Delaware County- Muncie (1887-1967)

An old postcard of the 1887 Delaware County Courthouse.

I spent last week in Richmond assisting my mom with a teacher creativity grant from the Lilly Endowment. Our task? To take a deep dive into the 1866 diary of Mary Jane Edwards, a Quaker from tiny Raysville who taught freed slaves during the earliest days of reconstruction. It’s a project that seems random, but it isn’t: When Mary Jane died in 1870, the diary was inherited by her sister Lizzie. Lizzie Edwards Holloway is my great-great-great grandmother, and the diary has been passed down through generations for more than a hundred years. My mom has it now.

Though our meetings with professors, genealogists, and historians uncovered troves of new context and information, every question answered seemed to lead to two more that were unresolved. Following the lives of our ancestors 150 years after the fact was an exhilarating process. Nevertheless, the research was often exhausting. We returned home Sunday afternoon feeling relatively accomplished, but I think both of us felt an acute sense of unfinished business.

A hundred years after Mary Jane Edwards penned her diary, the writing was on the wall for Brentwood Tolan’s 1887 Delaware County Courthouse. In September of 1966 -just before the building could be razed- the local historical society asked county officials to retain certain items of note from the old courthouse, and to secure a prominent location for them in or around the new structure. Specifically, the society wanted to save the three massive statues that adorned the courthouse’s roof, the bell and ornamental torch from the clock tower, the interior clockworks, at least one fireplace, some walnut doors, and the building’s cornerstone1. 

A postcard showing courthouse relics at the Stradling farm

Commissioners complied, though the historical society didn’t yet have a place to put their new memorabilia and none of it fit into Hamilton, Graham, and Cox’s modern plan for the site. The next fall, things changed: Robert Stradling, an antique collector and the treasurer of the historical society, offered to hold the items at his farm six miles north of town on Wheeling Pike. The items were moved via the donated services of several local transportation firms and joined two clock faces and the clockworks sent to the farm prior to the building’s demolition2. Above is a period postcard depicting several of the items nestled together- Stradling collected all kinds of items of historical importance, and his farm was a common destination for school field trips for years.

Our courthouse treasures sat for several years as volunteers, including my great grandparents Rosemary and Homer Holloway, helped keep them in good shape. The historical society purchased the farm’s 2.77 acres outright back in 1971, but the land’s ownership has since been transferred to a succession of private parties in the intervening years. Unsurprisingly, some of the old pieces went missing: No one knows where the torch is, for example, or even whether it still exists. Same for the clockworks and faces, though a 1979 Muncie Star article I found seems to show a replacement face being worked on by my great-grandpa3. Anecdotal evidence from local historians indicates that the clockworks were sold by the county to a private collector in California some years ago.

The 1848 courthouse bell sits in front of the Delaware County Justice Center.

So where’d everything else wind up? Well, like I said, I felt like I needed to accomplish something concrete after winding up with more questions than answers on the diary trip. So I decided to take a quick scavenger hunt through the county to find out. 

I started at the most obvious place, the 1992 Justice Center built a block north of the old courthouse and its 1969 replacement. In the plaza near its main entrance sits the old courthouse bell. By old, I mean it’s really old- it was originally hung in Delaware County’s second courthouse, the first one here that wasn’t a log cabin. Cast by the Buckeye Bell Foundry of Cincinnati in 1848, the half-ton bronze instrument4 replaced the courthouse’s original 1837 bell upon its relocation to Muncie’s old seminary building. Hauled by Simon Conn and his team of six black horses from southwestern Ohio to what was then known as Muncietown, the bell was saved when the second courthouse was demolished and relocated to its replacement in 1887. The bell, which features a chain of engraved lyres around its body as well as smaller figures representing cherubs, was originally rung by hand but was later struck by a 500-pound mechanical sledge before going silent5 in 1944. Upon the completion of the Justice Center, the bell got a deep clean and moved to the prominent place on its grounds where it sits today.

John A. Ward’s Indian, Industry, and Agriculture statues from the old courthouse sit at the northwest side of the Delaware County Building.

Next on my list was the Delaware County Building, built in 1969 as Muncie’s fourth courthouse on the site of its predecessor. Elevated on a concrete berm above the building’s northwest corner are perhaps the most notable pieces left over from the old courthouse, its three massive statues known to some residents as “The Indian and his Girlfriends6”. Carved by Irish sculptor John A. Ward, the most prominent sculpture is the enormous sandstone Indian that once stood watch over the old building’s eastern entrance but now faces west towards Savage’s as if silently clamoring for an order of beer-battered onion rings. As the Indian, which measures 10-12 feet tall, was removed from its perch, contractors realized that portions of its headdress, as well as his pet dog’s face, had been destroyed by inclement weather over the years. Subsequently, the Indian’s right arm and bow succumbed to several instances of vandalism.

John A. Ward’s Indian figure from the 1887 courthouse.

The Indian’s two counterparts, “Miss Industry” and “Miss Agriculture” according to the Muncie Evening Press, original stood on either side of the courthouse’s primary southern entrance. Industry holds an anvil and gear, though years of pollution and weather hadn’t been kind to her hand and the corner of the anvil. Agriculture, with a chaff of wheat and a scythe, was in markedly better shape than her peers when removed from the courthouse’s facade. Each statue weighs about a ton, and, interestingly, none were actually fastened to the courthouse walls in any way as contractors found out- they remained perched atop the building based on their sheer weight alone7. 

