The Fountain County Courthouse embodies the progressive spirit of Public Works Administration projects with its Art Deco-inspired exterior and interior murals depicting the county’s progress. The Fountain County seat of government bears a striking similarity to courthouses in Shelby and Howard counties which were also partially built with PWA funds. Through the bold use of metalwork, stylized sculpture, and angular patterns, Art Deco architecture embodied the climate of progress and modernity.
In 1936 the Fountain County Commissioners hired architects Louis R. Johnson, a native of Fountain County, and Walter Scholer from Lafayette, to replace an unsafe circa 1860 courthouse. Scholer, noted for designing several projects in West Lafayette and on the campus of Purdue University, also designed the experimental Wieboldt-Rostone House on display at the 1933 Century of Progress World's Fair in Chicago.Scholer employed the synthetic stone-like material known as Rostone as a spandrel material on the exterior of the Fountain County Courthouse. 1
In 1937 builders completed construction on the courthouse that featured a two story atrium with skylight. In 1940 a group of local painters, under the supervision of nationally known artist and Fountain County native, Eugene Savage, completed a series of murals depicting scenes from the county's history in context with larger regional and national events. Savage completed two canvas paintings that appear in the atrium along with the murals. Covering over 2,500 square feet, the murals and canvases are among the most extensive display of wall paintings in the nation.2A 32 square foot sky light, and split staircase with a pink-streaked marble balustrade combine with the artwork to create a spectacular interior. The second floor courtroom with original built-in oak furnishings, Art Deco ceiling fixtures and linoleum flooring also forms an impressive space.
The exterior of the courthouse is clad in limestone and reflects elements of classicism in combination with Art Deco styling. This combination of styles, indicative of PWA architecture, is often called “stripped Classic.” Vertical organization of the exterior reflects the Neoclassical formula of a rusticated base topped by two stories bearing engaged columns. The north and south facades of the building have plain, squared pilasters, while the east and west facades feature a center group of half octagonal, reeded pilasters with capitals decorated with bas-relief Deco motifs. The National Register of Historic Places nomination declares the Fountain County Courthouse the most significant example of a New Deal art and architecture project in Indiana.3
Although Covington, the county seat of Fountain County, is not centrally located to the county, the site was chosen for its location on the Wabash River. The town square, designed on a Shelbyville Square plan, is at the center of the original town plat. The courthouse was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2008.
1 Eliza Steelwater, Nomination of the Fountain County Courthouse to the National Register of Historic Places, manuscript dated Sept. 8, 2007, Sec 8, p 21.2 William F McDonald, Federal Relief Administration and the Arts (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1969), 14-16 as sited by Steelwater, National Register Nomination, Sec 8, p 26.