Architects of early 20th century courthouses embraced the elegance and authority displayed in the NeoClassical style. From heavy pediments to monumental columns, the hallmarks of the NeoClassical style command respect befitting the ancient Greek temples that inspired them. Such is the case with the Clay County Courthouse designed by John W. Gaddis and constructed 1912-1914.
The Vincennes, Indiana architect designed the building with a symmetry that balances one bay on each side of a large central bay. The central bay is crowned with a broken pediment supported by both Corinthian columns and pilasters. Gaddis also intended for each pediment to include a clock, surrounded by a carved relief. However, budget cuts eliminated the clocks from the original construction. They were finally installed in the 1990s thanks to funding assistance from the Clay County Civic Memorial Foundation.
While the Clay County Courthouse is located within a Shelbyville Square plan, there’s a good reason why the building is not located in the center of the block. After moving the county seat from Bowling Green to Brazil commissioners constructed a new courthouse in 1877. They left the earlier courthouse in place during the construction of the current one. Local history has it that the buildings were so close to each other that employees passed many of the county records through the window of the old building to the new building.1
In 1986 an Indianapolis-based decorative painting firm restored the stencils surrounding the interior of the courthouse dome. At the same time a stained glass specialist repaired the dome’s glass thanks to the effort (and financial support) of a group of Clay County elected officials and employees. While the glass was being repaired a mural was discovered and restored to its original appearance. A plaque commemorating this restoration can be found on the first floor near the rotunda. Also in the 1980s, the Circuit courtroom underwent a significant restoration. A dropped ceiling was removed to reveal a beautiful vaulted ceiling and a small stained glass dome surrounded by intricate molding. Subsequent renovations in 1998-99 repaired the wood sash windows and upgraded the HVAC system.
Visitors to the Clay County Courthouse will note an unusual building on the northwest side of the square. The small octagonal building, clad in locally manufactured glazed tile, is a World War II memorial dedicated by Clay County American Legion Post 2.