The Auglaize County, Ohio Courthouse (1894-)

Maybe it’s due to all of the oversharing millennials like me, but being “quirky” seems to be in vogue these days. The possession of odd or unusual qualities that are ultimately endearing is a great thing, I think my cohort thinks, but although I have all manner of bizarre eccentricities and predispositions, none of them are all that adorable.

The 1894 Auglaize County Courthouse in Wapakoneta, Ohio, from its northeastern corner.

I could go on and on about my idiosyncrasies. I’ll spare you the hurricane, but one that’s prominent now burrowed itself firmly into my brain during a courthouse trip: If nature calls, I’m good to pee just about anywhere: truck stop, county road, Ice Mountain water bottle, abandoned mall parking lot- wherever! Number two, though, is another story: I’m going to Walmart for that, and that’s exactly what happened when I first drove to Wapakoneta.

The courthouse isn’t really visible from Wapakoneta’s Walmart (Supercenter 3300), but it certainly is if you’re traveling northbound on the interstate and look to the left just as you pass the Best Western ahead of Exit 111 for Bellefontaine Street. That road, also OH-501- will take you into the thick of town until you turn onto Pearl Street, which is where the courthouse stands. 

The building’s narrow north and south entrances manage to be much grander than many of its contemporaries. 

Designed by Findlay architects Kremer and Hart, the Auglaize County Courthouse is one of Ohio’s best. Original projections tabbed the building’s cost at $102,536, which would have been about $3.04 million today. Those pre-1914 inflation numbers don’t really stack up to our modern financial system, but eighty-five men making $1.50 a day were employed to build it1. Unfortunately, by the time all was said and done in 1894 the price-tag had ballooned to $259,481in old-timey figures, a number that included the city block it sat on, construction, furnishings, and a power source. That’s not an insignificant increase from the original estimate. The total in today’s money would be about $7.4 million.

Again, numbers are deceiving and recreating a structure like Auglaize County’s would cost far more than the inflation-adjusted price today; it’d probably be impossible. The Seneca County Courthouse in Tiffin, Ohio, -built in 2017- cost $15 million2 just five years ago and it doesn’t hold a candle to the grandeur of Wapakoneta’s. 

Historically, the building’s main entryway has been through its eastern portals. Here’s that face. 

It should come as no surprise that the building has rich details and features aplenty. For starters, the courthouse was built entirely of rusticated and ashlar Berea sandstone- there’s no internal brick support structure to be found as was common amongst many of its peers. Projecting from the courthouse’s eastern walls, the main entrance is monumental: Access is gained through a massive set of doors set in an enormous arch under a two-story portico. Above the entryway, four ionic columns rise to a frieze above the roofline that’s capped with a tall pediment with impressive scrollwork. Above everything is an octagonal clock tower that rises 180 feet above downtown if a 1904 Sanborn map of Wapakoneta is to be believed3. Sanborn’s updated map from 1911 lists the tower as being 172 feet in height4, so maybe that’s a more accurate figure. Nevertheless, it’s tall- clearly visible from I-75 if you recall. And probably beyond.

It doesn’t seem possible from down underneath, but this tower appears to rise to 172 feet tall, if Sanborn Maps and other perspectives are considered. The building is tall!

Despite the building’s height and ornamentation, in some ways its interior is even more impressive- marbleized columns and banisters, wainscoting, skylights of stained glass, and even the statue that once topped the tower have all been preserved and are on prominent display inside. The statue is particularly cool: representing Justice, it originally stood facing east when installed at the building’s peak 127 years ago. But the people of the westerly community of St. Mary’s considered its placement a major affront and eventually raised enough money to reposition the statue to gaze to the north5. Though the deteriorated metal goddess was removed from the courthouse in the the 1950s, she was restored by the historical society during a 1994 centennial campaign called “Copper Pennies for the Copper Lady” which brought in $25,000 for her refurbishment6, much of it thanks to schoolchildren.

The hall the statue stands in today is just as impressive as any of its individual elements, featuring integrated murals that commemorate “The Landing of Columbus,” “The Pioneers,” “America 1928,” and “Fort Amanda,” an early garrison on the Auglaize River used by the army before the area was settled7. Obviously, the river is the source of the county’s title, but its own name doesn’t just refer to the sound an average Wapakonetan utters when making a selection at the donut counter. Though the river was called “Kathinakithiipi” by the Shawnee, the French referred to the waterway as the “rivière à la Grande Glaize,” or river of Great Clay8. Though a French fort established on the site of Wapakoneta was established in 1748, it was abandoned forty-six years later. In 1848, the town became the seat of Auglaize County.

