The first Hamilton County Courthouse was built in 1830. This small frame building was considered inadequate only five years later. In 1835, county commissioners called for a “new two-story brick building with hipped roof and cupola.”1 This second courthouse served Hamilton County for only forty years, a relatively short time. In the 1870s, after the county began building a jail and sheriff’s residence on the courthouse lawn that many considered to be more elaborate than the actual courthouse, interest in building a new county courthouse grew. In 1875, county commissioners held a referendum regarding the construction of a new courthouse. 724 voted in favor of the courthouse, while 1,205 voted against the new building. Opposition was particularly strong in rural parts of the county.2
Two years later, in 1877, county commissioners voted 2-1 for a new courthouse. Edwin May was selected to design this new building. May, designer of the Decatur and Knox County Courthouses, was selected to design the Indiana State Capitol the following year.3 Work began quickly, but in early 1878, architect J.C. Johnson replaced Edwin May. Work ended in June 1879 and after a dispute between the commissioners and contractor, the county took possession July 23, 1879 at a cost of $150,000.4
The Second Empire Style courthouse stands in downtown Noblesville and is bounded by West Logan Street, South Ninth Street, Conner Street, and South Eighth Street. The Second Empire style, popular from 1860-1890 in the United States, uses a symmetrical square block that is usually two or three stories tall. The distinguishing feature of this style is the mansard roof.5 The Hamilton County Courthouse is a three-story square block with a mansard roof and tall, square central clock tower. The building has arched windows with pediments and arched doorways.
The courthouse included many new and modern technologies, such as steam heat. The Court Room was to have a ventilation system that would “change the air in the room every twenty minutes” and a “speaking tube” was to stretch “from the Clerk’s office to the Clerk’s desk, in the Court Room … for his convenience.”6 To compensate for these added costs of $7000, eight statuary figures were decided to be “needless ornament.”7
In the 1920s, this courthouse held the infamous trial of David Curtis “D.C.” Stephenson.8 Stephenson, a nationally prominent Ku Klux Klan leader, was convicted of the murder of Madge Oberholtzer and sentenced to life in prison. In the 1990s, the building was restored and rehabilitated to meet the growing county’s needs. Additionally, a Judicial Building was built to the west of the current courthouse; courtrooms and county law enforcement offices were moved from the original building.
The Hamilton County Courthouse joined the ranks of other Indiana Courthouses on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. The courthouse is sited in the Shelbyville Square Plan, which means the streets intersect at the corners of the square.
1 Hamilton County Courthouse: Preserving a Heritage (Noblesville: Hamilton County Courthouse Rededication Committee, 1994), p. 3.2 Hamilton County Courthouse: Preserving a Heritage (Noblesville: Hamilton County Courthouse Rededication Committee, 1994), p. 4-6.