Town planners envisioned a grand courthouse square when they laid out Shelbyville in 1823, and by 1830 the square had a brick courthouse. But yesterday’s courthouse square is today’s public square; the courthouse is now located several blocks to the south. The public square is occupied by a fountain, sculpture and parking for surrounding businesses.
In 1849 Edward Toner and Jeremiah Bennett donated a lot, bounded by Harrison, Polk, Taylor and Jefferson Streets, to the county. Having outgrown the 1830 courthouse, county leaders decided to construct a new building on the donated lot. In 1852 they hired Indianapolis architect Edwin May to design a two-story brick and stone courthouse.1
Architect D.A. Bohlen remodeled the courthouse in 1878, but by 1935 county commissioners declared it inadequate. In 1935 the commissioners once again hired D.A. Bohlen & Son to design a new building. They demolished the earlier courthouse in 1936 and constructed the current building on the same lot. Benefiting from New Deal legislation, Shelby County utilized a combination of county money and Public Works Administration (PWA) funds.
The current Shelby County Courthouse is constructed of limestone in the Art Deco style. As is characteristic of Art Deco, the exterior of the courthouse is interrupted by a series of piers that emphasize the vertical. Simple limestone carvings in a geometric pattern decorate the entablature. A mural, originally located on the ceiling of the pre-1936 courthouse courtroom, now hangs above the judge’s bench in the Shelby Circuit Courtroom. The mural depicts the Biblical story of Solomon, who as judge, ordered that a child, claimed by two women, be split in half. The real mother was identified when she gave up her right to the child in order to spare his life. The mural shows the real mother receiving the child.3
1 Ibid., page 16.2 Ibid., page 16. Glory-June Greiff, local New Deal architecture expert, confirmed that it was PWA, not WPA funding. The Magnificent 92 says WPA.