Friday, August 29, 2003

Courthouse blog.

The largest population center between Chicago and Indianapolis is Lafayette-West Lafayette, Indiana. Lafayette is the seat of Tippecanoe County, and the adjacent West Lafayette, is best known as the home of Purdue University. I've seen Purdue; and I've visited the Tippecanoe Battlefield, east of town. But I hadn't seen the courthouse, though I'd heard about it as one of the many places Garrison Keillor has lauded when his show is on the road. So I suggested a stop.

From the pamphlet "Tippecanoe County Courthouse Self-Guided Walking Tour," with my own notes in italics.

"The architectural style of the building suggests the influence of Baroque, Gothic, Georgian, Victorian, Beaux Arts, Neo-Classical, and Second Empire styles." [An agglomeration that has to be seen to be believed. Kitchen sink style, perhaps. But it works somehow, and the courthouse dominates the town square, as it should.]

"In 1880... The contract was awarded to Farman and Pearce for their bid of $208,000. However, Farman died before the first floor was completed in 1882... work stopped and the contract had to be re-bid. The bid of Charles Pearce, the surviving partner, was accepted by the commissioners for an additional $241,000. Originally, credit for the architectural design and plans was given to Elias Max. Additional research has recognized that James F. Alexander was probably the architect for the courthouse.” [He's what? Dead? Well, I'll be d---ed. What're we going to do now? A fine fettle this is. I daresay this'll cost us more money.]

"The cornerstone dedication was conducted by the Masonic Lodge on October 26, 1882. The courthouse was completed in 1884 at a cost of $500,000, twice the original estimate." [It's from the golden age of courthouse building, then. No bland functionalism for the citizens and officials of 1880s and 1890s America: they would have scoffed at the idea. Their courthouses, replacing the simpler buildings of the early 1800s, were going to be grand. And so they remain.]

"Indiana limestone and brick were used for construction of the walls... The courthouse has 100 columns, nine pieces of statuary and a cast iron dome containing four large clockfaces and a bell. [Inside, there were more flourishes, including portraits of William Henry Harrison and Tecumseh. A rotunda formed the courthouse's focal point, and I could imagine that the building could pass for a state capitol -- maybe of a small state like Delaware or New Hampshire.]

The smallest capitol building I ever visited was in Montpelier, Vermont, a town that bills itself as the smallest state capital in the nation. Both Lafayette and its courthouse, I believe, are larger that the capital and capitol of Vermont, respectively.


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