The Boone County Courthouse in Indiana (1911-)

Courthouse columns are funny: if you’re like me, it’s hard to wrap your head around how big they are outside of knowing that you’d be crushed if one fell on you. Most are made of several pieces of connected stone, but in Lebanon, architect Joseph T. Hutton specified that the Boone County Courthouse feature single-piece limestone columns. At 35 feet and five-and-3/4 inches tall1, they’re said to be the world’s largest2!

The 1911 Boone County Courthouse in Lebanon, Indiana.

Indiana is a state of what might best be called “maybe” records. Maybe the West Baden Springs hotel has the world’s largest dome (actually, it was the largest from 1902 to 19133). Maybe Alexandria has the world’s largest ball of paint (it does, in fact, and you can go add a layer yourself if you’d like4). Maybe the Boone County Courthouse has the world’s tallest single-piece columns, and so on, and so on.

The courthouse does seem to hold the record for columns, though, and the building truly lives up to its expectations as one of the finest in the state. After all, William Shatner married his fourth wife there5. If that isn’t an indication of how special this courthouse is, then I don’t know what else could be.

The building’s dome is my favorite of its features- even more than the single-shaft columns. It has no business being this tall. Were it not for the verdant entryways into Lebanon’s downtown, I’m sure it could be seen for miles.

I bet Shatner emerged from the courthouse flanked by the building’s massive pilasters, shipped to Lebanon during the building’s construction as rough-cut blocks of stone. Artists refined the columns on site before they were hoisted up to the north and south entryways of the courthouse. Once in place, they supported gigantic pediments featuring allegorical figures of Agriculture, Industry, and Justice. Above those, an enormous dome covered with ribbed stained glass stretched eighty-four feet into the sky and sat fifty-two feet wide6. Above the dome stood an unusual lantern of equally massive scale- it was the size of some complete courthouse cupolas!

I wrote the last paragraph in past tense, but all of what I described still exists today. The courthouse’s enormous lantern sports four clock faces aimed toward the cardinal directions and, although the importance of a community clock has diminished since we all got smartwatches and iPhones, they’re still great features. I love the commanding presence of Boone County’s clocks. They seem to draw people in from miles around.

Yes, one of the columns was sporting a boo-boo, but these are legitimately unlike anything you’ll see anywhere else.

And there are many people in those surrounding miles to be drawn towards Lebanon! Boone County, at the northwestern corner of the donut around Indianapolis, is currently one of the fastest-growing areas in Indiana. In 2017, the county led the state in growth by increasing its population by 2.5%7. Interestingly, as of the 2000 census, eastern Boone County was the absolute center of Indiana’s population8.

The fastest-growing county in Indianapolis has a courthouse that grew on me. I’d heard it described as one of Indiana’s finest several times but never thought that myself from the pictures I’d seen. Once I went there, I realized that those descriptors were right on the money. Although it looks similar on a computer screen to its neoclassical contemporaries in Brazil, Danville, and Greencastle, the courthouse’s scale makes it transcend them all and rise to the upper echelon of my informal rankings.

We would both be crushed by those columns if they ever fell. Thankfully, I’m sure they won’t- at least for another 110 years!

Unlike many Indiana counties whose geopolitical development belonged on a backwoods reality show, Boone County took a relatively simple route. Around 1830, the county seat was in Jamestown. A courthouse was never built there since county officials moved to Lebanon three years later. A log courthouse in Lebanon lasted until 1839 before a brick courthouse that looked like those in Corydon, Rome, and Wilmington was constructed the following year.

That first brick courthouse burned in 1856. The county’s third, a Gothic Revival structure9, was quickly erected to replace it. Another fire consumed that building after eighteen years, but it was rebuilt to its original specifications. By 1912, locals had grown tired of their antiquated, cramped, courthouse so officials hired J.T. Hutton to design the building we see today.

Here’s a representative example of the east and west facades of the courthouse, which also sport impressive columns.

There aren’t any Gothic Revival courthouses in Indiana today, which is fine by me since I live near Ball State University in Muncie. The original campus, which dates to the 1920s, consists of nothing but Gothic Revival and Collegiate Gothic buildings- I’ve had my fill! As rare as a Gothic courthouse would be in 2023, I value the unique features of the present Boone County Courthouse more than I’d have appreciated its predecessor. Its mammoth columns and incredible dome and lantern are without peer.

While I don’t have a photo of Memory Hall, it and the courthouse are necessary stops for fans of historic architecture and Hoosier history.

I look at Indiana’s courthouses as entries into a greater portfolio, and that attitude allows me to appreciate the modern buildings in Anderson, Muncie, or Monticello for their own merits along with our historic ones. Even if it’s not apparent from photos, I encourage Hoosier architecture fans and Trekkies alike to head to Lebanon! The Boone County Courthouse is unquestionably one of the finest in the state.

Boone County (pop. 60,477, 27/92)
Lebanon (pop. 15,781).
26/92 photographed.
Built: 1911
Cost: $265,000 ($6.8 million in 2016)
Architect: Joseph T. Hutton
Style: Neoclassical
Courthouse Square: Shelbyville Square
Height: 128 feet
Current use: Some county offices and courts
Photographed: 8/20/15

Sources Cited
1 Enyart, David. “Boone County” Indiana County Courthouse Histories. ACPL Genealogy Center, 2010-2018. Web. March 2, 2019.
2 Taylor, R.. Stevens E.W., and Ponder, M. A. Indiana: A New Historical Guide. Indiana Hist lyrical Society [Indianapolis] 1990. 
3 O’Malley, John W. “The Story of the West Baden Springs Hotel” Indiana Magazine of History. Indiana University [Bloomington]. 1958. Print. 
4 “World’s Largest Ball of Paint” Roadside America. Doug Kirby, Ken Smith, Mike Wilkins. Web. Retrieved 2/17/21.
5 6 Johnson, Seth. “William Shatner Talks Music and Indiana Ties” NUVO [Indianapolis].February 3, 2019. Web. Retrieved 2/17/21.
6 Counts, Will; Jon Dilts (1991). The 92 Magnificent Indiana Courthouses. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. Print.
7 “More than half of Indiana communities saw population growth in 2017” Business and Innovation. News at IU Bloomington [Bloomington]. Web. March 2, 2019.
8 ”Population and Population Centers by State: 2000″. United States Census. Archived from the original on 2013-06-22. Web. March 2, 2019.
9 Indiana Landmarks (2013). Boone County. Indianapolis. Indiana Landmarks. 2013. Web. Retrieved 2/16/21.
10 Neddenriep, Kyle. Historic Hoosier Gyms:: Discovering Bygone Basketball Landmarks. The History Press [Charleston]. 2010. Print.
11 Drummond, Cameron. “State of Basketball: Part 4 – Memory Hall” Inside the Hall [Bloomington]. Web. Retrieved 2/17/21.

9 thoughts on “The Boone County Courthouse in Indiana (1911-)

  1. I’ve spent more time in this courthouse than any other on the planet, because of a family member who was, for a time, on the wrong side of the law. 😦


      1. A while back you posted about the Elkins County Courthouse in West Virginia. I was in town for a wedding and took some photos on the rainy morning after. I’ll have to dig up some details!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I still wish I had some better way of taking pictures of the interiors of these places, as you’ve brought up a time or two over the years! I’ve stumbled into a few that have featured special periods where cameras are welcome, but I’ve had some bad experiences as well.

      Liked by 1 person

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