The Tipton County, Indiana Courthouse (1894-)

I initially thought my project to document all of Indiana’s courthouses would be more cut-and-dried than it turned out. I figured that I’d go to each county, take one definitive photo of one historic courthouse, and that’d be that. Of course, that’s not what happened, but being able to rank the buildings in terms of height helps me quantify them in a somewhat orderly fashion, even if the data’s not always there for each one.

The 1894 Tipton County Courthouse in Tipton, Indiana.

In Muncie, we don’t have a historic courthouse to measure. A friend and I were talking the other day about how none of the buildings here stand taller than two-hundred feet.Our 1969 courthouse is three stories tall, though its predecessor measured somewhere between 158 and 162 feet high. Next door, Anderson’s former courthouse stood 165 feet tall if its twin in Frankfort is to be believed. Those measurements are indicative of a lot of our courthouses, as it appears as though many counties settled on the 160-165 foot range as the ideal height for a courthouse clock tower by the mid-1880s. Only a few definitively took it upon themselves to exceed the 200-foot mark, and they’re pretty much all places that you’d probably expect based on their relative prominence in the state.

Although it may not be obvious from the southeast, the Tipton County Courthouse is our state’s fifth tallest.

Per Emporis, the Marion County Courthouse in Indianapolis, demolished in 1962, was the tallest at 280 feet (the Indiana State House, by comparison, is 25 feet shorter). But of those still standing, the top five are Allen County’s in Fort Wayne, which reaches 239 feet tall, Tippecanoe County’s in Lafayette (226 feet), Vanderburgh County’s old courthouse in Evansville (just barely shorter at 216 feet), and the Vigo County Courthouse in Terre Haute which reaches 196 feet- maybe two hundred even with a flagpole or if the tides are right. Around the turn of the century, those communities were among Indiana’s largest. Including Indianapolis, they represented more than 17% of the state’s population despite representing just over five percent of Indiana’s counties, and it shows based on the scale and height of their courthouses. So what’s a sixth 200-footer doing in Tipton, the 60th-largest county seat2 (or 32nd-smallest) in the state, and the 90th largest community in general?

The courthouse rises nearly twenty stories above downtown Tipton, where few buildings manage to reach three stories tall.

It’s a good question, and one I had to research despite having spent a lot of time in Tipton during my marching band days playing snare drum at the Pork Festival. I recognized the Tipton courthouse as a prominent building, but nothing more. It was only when I dived a little deeper into researching this project that I saw it for the aberration that it is: the pyramidal roof of its tower is visible from more than five miles away south on IN-13. That’s crazy, though the road is pretty straight and flat. 

Upon close glance, the clock face is wooden, built of vertical planks. An original Seth Thomas clock initially powered the mechanism.

I’ll not soon forget my first trip to Tipton to take photos of its courthouse, though I took a different path from the east on IN-28 (the courthouse can also be seen from quite a distance there, but Google Maps had a truck following it that impeded my view as I write this). At the time, back in 2011, it was the closet courthouse that I hadn’t documented yet, and early one morning -at a time I was on a crash diet that limited me to a thousand calories a day but resulted in no weight loss- I went to take photos of it. I woke up without eating breakfast like normal, but at some point between Elwood and Hobbs the cigarette I’d been smoking decided to disagree with me and made me nauseous. I held it in as long as I could but, by the time I rolled into Tipton proper right around the old Marsh supermarket, my stomach couldn’t take it and I realized I needed to barf. I didn’t have a plastic bag in the car but, in my haste, I was able to find the next-best thing, a fitted baseball cap. I threw up right into it, not realizing that the hat’s metal rivets provided a perfect drain for its new contents to drain right into my lap. As fast as I could, I stopped at a Casey’s to clean my clothes off, dispose of the hat, and get some Trident before I took photos of the courthouse. It definitely wasn’t one of my best moments, to say the least. In fact, it was one of my most disgusting. 

The courthouse, from its 206-foot-tall perch, watched all of my travails, and we have architect Adolph Scherrer to thank for its observance of my revolting inability to adult. A resident of Indianapolis for fifty-two years, Scherrer was born in Switzerland3 and came to the Circle City in 1873, where he quickly entered into the tutelage of Edwin May, a noted architect of nine Indiana courthouses who had achieved the commission fo developing Indiana’s state house. May died in 1880, and as his principal draftsman4, Scherrer completed the structure eight years later. From his successes with the state capitol Scherrer was showered with praise for his other works in Indianapolis, up until his death in 1925 when he received a fellowship in the American Institute of Architecture. 