Originally, courts were held in the town’s Methodist Episcopal church before a temporary frame building was built in 1834. A permanent courthouse was built from red brick twenty years later, and featured a pair of Corinthian entrance columns, a rectangular cupola, and a shallow spire9. That building was knocked over to build the current one, 

Here’s the back of the Auglaize County Courthouse’s neat quirk, a plant to power and heat it.

Here’s a cool quirk about the Auglaize County Courthouse: It’s connected to its own power plant located at the southwestern corner of the square, something that we don’t often see in Indiana. Architects Kremer and Hart wanted their new courthouse to be as fireproof as possible, but boilers were a significant source of conflagrations despite their necessity. The solution was what we see today: a small building done up in the same Berea sandstone to hold the electric dynamos used to light the courthouse and the boilers to heat it, along with an underground conduit to transmit the energy underneath the lawn. Originally square, the structure features a pyramidal roof and central chimney that rises thirty feet in the air according to that Sanborn map from earlier. I think it’s pretty cool!

I don’t really have much from back home in Indiana to compare the power plant to aside from the old boiler house at the southwestern corner of the Johnson County Courthouse in Franklin, which has been significantly altered and no longer sports its chimney10. Looking at it, you wouldn’t be easily able to discern its original use! But that’s the difference between old buildings like power plants and new buildings like Walmart, where I prefer to stop for bathroom breaks on my trips- no matter where you are, you’re sure to successfully identify one. It’s part of their pit-stop appeal to me, along with the bathrooms themselves, usually fairly clean, commodious, and ready to leave me free of any intrinsic guilt about what I flushed, or whether or not I stopped without buying anything.

Though it helps administer justice to fewer than 10,000 people, the Auglaize County Courthouse is a masterpiece of design. The old building to the right of the image houses Wapak’s fire department.

Foibles and eccentricities are often only apparent through the eye of the beholder. You might come from a state where every courthouse has a free-standing power plant! Ultimately, my quirks are pretty sedate. After all, if exclusively stopping at Walmart bathrooms on trips is the extent of my weirdness (this blog notwithstanding), then I’m not that strange at all. But I’ve come to realize that quirks become tiresome when a raison d’être relies on their presence. In the real world, it helps to have some substance to back those ingrained peculiarities up with. Though the Auglaize County Courthouse’s through-and-through stone construction and power house are certainly unique to me, the courthouse is truly a masterpiece of civic architecture- not too bad for a city with fewer than 10,000 people! 

Auglaize County (pop. 45,656, 51/88)
Washington Court House (pop. 9,683).
Built: 1894
Cost: $259,481 ($7.4 million today)
Architect: Kremer and Hart
Style: Beaux-Arts
Courthouse Square: Shelbyville Square
Height: 172 feet
Current use: County offices and courts
Photographed: 4/1/18

Sources Cited
1 “Auglaize County Courthouse” The Supreme Court of Ohio & The Ohio Judicial System. The Supreme Court of Ohio [Columbus]. Web. Retrieved 5/23/21.
2 “Seneca County courthouse project progressing” The Toledo Blade [Toledo]. September 15, 2017. Web. Retrieved 5/23/21.
3 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map- Wapakoneta, Ohio. 1904. Sanborn Fire Insurance Company. Library of Congress. Web. Retrieved 5/23/21.
4 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map- Wapakoneta, Ohio. 1911. Sanborn Fire Insurance Company. Library of Congress. Web. Retrieved 5/23/21.
5 “Fun Facts about Wapakoneta, Ohio” April 20, 2015. Web. Retrieved 5/23/21.
6 Monahan, John. “Wapakoneta, Ohio -A Town With A Rich History And Lots To See” Webcore. August 25, 2014. Web. Retrieved 5/23/21.
7 Thrane, Susan W., Patterson, B., & Patterson, T. “County Courthouses of Ohio” Indiana University Press [Bloomington]. November 1, 2000. Print. 
8 “Feature Detail Report for: Auglaize River” United States Geological Survey. United States Department of the Interior. Web. Retrieved 5/23/21.
9 Williamson, C.W. “History of Western Ohio and Auglaize County” William Linn and Sons. Columbus. 1905. Print.
10 National Register of Historic Places, Johnson County Courthouse, Franklin, Johnson County, Indiana, National Register # 81000017.

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