As tribute to Jackson County’s long standing role in Indiana history, county leaders selected an architectural style for their twentieth century courthouse that imparts authority and dignity. During the War of 1812, several encounters between Native Americans and the United States Army took place in what would become Jackson County. Consequently many towns and the county’s name were inspired by military leaders, including Andrew Jackson, war commander and United States President. Brownstown, the county seat is named in honor of Jacob Brown, a general in the War.
The county originally housed its government operations in a log structure, built in 1816 and subsequent buildings until 1870. By this time, Jackson County outgrew its small two story brick building, and the commissioners asked David Bolen to design a stately new structure. Bolen designed the building in the Second Empire style.1 This style employed arched windows, quoined walls, and the hallmark mansard roof.2 In 1910 the commissioners hired Elmer Dunlap to enlarge the existing courthouse. Dunlap grew up in Columbus, Indiana, and received formal training in architecture from the University of Illinois. The Jackson County Courthouse is similar in its elegant Neoclassical simplicity to Dunlap-designed courthouses found in Pike (1920-1922), Spencer (1921), and Vermillion (1923-1925) counties. Dunlap, one of the most prolific courthouse architects in Indiana, also designed courthouses in Franklin (1910-1912) and Carroll (1916-1917) counties.
The Neoclassical style is based on Greek and Roman architecture and uses stone surfaces, pedimented porticos, columns, and pilasters. Dunlap modeled the entrance to the courthouse after the Franklin County Courthouse, which he was working on simultaneously.
During a strong storm in 1959, the courthouse was struck by lightning, resulting in a fire that destroyed the cupola, clock tower, and clock. The glass dome, clock, and courtrooms also sustained damage. Fortunately the second floor murals painted by Seymour native Carl Reinbold remained safe. A painting of Fort Vallonia, a principal stockade during the War of 1812, once again highlights the importance of the war in Jackson County.3
Like most courthouse squares in Indiana, the Jackson County Courthouse is laid out in a Shelbyville Square plan, meaning the streets intersect at the corners of the square.
1 Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana, Jackson County Interim Report. (Indianapolis: Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana, July 1988).2 John Blumenson, Identifying American Architecture: A Pictorial Guide to Styles and Terms, 1600-1945 (New York: W W Norton & Company, 1981), 68.