columns, a pediment, and variations of everything else I’d already seen elsewhere nearly twenty times.
But I was wrong. Let’s start with the columns. Indiana is a state of what I’ll call “maybe” records. Maybe the West Baden Springs hotel has the world’s largest dome, but maybe it doesn’t anymore. Maybe Alexandria has the world’s largest ball of paint (it actually does, and you can go add a layer). Maybe the Boone County Courthouse has the world’s tallest single-piece columns. And so on. But this courthouse truly lives up to its expectations.
Indiana: A New Historical Guide, seems to corroborate that last claim5. The building’s eight primary columns on its north and south fronts measure 35 feet, five and 3/4 inches tall6. The rough-cut pillars were shipped to Lebanon from their quarry by workers who extracted the limestone from the earth. Onsite, they were refined by artists on prior to being installed. To this day, nothing in the state compares to seeing those columns in person, without joints. For me, concrete, plaster, and metal columns just don’t do their intended majesty justice.
Above the columns sits a gigantic pediment- way bigger than those featured in other counties. Allegorical figures of Agriculture, Industry, and Justice (common themes in Indiana political artwork, but nearly never to this scale) sit underneath the gable. Above those, an enormous dome reaches 84 feet into the sky. I doubt that the West Baden Springs hotel still holds the national record for largest dome, but if it did, the Boone County Courthouse dome would rank second at 52 feet wide and totally covered inside with ribbed stained glass7.
Interestingly to me is the dome’s lantern that fits the large scale of every other element of the building. It stands proudly above the building’s massing with a clock facing in every cardinal direction. Although the importance of a community clock has diminished since we all got smartphones and iWatches, I believe a courthouse clock is still a great feature. I love this one.
Based on all of those attributes that I cherish, it’s quite clear to me that we have a great courthouse over in Lebanon. Unlike many Indiana counties where geopolitical development was a true struggle, it was a relatively simple process to get to the courthouse we see today. Originally, the 1830-era seat of Boone County was in Jamestown, though no courthouse was ever erected there. By 1833, county government moved to Lebanon where a log courthouse lasted until 1839. A brick 1840 courthouse similar in appearance to those in Corydon, Rome, and Wilmington burned down in 1856. The court lost all of its records, but a new, gothic revival courthouse was quickly erected to replace it. Eighteen years later, a fire consumed that building as well, though it was rebuilt to original specifications. By 1912, the county had grown tired of the old courthouse and constructed the building that we see today. A nearly-identical trajectory -though with a little more political intrigue- occurred in Clay County as well.
I’m taking an accounting class in college and it sounds like we debited the gothic revival account and credited the enormous-looming-neoclassical-behemoth account. Did I get that right? Maybe I need to check my grades. Nonetheless, that works for me! I live near Ball State, where the original campus consists of nothing but gothic revival buildings. I’ve had my fill. I value the replacement, with its unique features, more than I’d value its predecessor.
Over my studies, I’ve learned that the accounting equation falls apart when both sides don’t match up. Here, it’s pretty clear that they don’t- our state’s portfolio gained a lot with the construction of the current Boone County Courthouse. It’s single-piece column design, advanced pediment, enormous dome, and huge clock-bearing lantern drive the building home as a unique entry in our Indiana collection. I’d really encourage anyone nearby to debit cash and credit gas in order to make a short trip to see it. Maybe you can shoot some hoops at Memory Hall while you’re there, too.
Boone County (pop. 60,477, 27/92)
Lebanon (pop. 15,781).
Cost: $265,000 ($6.8 million in 2016)
Architect: Joseph T. Hutton
Courthouse Square: Shelbyville Square
Height: 128 feet
Current use: Some county offices and courts
1 “More than half of Indiana communities saw population growth in 2017” Business and Innovation. News at IU Bloomington [Bloomington]. Web. March 2, 2019.
2 Population and Population Centers by State: 2000″. United States Census. Archived from the original on 2013-06-22. Web. March 2, 2019.
3 Lebanon, Indiana – History. City of Lebanon, Indiana. Web. March 2, 2019.
4 “Whitestown makes big bet on site of former junkyard”. Indianapolis Business Journal [Indianapolis]. Web. March 2, 2019.
5 Taylor, R.. Stevens E.W., and Ponder, M. A. Indiana: A New Historical Guide. Indiana Hist lyrical Society [Indianapolis] 1990.
6 Enyart, David. “Boone County” Indiana County Courthouse Histories. ACPL Genealogy Center, 2010-2018. Web. March 2, 2019.
7 Indiana Landmarks (2013). Boone County. Indianapolis. Indiana Landmarks. Retrieved from http://indianacourthousesquare.org