Circuit Court

History of the Courthouse

Inside CourthouseDearborn County's first Courthouse was built in 1810 on the public square in Lawrenceburg. It was a two-story brick building with a hipped roof, crowned by an octagonal cupola, following the standard design for public buildings at that time.

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The entire first floor was dedicated to the courtroom while the jury room and judges' chambers were on the second floor. On March 5th, 1826 it was burned to a shell. The fire was believed to be the result of arson. Some records were saved but many were lost to the fire. Property owners were asked to bring their deeds to the recorder for re-copying. These records were hand written.

The Courthouse was re-built within the same walls and local architects Jesse Hunt, James W. Hunter and George Dunn were appointed construction superintendents. The building was not ready for occupancy until the fall or winter of 1828. Two separate one-story brick buildings were erected between the courthouse and Mary Street for the county clerk and recorder.

Over time the population of Dearborn County grew and so did the needs of local government. The county commissioners decided to build a new courthouse. They were impressed with the Floyd County courthouse built in New Albany. The commissioners modeled the new courthouse after Floyd County. George H. Kyle was selected as architect. 

Kyle was a native of Virginia before moving to Vevay around 1840. He had an excellent reputation and his buildings exhibited superior craftsmanship. His plans for the new courthouse were approved by the commissioners on June 15, 1870. The pearl gray limestone was quarried in Monroe County Indiana. The contract for the stone cutting was awarded to Francis Raman, Indianapolis. T.J. Shannor of Lawrenceburg was the general contractor. Excavation began on July 17, 1870. 

The cornerstone was laid on April 13, 1871. Louis Jordan of Indianapolis was the guest speaker. The ceremony drew 5,000 spectators according to one account. Included in the cornerstone were histories of the Masons, Odd Fellows, Druids, Good Templars as well as Lawrenceburg religious societies. Stamps, newspapers and fashion plates from 1871 were deposited as were many documents considered historic at the time including continental money and old coins from the Revolution.

The Courthouse was completed in 1873 at a cost of $135,775.00. During the three years of construction, all courthouse business was conducted in the Odd Fellows building at the southwest corner of High and Walnut streets.

The three-story building included city hall offices and a public opera house. The entire back half of the second floor was devoted to a magnificently appointed courtroom roughly 70 feet long by 50 feet wide. Thirty feet overhead was an ornate plaster ceiling featuring arches, coffers, finials and two center medallions from which enormous brass chandeliers were suspended. Surrounding the medallions is a painted sky featuring clouds and gold leaf stars.

Political rallies, high school graduations and other public ceremonies were held in the courtroom. In 1902, Judge George E. Downey ordered that the Courtroom be divided in half and that the plaster ceiling be covered by the pressed tin ceiling that is present today.

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