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Indiana’s courthouses receive renewed attention ahead of state bicentennial

Dave Stafford
January 1, 2014
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Chris Flook has an eye for Indiana’s courthouses and courthouse squares. He’s photographed all 92.

“It made me fall in love again with Indiana,” the Ball State University telecommunications professor said. He hopes the photo collection he’s making available to the state’s Bicentennial Commission is just the start of a project renewing a focus on town and city centers that Flook said many Hoosiers take for granted.
 

orange_square-15col.jpg A panoramic view from the Orange County Courthouse showcases Paoli. (Photo submitted/Chris Flook)

“It’s only a handful of states in the United States that have courthouse squares,” he said. They’re regular features only in communities in Indiana, Illinois, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas, according to project research.

Flook believes Indiana and the other states where courthouse squares are the rule reflect the westward expansion era that carried with it a desire to express the values of a young nation.

“It’s a very Jeffersonian thing – the rule of law is at the center of public life and social
 

martinsville-square-15col.jpg Festival-goers listen to a concert on the Morgan County Courthouse square in Martinsville. (Photo submitted)

life. Our temple,” he said referring to the courthouse, “is the rule of law where you can come in and take care of whatever business you need to.”

As part of the Indiana Courthouse Squares project Flook is directing, photos of Indiana’s courthouses and courthouse squares have been posted on the project website, the first of what Flook hopes will be a three-phase effort as the state’s 200th birthday in 2016 nears.

Ball State funded the first round of the project, and Flook said he’s seeking grants of about $10,000 for a second phase to produce mini-documentaries about each square. He hopes the material becomes a springboard to a third phase that could offer project-funding resources for communities to maintain or improve their centers.

 

Native Minnesotan Joanne Stuttgen remembers the first time she and her family approached the courthouse square in Martinsville when she was relocating as a grad student at Indiana University in Bloomington in the early 1990s.

“We saw that stunning courthouse and square and commercial buildings, and we had never seen anything like it before,” Stuttgen said. “The reason we live in Martinsville is the courthouse square.”

Stuttgen now is president of Rediscover Martinsville, which recently received a $250,000 Main Street grant to rehabilitate façades of buildings on the square. About 10 structures will get improvements in what Stuttgen said would be “the most significant work and change in downtown Martinsville since forever, maybe.”

But even communities such as Martinsville face battles to preserve their historic courthouses and support the businesses and offices in the squares. Stuttgen and others see a role for state funding as a way to help cash-strapped counties.

Stuttgen said Morgan County officials in the 1990s proposed tearing down the pre-Civil War courthouse and building a new one away from the square. “Now the talk is starting again,” she said.

Local officials sometimes argue against continuing to use historic courthouses because of antiquated systems and the inability of staff to maintain the structures. A handful of Indiana counties have replaced their historic courthouses with more contemporary, austere, utilitarian buildings.

Stuttgen said there is a legitimate concern about the added expense of caring for courthouses, which she said require detailed, scheduled and properly supervised maintenance.

“We just need an attitude change that we need to take care of them because they absolutely can’t be lost,” she said. “You don’t wreck your antiques by repairing them badly.”

Indiana has no state-sponsored resources specifically for courthouse preservation, let alone funding earmarked for courthouse squares. Before its statutory authority expired in January 2012, the Indiana Courthouse Preservation Advisory Commission issued a report that urged a state-sponsored program for historic courthouses.

But legislation in the 2013 General Assembly that would have established a $2 million revolving loan fund for historic courthouse preservation first was stripped of money and then stalled in the House of Representatives after sailing through the Senate.

Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, said it’s doubtful he will introduce similar legislation in the coming short session, but he said the state does need to develop a strategy and funding mechanism to preserve courthouses.

Architect Ron Ross of Fort Wayne served on the commission and said the coming bicentennial could make lawmakers likelier to act on longstanding recommendations to fund needed courthouse repairs and maintenance.

“My emotional response is, I hope so,” he said. “There are plenty of studies around that support the courthouse and the courthouse squares as economic catalysts to downtowns. I believe that to be true,” Ross said.

He said Fort Wayne is a good example. The courthouse square remains the hub of a vibrant city center with a mix of retail, government, office, restaurant and residential uses.

But the vitality of a courthouse square also depends on the community, Ross said. In some county seats, particularly in smaller rural communities hit hard by prolonged economic decline, “those communities seem almost convinced there’s nothing they can do to bring it back.”

Ross said the advisory commission recommended that Indiana take a look at Texas as a model.

Established 1999, Texas’ Historic Courthouse Preservation Program in its first seven rounds of grants delivered to counties more than $207 million in funding, including full restoration projects for 63 courthouses out of 235 eligible historic structures. Texas also established a stewardship program to educate and train local county staff where grants were awarded.

For the money Texas has invested in grants matched by local communities, the state claims its courthouse preservation efforts created about 9,700 jobs and generated $269 million in income, including more than $43 million in state and local tax revenue.

Historic courthouses and courthouse squares in the Lone Star State also have provided backdrops for at least 17 major motion pictures, from 1971’s “The Last Picture Show” to recent films including “True Grit” and “Bernie,” according to the state.

Flook sees a connection between courthouse squares and Indiana’s “brain drain,” citing studies that show young, highly educated professionals are drawn to communities that are aesthetically pleasing and have popular gathering spaces. “Those can be easily facilitated by a courthouse square,” he said.

“This is a unique thing Indiana has,” Flook concluded. “This is something we should be proud of.”•

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  1. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  2. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  3. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  4. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  5. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

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