Perhaps it was an economy of scale or a penchant for Italian architecture that drove Isaac Hodgson to design nearly identical courthouses for Jennings and Morgan counties.1 No doubt it simplified the architect’s life since construction began on both buildings in 1857. Hodgson, born in Ireland, immigrated to the United States in 1848.2 He started his own firm in Indianapolis and designed eight Indiana courthouses.3 Unfortunately, only four remain today.4
The Italianate style became popular in America during the mid-nineteenth century. This style borrowed characteristics from Italian villas and moved away from the classical traditions of architecture popularized by the Greek Revival style in the early nineteenth century. The characteristics of Italianate design include low-pitched roofs and overhanging eaves supported by decorative brackets, tall windows capped with arches, and elaborate door treatments. The Jennings County Courthouse, located in Vernon, evokes the feeling of an Italian villa through its campanile, or clock tower, which resembles one at historic St. Mark’s Square in Venice.5 The Vernon courthouse square was built using the popular Shelbyville Square plan, where the streets intersect at corners of the square.6
Samuel Read of Vernon, Indiana, constructed the courthouse for just over $26,000. The commissioners only wanted to spend $15,000 but soon found the figure to be unrealistic due to increasing labor and material prices following the Civil War.
In the 1950s the Jennings County Courthouse underwent its first major overhaul. The courthouse was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. In the 1980s the courthouse once again was renovated and at this time restored to the original design as much as possible.
1 Morgan County added a new east wing in 1977 that dramatically changed the similarities between the two buildings. Will Counts and Jon Dilts, The Magnificent 92: Indiana Courthouses (Bloomington, Indiana: Rose Bud Press, 1991), 116.2 Bartholomew County Courthouse National Register Nomination 1978.