Indiana’s 1839 Greene County Courthouse cupola

Greene County’s first courthouse in Bloomfield was a log structure built in 1825. Nine years later, county officials ordered the building’s foundation be repaired “so as to prevent the hogs from disturbing the court or any other public business1.” By 1835, county commissioners decided to build another courthouse. Today, all that remains of the second structure is its cupola. It’s been used as a lawn ornament for the past hundred and thirty-seven years2!

The 1839 Greene County Courthouse cupola, next to “The Hilltop,” a historic residence built in 1824.

Officials appointed a five-member committee to draft the plans for Greene County’s second courthouse. The team advised that it would cost $5,157 and selected a contractor, Calvin B. Hartwell, to construct it. All was well until Hartwell skipped town after he received his first payment, which left the county as unsuspecting guarantors forced to finish the project. Unfortunately, officials defaulted on the contract and work nearly stopped until a local bank lent the money to proceed. The second Greene County Courthouse in Bloomfield was finally finished in 1839, at a total cost of $6,271.59- a big overrun3.

The cupola sits on top of a steep hill southwest of the town square in Bloomfield.

The brick courthouse was 50 feet square and 28 feet high, not counting an octagonal belfry and spire. The first floor was divided by a hallway and featured three rooms on each side, while the second story contained court chambers and two rooms for the jury4. The structure was similar to the 1822 Perry County Courthouse in Rome, and it sat on a square along with a flowing well5.

An old postcard I own of the Greene County Courthouse, looking northwest.

The 1839 building served residents of Greene County until the 1880s when officials got caught up in the courthouse boom that swept the region6. While the old structure was demolished to make way for George Bunting’s 1886 Romanesque replacement, the project contractor bought its materials for $396 and sold its cupola to a local citizen who wanted it to become a playhouse for his kids7. It’s sat in the side yard of an enormous old house on Seminary Street called “The Hilltop” ever since.

The 1839 courthouse cupola sits in the side yard of a house on Seminary Street in Bloomfield.

I’d seen the 1839 cupola referenced online without an image after I first traveled to Bloomfield to take photos of the current Greene County Courthouse. Its existence ensnared my obsessive tendencies and I realized I’d have to go back to Greene County to be satisfied.

Thankfully, The Hilltop was easy to locate on my second trip to Bloomfield. The old cupola was partially obscured by some trees on the side yard, standing about six feet above the street. I ambled towards it and got hit by a series of branches that knocked me off my feet. Thwack! Wary of trespassing and taking another tree limb to the face, I took the photos I incorporated into this post from midway up the hill.

The heavily-altered Greene County Courthouse, looking southeast, as it appeared in 2018.

I knew it was being used as a shed by the time I stopped by8, but I’d have killed for a courthouse playhouse like that as a kid and was surprised that local preservationists hadn’t relocated the cupola to a place of special prominence. Caretakers of the adjacent house deserve credit for maintaining it, but the cupola looked full of trash when I stopped by and had clearly seen better days- like when it was on top of a courthouse, for example.

That said, the cupola’s arguably in better condition than the courthouse that replaced it. The 1886 building was gored in a renovation that decapitated its clock tower and significantly altered its roofline in the early 1950s9. The thought occurred to me that the ironic juxtaposition of a courthouse without a cupola and a cupola without a courthouse could lead to an intriguing remix that honored both structures, but a couple minutes of Photoshop proved otherwise.

Bloomfield was as sleepy as I was the Saturday morning I visited, but I realized that the 1839 cupola has stood off to the side of that old house on the hilltop for nearly three times as long as it graced the courthouse square. Nevertheless, I’m glad my tendencies toward obsessive completionism can contribute a small amount toward preserving the cupola’s historical status for whoever comes here to read about it: it’s a weirdo as far as Indiana history goes, and after all, you can’t visit all of Indiana’s old courthouses without traveling to this lawn ornament in Greene County.

Greene County (pop. 141,888, 51/92)
Bloomfield (pop. 82,575)
Built: 1839.
Cost: $6,271.59 ($146,542 in 2016)
Architect: Calvin B. Hartwell/Andrew Downing
Style: Federalist
Courthouse Square: Shelbyville Square
Height: ~15 feet
Current Use: Lawn ornamentation

Sources Cited
1 History of Green & Sullivan Counties. Goodspeed Bros. & Co. Chicago. 1884.
2 Enyart, David. “Greene County” Indiana County Courthouse Histories. ACPL Genealogy Center, 2010-2018. Web. March 20, 2018.
3 National Register of Historic Places, Greene County Courthouse, Bloomfield, Greene County, Indiana, National Register # 80000047.
4 (See footnote 1).
5 (See footnote 3).
6 Ramsey, Maxine “Spirit of ’76, The Building of A Court House”, The Boomfield News [Bloomfield]. 1976. Print.
7 (See footnote 1).
8 “412 S Seminary St, Bloomfield, IN 47424” Public. Zillow, 2017. Web. March 27, 2016.
9 (See footnote 3).

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