After the statues were removed from the Stradling farm, they sat across the street from the courthouse around the entrance arch of the old Wysor building. In 2013, the statues were moved back to the site of the county building as part of a landscaping initiative. From 2015 to 2016, artisan John Walters was hired to restore all three statues to their present condition. Though a high level of artistry is quite apparent, up close the statues look a little bit out of proportion since they were designed to be seen at a distance from street level. Up close, the Indian looks downright unpleasant, as noted by a bystander who watched the statue’s removal from the old courthouse and remarked that it should be installed in the new treasurer’s office, saying that the the sculpture “looks so mean no one would fail to pay his taxes8”. Dour expressions aside, the statues remain the most arresting parts of the old courthouse to be seen today (standing a block away from the jail notwithstanding). 

Obviously, the statues and bell aren’t all that’s left over from the old courthouse. Before I left the county building, I checked out the main entrance underneath its cantilevered west wing. The two limestone posts framing the building’s doors are two of eight that allowed access to the old courthouse from the corners of its square. The posts, along with a connected stone retaining wall, can be seen at street level in the old postcard above. Unfortunately, a suspicious-looking vagrant seated against the eastern post prevented me from getting the photo I wanted, but you get the idea. 

A study of an 1887 courthouse square fencepost.

The rest of the eight stone fenceposts from the old courthouse are all on private property, though they can all be photographed from the street. The closest pair borders the driveway at 4320 N. Walnut Street across from the Jehovah’s Witness Hall. The third and fourth pair are found at the southwest corner of Royerton and Williamson roads in Hamilton Township, framing the north and east entrances to the property owner’s circular driveway. The fenceposts were likely purchased directly from Zebrowski & Associates, the demolition and salvage firm responsible for bringing the old courthouse down, as undoubtedly were smaller trinkets like wooden railings, trim, and furniture. 

The 1885 cornerstone of the 1887 Delaware County Courthouse.

The last stop on my courthouse scavenger hunt was back downtown, at the side yard of the Delaware County Historical Society at 120 E. Washington Street. There sits the old courthouse’s cornerstone, next to an unrelated statue of Charles Willard with an interesting history of its own. According to the cornerstone, laid on July 23rd, 1885, commissioners at the time of the courthouse’s construction were William F. Watson, Charles E. Jones, and James Garrett, along with William Dragoo, who served as the county auditor. The stone’s other engraved face commemorates builders Charles Pearce, Adam Scott, and Thomas Morgan, along with Brentwood Tolan, the architect. 

Tolan was a prolific courthouse architect who designed four county courthouses of his own in Indiana- those in Muncie, Columbia City, LaPorte, and Fort Wayne. His father, T.J. -likely with Brentwood’s assistance- designed Hoosier courthouses in LaGrange, Rockville, and Warsaw. In fact, Warsaw’s courthouse is a dead ringer for Muncie’s lamented structure, and, aside from specific statuary, does a great impression of it. Rockville’s is close too, though more like a second cousin in appearance. Both were completed in the years just prior to Muncie’s. I recommend a trip to either to see what all of Delaware County’s courthouse artifacts looked like in aggregate within the context of a complete building. 

 

Another old postcard of the courthouse in its heyday, with all components accounted for.

 

My desire for pulling together some photos and research was satisfied for the time being, and, having been to Rockville and Warsaw already during my project, my scavenger hunt ended in front of the historical society building. There’s still a lot of information to be nailed down about what’s left from our old courthouse, along with questions to be answered. What happened to the old clock hands up for sale at an antique mall a few years ago? Who in California bought the clockworks from the county auction? Where’s the torch that stood above the old clock tower that went missing after years in storage? Maybe we’ll find out, and maybe we won’t. Whether researching a Civil War-era diary, or an 1887 Beaux Arts courthouse, history can be frustrating at times. But paradoxically, that’s what helps make it so fun. 


 1 “Old Statuary, Bell, and Clockworks From Courthouse Still Lack ‘Home’” The Muncie Star [Muncie]. June 1, 1969. 29. Print.
2 “Statues Move to Suburban Home” The Muncie Evening Press [Muncie]. August 19, 1967. 1. Print.
3 “Journey Into the Past Delaware County Heritage Preserved at Stradling Farm” The Muncie Star [Muncie]. September 2, 1979. 11. Print.
4 “Courthouse Bell Hauled in Wagon From Cincinnati Over Century Ago” The Muncie Evening Press [Muncie]. November 23, 1964. 4. Print.
5 “Courthouse Bell, Once Pride of County, Now Is Unused” The Muncie Evening Press [Muncie]. July 17, 1944. 3. Print.
6 “Old Courthouse Bell, Three Statues Eyed for Return to Plaza” The Muncie Star [Muncie]. February 28, 1982. 4. Print.
7 “Courthouse Walls Go Tumbling Down” The Muncie Evening Press [Muncie]. December 21, 1966. 1. Print.
8 “Courthouse Demolition Underway” The Muncie Star [Muncie]. December 22, 1966. 2. Print.

Author: tcshideler

When I'm not driving around, drinking fountain pops, and taking photos of county courthouses, I like to perform and record rock music in my band, spend time outdoors fishing and camping, read, and watch pro basketball and hockey.

2 thoughts

  1. What a gorgeous old building, a shame it’s gone. If anyone can track down it’s artifacts it would be you. If you track those things down, that would be a great read.

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  2. It would be a project worth attempting! A guy in Muncie who helped research this post tracked down the long-lost statue of Charles Willard from a Chatanooga restaurant where people thought it was Jefferson Davis. Maybe there’s some hope!

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