The Hendricks County, Indiana Courthouse (1912-)

Though its 1824 founding predated the start of the TV show by a hundred and thirty-six years, Danville, Indiana has a real affinity for the Andy Griffith Show, or at least Mayberry, the site of Andy and Barney’s foibles on CBS. How do I know this? There’s the Mayberry Cafe for starters, a local institution right on Danville’s courthouse square for the past 31 years. Brad Born, the owner and operator of the restaurant, really loves the fictional place. “He always wanted to live in a place like Mayberry,” his wife Christine says, “and we’ve found the people in Danville are about as decent and loyal as you’d find in Mayberry1.” 

The 1912 Hendricks County Courthouse in Danville, Indiana

The city of Danville has seen the likes of cast members Jim Nabors, Jean Carson, Rodney Dillard Bank, and Maggie Peterson stop by for breakfast or lunch at the Mayberry Cafe, as have Karen Knotts and Dixie Griffith, daughters of the stars who ventured into town for items like Aunt Bee’s Fried Pickles, Otis’s Basket of Wings, Myers’ Lake Special Catfish, or Ernest T’s Bacon Swiss burger. I never knew that Mr. Bass preferred Swiss on his burger instead of muenster (my go-to if given the option), or that Otis Campbell conquered his hangovers with sauces like sweet teriyaki, sriracha, mango habanero, or garlic parmesan. I’m not here to spoil the fun or anything, but I feel like the connection between Danville and Mayberry is tenuous. Nevertheless, the city hosts a yearly “Mayberry in the Midwest” festival including appearances by some of those secondary cast members and their offspring, tribute artists, a parade, a pancake breakfast, and an Opie look-alike contest2. A movie, called “Mayberry Man,” was even shot there a couple of years ago with cast members that impersonated Don Knotts and Howard McNear.

Though the festival kicks off in May, it seems like summer in central Indiana hasn’t truly begun until some inebriate smashes into the restaurant’s Ford Galaxie police cruiser parked out front3. Otis would be proud, though surely he’d find himself locked up again in the Mayberry County Courthouse, a small, overtaxed building that also served as city hall and jail for the one-stoplight community. I’m glad I have Danville’s courthouse to describe rather than that structure, which was little more than part of a soundstage with a convoluted layout. Nevertheless, the two towns sort of blur together for me. That’s unfortunate, since Danville -and Hendricks County as a whole- has a much more interesting history than Andy Taylor’s fictional home.

Cars fill this lot when the Mayberry of the Midwest Festival is going on.

I mentioned that Danville was founded in 1824. A post office was established a year after that4, and the place was incorporated as a legitimate town in 18355 . The first courthouse, a log structure, was built in 1826 and lasted four years, measuring 26×20 feet. 1830 brought a square, brick structure, which stuck around for thirty-two years before Isaac Hodgson, designer of eight Indiana courthouses had his way with a $60,000 gothic structure that collapsed under a heavy snow in 1912 and was abandoned6. Oops!

The Hendricks County Courthouse serves as a neoclassical anchor for festivities that take place in the community.

They certainly don’t make them like that anymore, and they didn’t when it came to its replacement: to build the county’s first truly modern courthouse, officials selected Indianapolis architect Clarence Martindale. If you live around the area, you might be familiar with the neighborhood Martindale-Brightwood, named in part for Clarence’s dad, Judge E.B. The younger Martindale made his name designing a variety of buildings around Indianapolis, including the original portion of Hawthorne Elementary School on Rawles Avenue and its twin, the Lucretia Mott School at Rural Street, which were built in 1904 and 1905 respectively. Among his other designs were the National Motor Vehicle Company building at the 1100 block of east 22nd Street, built in 19157. Though Clarence Martindale was responsible for several houses of different styles, the Hendricks County Courthouse remains the pinnacle of his portfolio. 

And that courthouse is a landmark despite its quaint nature, consisting of two brick stories above a limestone water table. Measuring three bays wide, it features modified ten-over-ten windows with rowlock brick courses on either side of an entrance bay accessed behind a projecting porch of two doric columns that support a flat pediment with a hefty stone parapet. The upper story features two bays of six-over-six windows with limestone lintels that flank a course that projects above the main entry. The building’s capped with another limestone parapet, rising to a curve above its central segment. Overall, the courthouse looks like a narrow commercial garage that’s been gussied up over the years. Inside is a simple judge’s desk surrounded by simple balusters, an office in the back room, and two jail cells visible from the sheriff’s desk8

A projecting porch of doric columns separates the building’s second and third floors from its first. The bell in front remains from Hendricks County’s previous, gothic-style courthouse.

