Lebanon is on its fourth courthouse since being named the Boone County seat in 1832. And while the current building is a neoclassical gem, had its predecessor survived, it would be the only Gothic Revival courthouse in Indiana.
William Tinsley, architect of Christ Church Cathedral in Indianapolis and Wabash College's Center Hall, designed the 1857 Gothic Revival Boone County courthouse. Perhaps it was because the courthouse more closely resembled a church or college rather than a seat of government, or maybe the county simply outgrew the structure, but for whatever reason, the commissioners sold the building to a local contractor for $15 in 1909 and demolition ensued.1
The current courthouse, designed by Hammond architect Joseph T. Hutton, proudly displays its governmental majesty through the classical details of a Greek temple: an enormous pediment with the allegorical figures of Agriculture, Justice, and Industry carved in limestone; and eight solid limestone columns each measuring 35 feet 5½ inches tall. Workers shipped the roughly cut columns to Lebanon by train where skilled carvers completed them on site.2 Indiana: A New Historical Guide credits the columns as likely being the largest single-piece pillars in the nation.3 The courthouse sits on a Shelbyville Square with streets intersecting each other at the corners of the square.
Construction of the present courthouse occurred between 1909 and 1911. County dignitaries formally dedicated the structure on July 4, 1912 with a speech by Indianapolis resident and former United States Vice President Charles W. Fairbanks. Among Fairbanks' comments were words that still resonate with Indiana residents:
The people will reverence [the courthouse] because it will link them with the past; they will perceive in it the splendid contribution which you their fathers have made to them and emphasize their duty to build also for the future. They will behold in it one of the rich trophies of civil liberty.4
Among the architectural highlights of the courthouse is the magnificent dome capped by a four-sided clock tower. The interior of the courthouse is lit by the brilliance of the dome's stained glass ceiling. At 84 feet high and 52 feet wide, the dome is the second largest such structure in the state behind the dome of the West Baden Springs Hotel in Orange County.5 A 1990s renovation uncovered equally beautiful stained glass ceilings in the courtrooms and offices of the third floor and returned original paint colors to the decorative plaster.6
In addition to the mammoth columns and dome, the Boone County Courthouse also claims a location on the Second Principal Meridian-thought to be the only public building in the world bisected by this geographical division.7This distinction is noted with a plaque in the center of the rotunda floor. (For a discussion of the second principal meridian, go to http://www.ces.purdue.edu/extmedia/AY/AY-237.html) The Boone County Courthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.
1 The $15 price tag for the 1857 courthouse is documented in several sources including: Birth Certificates of Boone County, Indiana and the Friendly City of Lebanon, Lebanon: Union Federal Savings & Loan Association, 1979 and "Boone 'Capitol' is Masterpiece," Lebanon Reporter, September 27, 1991.2 Will Counts. The Magnificent 92 Indiana Courthouses. Bloomington: Rose Bud Press, 1991, p. 19.