At 37 miles long and averaging seven miles wide it’s easy to see how Vermillion County earned the nickname “the shoe string county.”1 The narrow county boasts a rich history of agriculture, coal mining, and immigrant traditions. Vermillion County history also holds a devastating record of courthouse fires.
The first Vermillion County Courthouse--a frame structure a mere 36 feet long by 24 feet deep--served from 1825 until 1831.2 While spared from fire, Commissioners claimed this early courthouse simply did not meet their specifications and refused to award the contractor his full payment. However, the Indiana Supreme Court found the building satisfactory and ordered Commissioners to pay the full amount plus court fees.3
A second incarnation--constructed in 1832 and made of brick--lasted until destroyed by fire in 1844. County records are unclear about whether the 1832 building was repaired or fully replaced, but the County Commissioners accepted the courthouse from the contractor in January 1845. Fire struck again in 1866, completely destroying the building. In 1867 a new courthouse constructed of brick and accentuated by Romanesque arches opened and served the county until 1923 when lightening struck, causing yet another fire.
County commissioners quickly selected H.L. Fillinger of Dana and John B. Bayard of Vincennes as architects for the fourth and current courthouse. Its three stories are clad in Indiana limestone. The building’s symmetry and details such as the Corinthian columns highlighting the upper stories of each façade, and the decorated cornice, are hallmarks of the Neoclassical style. The courthouse is located in a Shelbyville Square plan, with streets intersecting at each corner.
In 1996 the Vermillion County Commissioners took steps to preserve and modernize the courthouse for future generations. Rehabilitation work included a new roof, and installation of a new elevator and air conditioning system.
1 Robert M. Taylor, Jr., et al, ed., Indiana: A New Historical Guide, (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1989), p. 307.2 Harold L. O’Donnell. Newport and Vermillion Township: The First 100 Years, 1824-1924. (Danville: Interstate Printers and Publishers, 1969), p. 26.