Fire destroyed numerous early Indiana courthouses but few occurred under such mysterious circumstances as the one at the 1857 Jasper County Courthouse. It seems an unscrupulous lawyer named Cicero Tatman stole money from his partner, General Robert Milroy, while Milroy was serving in the Civil War. Following the January 18, 1865 courthouse fire, the General wrote in his diary, "Finding that [Tatman] was collecting money of clients and keeping-stealing and swindling I ordered him to turn over my papers, books, etc. He reluctantly and slowly did so but burned the courthouse and my papers to avoid detection of his villainy."1
Although the loss of county records was irreparable, contractors repaired the building and added new fireproof vaults. With additional updates and repairs, the courthouse continued to serve the county until 1895. At that time, County Commissioners hired Fort Wayne architect Alfred Grindle to assess the condition of the courthouse. Grindle found the brick building so deteriorated that he declared "the only way to repair this building is to rebuild it."2
The Commissioners hired Grindle and his partner Charles Weatherhogg to design a fireproof courthouse. Evidently Grindle and Weatherhogg thought it fitting that a town named Rensselaer have a French-inspired courthouse. The current building is a mélange of French chateau and Gothic cathedral influences. The rough-cut Bedford limestone, turrets, curving arches and gabled dormers give the building a castle-like massing, while the carved Medieval figurines and delicate rooftop finials recall a religious structure. The courthouse was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.
Like the majority of Indiana courthouses, the Jasper County Courthouse resides within a Shelbyville Square plan with streets intersecting at each corner of the square.
In celebration of the courthouse's 100th birthday in 1996, decorative painters restored original interior stencils, gilding, and a 16-color paint scheme. Craftsman Steve Diedam restored stencils that his grandfather Herman, a German immigrant, probably painted originally.3
1 Beulah M. Arnott, et al. The Jasper County Courthouse. (Crown Point, IN: L.E. Landy & Sons, 1996), p. 7.2 Ibid., p. 9.