Oops- that’s the Mayberry courthouse! Danville’s is, by contrast, a much greater building- it combines a massive presence with simple, Beaux Arts details built from Indiana Oolitic limestone. Its four faces are symmetrical in contrast to Mayberry’s. If you look at any side of the courthouse, you’ll see that each facade is organized into three greater bays with two ranks of windows flanking a central entry point. Those framing bays consist of a tall surface foundation of smooth stone and two spans of windows on each floor. The windows on the upper floors are, importantly, separated by broad pilasters that project slightly from the building’s walls and separate the first floor from the second. 

Though it barely rises above the buildings that surround it, the Hendricks County Courthouse in Danville is a true landmark, surpassing its fictional brother in Mayberry, NC.

The central bay, containing the building’s entrances, consists of three tall, arched, door openings with a low balcony directly above the structure’s belt course. The tops of the courthouse’s columns and pilasters support a narrow architrave (a main beam supported by columns, I learned today), a wide frieze, and a projecting cornice. Above the central bay is a closed pediment with a small clock face9. This is visible on each side. Though the exterior is massive, it sort of manages to be hum-drum in the face of Indiana’s more elaborate courthouses, but that’s consistent with its neoclassical brethren. The impression goes away once you enter the building, as an enormous rotunda -hidden on the outside by the building’s parapet- comes into view. It is truly a majestic structure. Needless to say, it dwarves Mayberry’s. Old Andy wouldn’t have known what to do with all this space, not to mention the old Hendricks County Jail and Sheriff’s Residence on South Washington which he, Aunt Bee, and Opie would call home adjacent to Mayberry’s prisoners. Though it’s housed the Hendricks County Museum since 197410, the Italianate structure would have been right up Griffith’s alley. 

The Royal Theater sits just across South Washington Street from the venerable courthouse.

Andy Griffith and Don Knotts never made it to Danville to enjoy a Mayberry festival, and I think that’s a shame. The Royal Theater, a Tudor-styled cinema right next to the courthouse, could have shown a Matlock or Three’s Company festival they may have enjoyed. Nevertheless, the community embodies the quaint spirit of Mayberry through its ubiquitous cafe, as well as the hospitality of those who live there. In my experience, there’s a world of difference between what downtown Danville provides compared to what most of the rest of Indy’s recent suburban sprawl offers. Most of the surrounding communities have grown up big-time, pig-time in recent years and don’t have a natural anchor for their downtown, or a downtown at all aside from a few old buildings whose numbers are rapidly dwindling. I’m hoping that Danville’s true, honest, courthouse square keeps the place alive as a suburban destination. Despite my cynicism and reticence, if it takes the influence Andy Griffith’s homespun assistance, then I’m all for it.

Hendricks County (pop. 153,879, 11/92)
Danville (pop. 9,424)48/92 photographed
Built: 1914
Cost: $225,000  ($5.37 million in 2016)
Architect: Clarence & Martindale
Style: Neoclassical
Courthouse Square: Shelbyville Square
Height: 2.5 stories
Current Use: Courts and some county offices
Photographed: 3/12/16

Sources Cited
1 ”About Us” The Mayberry Cafe [Danville]. 2020. Web. Retrieved 4/17/20
2 “Mayberry in the Midwest” Danville, Indiana. October 14, 2019. Web. Retrieved 4/17/20
3 Smith, Andrew “Mayberry Cafe car struck, damaged by motorist who fell asleep at wheel” RTV6. Scripps Local Media. June 16, 2019. Web. Retrieved 4/17/20.
4 “Hendricks County”. Jim Forte Postal History. Web. Retrieved 4/17/20.
5 Hadley, John Vestal. “History of Hendricks County, Indiana: Her People, Industries and Institutions.” 1913. B.F. Bowen [Indianapolis]. Print.
6 Enyart, David. “Hendricks County” Indiana County Courthouse Histories. ACPL Genealogy Center, 2010-2018. Web. Retrieved 4/17/20.
7 “National Motor Vehicle Co.” Hugh J. Baker & Company Collection. Indiana Historical Society. 2018. Web. Retrieved 4/17/20.
8 “Mayberry Courthouse” The Andy Griffith Show Wiki. Fandom. Web. Retrieved 4/17/20.
9 National Register of Historic Places, Danville Courthouse Square Historic District, Danville, Hendricks County, Indiana, National Register # 02001559.
10 National Register of Historic Places, Hendricks County Jail and Sheriff’s. Residence, Danville, Hendricks County, Indiana, National Register # 83000125.

2 thoughts on “The Hendricks County, Indiana Courthouse (1912-)

  1. I’ve always thought this courthouse to be undistinguished compared to those of its neighboring counties. Fairly generic for its time. Of course, that doesn’t touch the level of genericness of modern construction.


    1. That’s a fair assessment. Courthouses from this era tend to be that way, but even amongst its peers it’s sort of just…there.


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