A six-story, south-facing tower features a secondary entrance, along with a staircase.

Scherrer’s Richardson Romanesque courthouse in Tipton is clearly different from his work on the Beaux Arts state capitol. The Tipton County Courthouse, for starters, was designed in a Richardson Romanesque mode, which is a striking change in direction. Obviously, the building is smaller than the statehouse, measuring only 84×120 feet in size.  Unlike the state capitol building’s central clock tower, Tipton’s rises from the northwest side and features four wooden clock dials that measure nearly twelve feet in diameter.

An original Seth Thomas clock initially powered the hands on each face, but it was replaced with an electric clockworks at some point down the line.  Interestingly, the original master clock featured a simpler design than most wristwatches of the era, consisting of only nine wheels5. Black slate from Pennsylvania5 covers the top of the main clock tower, a central-facing southern stair tower, and the building’s hipped roof, though the slate itself is topped with wrought iron cresting. The bell in the clock tower weighs three thousand pounds and measures eight feet tall. Made of eighty percent copper and twenty percent tin, it was specifically cast for this building. It’s striking clapper measures in at fifty pounds6– about 175,000 calories burned if you managed to lose it7, which I didn’t on my diet.

Though the courthouse’s yellowish exterior implies that it was built of sandstone like those in Bluffton and Hartford City, the facade was actually sourced from Berea Limestone in Ohio aside from its raised basement, a common feature of courthouses from its era, along with its water table feature rock-faced stone, which came from limestone around St. Paul, Indiana. The second floor and above feature alternating courses of smooth and rusticated materials. 

The primary entrance of the courthouse breaks its hipped roof via a projecting dormer supported by two monumental columns.

The north front of the Tipton County Courthouse is its main elevation, and its flanked by that enormous clock tower to the west, and a smaller tower to the east that rises a total of four stories. Both are capped with pyramidal roofs, while the main massing of the courthouse spans five bays wide, divided in half by a central, semicircular archway. A dormer in the front’s middle upsets the hipped roof and features a gabled pediment with a carved, floral relief. The building’s main rear feature is a six-story tall stair tower that contains a secondary entrance.

Despite the height of the courthouse, the building isn’t massive. Rather, it’s slender in profile-  it’s just really freaking tall. And, unfortunately, all the research prowess I can muster still doesn’t indicate anything about why Tipton got this gigantic skyscraper of a courthouse, one that competes, height-wise, with those in Fort Wayne, Evansville, Lafayette, and Terre Haute and leaves cities like Bloomington, Muncie, Anderson, Gary, Columbus, and Richmond in the dust; aside from, possibly, Adolph Scherrer’s involvement, although he didn’t design any other county courthouses. Maybe the Tipton County Courthouse is best viewed as the aberration it is- at least until a better source comes along. 

Such is the burden of research.

Tipton County (pop. 15,650, 80/92)
Tipton (pop. 4,992).
Built: 1894
28/92 photographed
Cost: 183,411.30 ($5.07 million in 2016)
Architect: Adolf Sherrer
Style: Richardson Romanesque
Courthouse Square: Shelbyville Square
Height: 206 feet
Current use: County courts and offices
Photographed: 8/20/15

Sources Cited
1 “Muncie Buildings” Emporis. Emporis GMBH. 2000-2018. Web. Retrieved March 2, 2019.
2 Population and Population Centers by State: 2000″. United States Census. Archived from the original on 2013-06-22. Web. Retrieved March 2, 2019.   
3 “Adolph Scherrer” Find A Grave. Find A Grave. 2019. Web. Retrieved March 2, 2019.
4 Enyart, David. “Tipton County” Indiana County Courthouse Histories. ACPL Genealogy Center, 2010-2018. Web. April 28, 2019.
5 National Register of Historic Places, Tipton County Courthouse, Tipton, Tipton County, Indiana, National Register #84001665).
6 Pershing, M.W. History of Tipton County, Indiana: her People, Industries, and Institutions. Chicago: B.F. Bowen & Co., 1914. Print.
7 “What Weighs 50 Pounds?” Reference*. IAC Publishing, LLC. 2019. Retrieved March 2, 2019.

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