Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Documenting Indiana’s Historic County Courthouses

Written by Daniel Hartwig, Assistant Archivist
As public monuments, Indiana’s county courthouses are symbols of their community: politically, socially and architecturally. Often grandiose in size and detail, they document the growth and prosperity of a community, places where marriages, births, wars, deaths, and old-fashioned entertainment can all be linked to the courthouse square. This brief article examines my fascination and interest in documenting these unique symbols.

I initially became interested in Indiana’s historic county courthouses while working in Ball State’s College of Architecture & Planning’s Archive, www.bsu.edu/cap/facilities/archives, where I came across the photos, slides, and other materials donated by the college’s Professor David R. Hermansen, himself an author, photographer, and creator of an exhibit on Indiana county courthouses. It was not until last year, however, following the Randolph County Commission’s decision to tear down its historic 128-year-old courthouse, like Delaware County did in 1966, that I had the idea to begin taking pictures of county courthouses to document these historic structures while they still stood. My goal became to capture all 92 of Indiana’s county courthouses. Since then, I have taken over 800 photos of more than 60 Indiana county courthouses, all of which are available on for viewing, http://dwhartwig.iweb.bsu.edu/myweb3/pages/Architecture/Indiana/Courthouses/map_photos.htm at my website.

As you might imagine, my courthouse treks have taken me all across Indiana, encountering many interesting and unexpected pleasures. Included along the way were the West Baden Hotel, Franklin College, and the cities of Madison, Vincennes, and Lafayette, just to name a few. In addition, I began taking photos of other historic buildings, structures, and homes, capturing Indiana’s architectural wonders. Throughout these journeys, both near and far, I have come to appreciate the quaint beauty and sense of community found within Indiana’s historical downtowns.

As I prepare to leave Ball State University to accept another position elsewhere, I am disappointed that I will not complete my project. Nevertheless, I am proud to announce that I will be donating copies of my photos to the University Libraries’ Archives and Special Collections Research Center for future incorporation into the Digital Media Repository, http://libx.bsu.edu.

Soon my photos will join more than 500 existing digital courthouse photos to create the Indiana County Courthouse collection, a collection of more than 1,300 images spanning many decades. My hope is that students, researchers, and interested citizens will use these images, learn more about these unique structures, and perhaps become advocates for their continued preservation.

For more information about Indiana’s historic courthouses, two fine resources are available from the Ball State University Libraries:
• The Magnificent 92 Indiana Courthouses (1999) by Will Counts and Jon Dilts [F527 .C86 1999]
• Indiana County Courthouses of the Nineteenth Century (1968), by former College of Architecture and Planning Professor David R. Hermansen [NA4472.I6 H45]
To view existing courthouse photos in the Digital Media Repository, simply do an Advanced Search, http://libx.bsu.edu/cdm4/search.php, for “Indiana courthouse.”


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