A version of this post first appeared here a year ago, on February 4, 2019.
It’s been forty years since a historic courthouse has been demolished in Indiana, and for good reason! It’s pretty evident to me that Hoosiers have garnered a newfound appreciation for historic courthouses across the state. I actually started this project back in 2011 as a delayed response to a local courthouse that was probably going to get 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.
The renovation and expansion of that courthouse in Winchester seems to have sent a ripple effect throughout the rest of the state. Eight years afterwards, we’ve seen other communities embrace their old structures:
- 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 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.
- Most recently, the 1894 Pulaski County Courthouse in Winamac was saved.
That Pulaski County Courthouse, as the first of three Richardson Romanesque courthouses designed by A.W. and E.A. Rush in the 1890s, is imposing. 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 typical CVS.
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, along with those who designed in his eponymous mode.
There are plenty of these courthouses around Indiana, at least nine more beyond the Rush family’s 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 sister in Fulton County ($150,000 in 1896), and the $250,000 officials in Rush County plunked down for the trio’s largest. At a quick review of the three, what stands out to me at Winamac’s is the amount of plain, rectangular one-over-one double-hung windows that populate its second and third floors, along with the semi-exposed basement. The stark simplicity of the courthouse’s south front also underscores its thrifty design.
That all said, some interesting ornamentation can be found provided that 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 projection. A thin molding caps each arch, but terminates at their sides with an enormous carved leaf. Likewise, the molding ends in the middle elbow at two oversized mask 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. I don’t really want to spend a lot of time on recessed midsections out of jealousy since I myself and trying to drop some pounds, but 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 did officials want to be the first since the Carter administration to bulldoze a historic courthouse in Indiana? Well, they said it was too old and that it wasn’t big enough6 even though they built a new justice center in 1996. What’s more is that the building -get this- has more than one door, which posed a safety risk. And although the building was in that way over-accessible, the interior wasn’t- it didn’t comply with the ADA, though an elevator was installed in recent years. Let’s just say that if Starke County, just north of here, could implement fixes to those problems7 and keep their own historic courthouse, anyone can.
It didn’t take long for a local activist group to pop up and advocate for the building’s preservation. Then Indiana Landmarks stepped in, offering assistance and hiring the architectural firm Rowland Design after placing the courthouse on their 10 Most Endangered list this past April. Gradually, three plans were formed to save the building. The first, and cheapest, cost $4.5 million and would renovate the courthouse and keep the circuit court in the building. The second plan called for redoing the building but moving the courtroom and judge’s chambers to the justice center across the street, keeping inmates being transported from court to jail out of contact with the public and making way for county offices now operating out of an old school to return downtown. The final plan, the most expensive at $7 million, called for tearing the courthouse down and adding onto the justice center.
County officials finally chose the middle plan, which is expected to cost just over $6 million8. Now comes the hard part- funding it. But the Save the Pulaski County Courthouse group on Facebook -1700 people strong in all- demonstrated that when there’s a will, there’s a way. Now that county officials are on the same page, the old courthouse will continue to dominate the Winamac “skyline” for years to come. Now it’s on to Diamond Lil’s for a frosty mug to celebrate.
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
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. Web. Retrieved February 3, 2018/
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.
6 “Pulaski County Debates Demolition of Historic Courthouse” [Indiana Landmarks]. Web. Retrieved February 3, 2019.
7 “Security Updated at Starke Count Annex Building” [WKVI]. Web. Retrieved February 3, 2019
8 Historic Pulaski courthouse to be saved” The Pharos Tribune [Logansport]. December 23, 2019. Web. Retrieved 1/11/20.