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Saturday, February 2, 2019

Tippecanoe County Courthouse Tour

A quick tour of the Tippecanoe County Courthouse in Lafayette back in December revealed many treasures worth stopping for.  As with most courthouses I have visited this is actually the third one built for the county and was finished in 1882. Each courthouse gets more elaborate as they rebuild, with the architectural influence of Baroque, Gothic, Georgian, Victorian, Beaux Arts, Neo-Classical, and Second Empire styles. That's a lot of influence, but it seems to work.

The original specifications for the Courthouse described the 14 foot statue on top of the building as the Goddess of Liberty, holding a shield and sword. The statue is now holding scales that were found in the clock tower during restoration in the 1990's.

The shape of the building is a large 150 foot Greek Cross. From the ground to the top of the statue, the Indiana limestone and brick building measures 226 feet.

After going through security I stopped to have a look at two paintings on the first floor.  Unfortunately no description of the paintings was posted, but I eventually discovered that the painting below is the "Signing of the Treaty of Green Ville". It was painted by Howard Chandler Christy, who also painted those World War I posters showing the women proclaiming that they wish they were men so they could join the Navy.

Howard Chandler Christy's "Signing of the Treaty of Green Ville" was created in 1945

In addition to stairs and a standard elevator the original 1906 elevator is still in operation.  I took the stairs going up, but did ride the elevator coming back down.

First floor view, 1906 elevator cage on the right

During the restoration a new hydraulic system was added. This elevator serves floors 1-4, public access to floor 5 is not available.  Trust me, I asked!  The fifth floor used to be the attic, but during renovations was converted to space for the prosecutor's offices and has a skylight view of the dome.

My request might not have gotten me access to the 5th floor, but it did get me a private tour where I learned a few details I would not have gotten on my own.  Like the fact that if you look closely at the moulding in one of the courtrooms you can see buckshot damage to the woodwork.

Another story that was relayed to me involved the attempted bombing of the courthouse on August 2, 1998.  An unknown perpetrator crashed a pickup truck full of gasoline and explosives through the eastern entrance of the Tippecanoe County Courthouse. Local firefighters were able to put out the blazing truck, which was when they discovered it was full of flammable materials. On August 11, county authorities placed concrete barriers around the courthouse to help prevent a similar attack in the future. The case remains one of few unsolved suspected instances of domestic terrorism in the United States.

"The Battle of Tippecanoe" was painted by Robert W. Grafton.  It occupied the lobby of the Fowler Hotel until 1966 but now calls the courthouse its home.  It is 48 feet long so kind of hard to get a full image!  It needs a cleaning, I hope they are planning for that and raising the funds to bring it back to life.  I watched a video on C-SPAN about the Battle of Tippecanoe for some background information, click the link to see the video.  It was a bit dry, and I sure would have liked more information on the viewpoint of the history of the area from the Native American point of view.

Back outside I saw a statue of the Marquis de Lafayette that was added to the square in 1887 by sculptor Lorado Taft. The Courthouse also has one hundred columns, nine pieces of statuary and a cast iron dome containing four large clock-faces and a bell.

That's it for the tour, I'll fill you in on how we're faring here in Wisconsin this winter next time.

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