Audio: “Allen County Courthouse” featuring Tom Castaldi. Courtesy of WBNI-Fort Wayne.
The current Allen County Courthouse is the fourth courthouse built in Fort Wayne. Its three predecessors were all located on the current courthouse square, which had been set aside as a public square when Fort Wayne was first platted in 1824. The designer of this courthouse was Fort Wayne local Brentwood S. Tolan. Not formally educated as an architect, Brentwood Tolan was the son of architect Thomas J. Tolan, and had attended art school and trained under his father. Brentwood Tolan also designed courthouses for Whitley, Delaware and LaPorte counties. Working with his father, the duo designed fifteen other courthouses in Indiana. Also, Brentwood designed Fort Wayne’s Opera House, the Masonic Temple, and the old National Bank Building. Altogether, Brentwood Tolan designed more than forty-four buildings and drew plans for 23 jails.
Dedication for the newest courthouse was on Sept. 23, 1902, five years after its cornerstone was laid. It is constructed of Vermont granite and limestone from Bedford, Ind. The courthouse was designed in the styles of Grecian, Roman, and Renaissance with Doric lines of the first floor, Iconic columns on the second story, and Corinthian and Roman Imperial styles on the third level. On top of the building is the goddess of Liberty statue that stands on the copper-sheathed dome. The courtroom skylights were covered during WWI blackouts as a precaution against aerial bombing.
Around the outside of the building are friezes and cornices filled with sculptured images and proverbs of the history of Allen County, American government, law, virtue, and industry. The busts on the exterior of the courthouse are of Chief Little Turtle, Colonel John Allen (the county’s namesake), and George Washington. Above the entrances on each side of the courthouse are inscriptions that read, “The law hateth wrong,” and “Justice the Hope of all who suffer the dread of all who wrong”. The four murals inside of the dome are allegories depicting the opposing themes of Anarchy and Despotism (south wall), lawful Government and Democracy (north wall), Prosperity and Peace (east wall) and Despair and War (west wall). All four murals were done by Charles Holloway, who also created the paintings on the proscenium arch of the historic 1888 Auditorium Theater in Chicago, IL. Scenes and sculptured panels continue in the four court rooms, depicting the history of law and pursuits of agriculture, workings of justice and terrors of war. There are also sculptures showing early events of local history such as the arrival of Anthony Wayne, Chief Little Turtle’s burial, and the completion of the canal. Along with portraits of Colonel John Allen (a colonel from from Kentucky who aided in Fort Wayne’s relief during the war of 1812), there is one of Samuel Hanna who was Allen County’s first post master and judge, and of Perry A. Randall who was a founding vice president of the Jenny Electric Company which was the predecessor to the local division of the G.E Company. Even before the fourth courthouse was completed, the rotunda served as the place of honor for the casket of Civil War hero General Henry Lawton in 1899. Lawton was killed in the Philippines earlier that year.
When the previous courthouse stood from 1862-1897, a wrought iron fence encircled the block. The brick building had a central cupola extending above the roof with clock dials facing four surrounding streets. In niches on the north and west facades were life-sized statues of George Washington and General Anthony Wayne in full continental dress uniform. An eagle topped an ornamental canopy that covered a public drinking fountain, standing on the northeast corner of the lawn. Though the drinking fountain canopy came down when the present day courthouse was built, the drinking fountain remained in use on the north sidewalk until the 1950s. The well canopy was moved to Swinney Park in 1902 but there is no sign of it today.
The courthouse cost $817,553.59 dollars to build and furnish. In 1975 there was a major renovation done to the courthouse and improvements made in 1992. In 1994, the outside dome was repaired and covered with a copper sheeting. Restoration on Miss Liberty took five months and $41,900 including repair on her damaged left hand, right wing, and left foot in 1996. On Sept. 23, 2002, the county courthouse was rededicated after its restoration. The restoration cost $8.6 million, the courthouse green restoration cost 2.2 million dollars and included the purchasing of land, demolition of the existing buildings and construction of the park. August 3, 2009, renovation on the exterior began and cost $1.3 million and included restoration from top to bottom. The granite and limestone was repaired and pigeon droppings removed.
Photos courtesy of Allen County-Fort Wayne Historical Society and ARCH Inc.
- The Bicentennial Heritage Trail Group, ARCH Inc., Essex Group, Inc., On The Heritage Trial, Fort Wayne,Indiana: A Walking Guide Book (1994), pp. 14-17.
- John Ankenbruck, 20th Century History of Fort Wayne (1975), pp. 113, 177.
- Jarosh, Andrew. “Lady Liberty returns to courthouse.” The News-Sentinel. Sept. 6, 1996.
- Vandrely, Nancy. “Courthouse well a mystery from beginning to end”. The Journal-Gazzette. Dec. 3, 1996.
- “Summit: Landmark Decision”. The News-Sentinel. April 9, 1994.
- Allen County Courthouse Preservation Trust, A Walking Tour of the Allen County Courthouse.
- Other resources from the files of ARCH Inc.