What should we tell folks about the 125-year-old Jasper County Courthouse?
November 12, 2021 is the Tour Day for the exact 125th Anniversary of the Jasper County Courthouse. It is the day in 1896 that the handsome limestone cornerstone was placed on the northeast corner of our courthouse location. The written names on that cornerstone were Benj R. Faris, J.C. Martindale, and Dexter R. Jones as Commissioners.
The contents of the original cornerstone are in a beautiful case in the main floor of the courthouse today. Do we tell our visitors those things?
In 1996, the 100th Anniversary, another cornerstone was added with the names of Kenneth Culp, Jr., Richard E. Maxwell, and Willis R. Pettet, Sr. Those fellows still reside in this Jasper County. Do we tell our tourists that Richard “Dick” Maxwell has continued as a Commissioner and works along with James Walstra and Kendell Culp.
In my recent anniversary talk about the various Jasper County Courthouses, I mentioned there have been nine different courthouse locations, beginning in 1837 in what is now Parish Grove in Benton County. The courthouse locations moved to George W. Spitler’s home then a cabin to several motley spots in Newton-Rensselaer in 1839. Do we mention those and Spitler’s talents of having all Jasper County Offices, but the Treasurer and Sheriff, all located in a single building? Do we mention the bedbug invasion in one of the structures?
There have been three courthouses on the present Jasper County Courthouse Square. That land was platted by original land owner James van Rensselaer. A white frame two-story courthouse van Rensselaer paid for, a brick one, and the present National Register of Historic Places designated courthouse now standing there. Do we talk about each? Do we talk about the fire started in the brick one by a law partner of General Milroy’s to hide his theft and mismanagement of Milroy’s legal business?
Do the tour guides and office holders talk about this grand 1896 structure itself? Do we share information about its Gothic Revival style, its five story clock tower, or the gargoyles, medieval faces, and organic designs completed by 17 stonecutters? Do we mention the unusual water pressure clock known as “Abe’s Clock” after Abraham Halleck, another Commissioner in 1896. It was replaced by a Seth Thomas Clock. Do we mention that members of the original Dieham Family of painters repainted the Jasper County Courthouse to its original paint palette and gold leaf designs in 1996?
Shall I tell the Jasper County students from Kankakee Valley, DeMotte Christian, Saint Augustine School, and Rensselaer Middle School that for 10 years beginning in 1927, 2,500 students from 16 school corporations came to the Jasper County Courthouse for School Rally Day?
On Friday, November 12, the Jasper County Courthouse will be open for visitors from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. with each office holder talking about its duties. Those offices opened are the Assessor, Auditor, Clerk, Circuit and Superior Courts, Information Technology, Planning and Development, Recorder, Treasurer, and Veterans.
Do we celebrate that in 1962 former President Dwight Eisenhower talked on the north steps honoring his friend and Congressman, Charles A. Halleck? Do we tell the original Maine slate roof was replaced in 1973 with several shingled roofs before it was capped with Vermont slate in 2012? Should we disclose that James Whitcomb Riley’s famous poem, Little Cousin Jasper, was the idea for starting our Little Cousin Jasper Festival in 1974. Do we mention the number of windows, some filled with beveled glass? Do we talk about when the bell was removed from the tower? Do the tour guides discuss that the building was constructed of Oolitic/Indiana Limestone? Do we tell that a Time Capsule was buried in 1996 to be opened at the Jasper County Courthouse’s Bicentennial in 2096? What about the number of chandeliers?
Yes, this is enough information for you the reader, but what do people want to know about this extraordinary structure. As Judge Michael S. Kanne, U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, shared recently that this one of a kind building has influenced how federal courthouses are being designed across the United States in recent years. The architects Alfred Grindle and Charles Weatherhogg and Heinzmann Brothers Contractors built quite a building for the ages.