Tower of Power

Jefferson County Courthouse
has survived the ages

The building is to undergo roof, exterior renovation

By Konnie McCollum
Staff Writer

August 2008 Indiana Edition Cover

August 2008 Indiana
Edition Cover

(August 2008) – It was 1945, and dozens of people crammed into the Jefferson County Courthouse in Madison, Ind., to hear the verdict in the trial of Lottie Lockman. Everybody knew she was guilty of poisoning poor Mrs. McConnell, an elderly woman entrusted to her care. The story goes that the sound of a pin dropping could have been heard throughout that packed courtroom as the jurors filed in to render judgment. Mouths dropped open and shock filled the air as “Not Guilty” was announced.
This was perhaps the biggest trial in the history of the courthouse, according to Madison attorney Spencer Schnaitter, who recounted the story. He was a junior high student at the time and was sitting in the loft of the county courthouse waiting for all the action to begin as his father, Judge Paul Schnaitter, presided over the trial.
The courthouse has seen its share of trials like those of Lockman and others throughout its long history. Built in 1853, the courthouse is among the historic buildings in Madison’s National Historic Landmark District. Time has taken its toll on the historic structure, and like most buildings of its age, it is now in need of repairs.
County Commissioner Julie Berry has announced there is a project under way to complete some of the necessary repairs on the exterior of the building. Those repairs include a new roof and reconstruction on the cupola, and eventually some tuck pointing and cornice work. Madison architect Michael Totten has been hired to lead the project, and he is working with Historic Madison Inc. to keep the historic integrity of the building intact.
“We plan to do the work in phases and bid it out incrementally,” said Berry. “We have money set aside in a courthouse fund, so there will be no need to borrow money for the repairs.”

Joe Robinson

Photo by Don Ward

Jefferson County Manager
Joe Robinson poses with the
3,116-pound bell that is housed in
the chamber atop the courthouse.
Plans are to eventually repair the
bell so it can chime again.

Officials estimate the cost of repairs could top $150,000. Competitive bids will be accepted beginning in early September.
Totten said the first phase of the Jefferson Shell Replacement 2008 Project will include a new roof and adding downspouts to the building to help keep water off the sides. “There is certainly water damage from leaking,” he said. “We need to get that taken care of immediately.”
The roof has not been replaced since a major remodeling of the courthouse in 1959-61. “There are soft spots in the roof, and water is leaking into the third floor courtroom,” said Berry.
Circuit Court Judge Ted Todd acknowledged the courtroom is leaking but said it has not affected any trials. “I am happy to see the repairs being made on the building,” said Todd, who has worked in the courthouse for 20 years. “It has been a great place to work, with a good atmosphere.”
In the later stages of the Jefferson Shell Replacement Project, Totten said the clock tower and cupola will be restored and then repairs will be made to the brick and limestone used in construction of the building.
In an effort to keep maintenance up to date on the courthouse once repairs are completed, Totten said the Board of Commissioners has included long term maintenance care into the contracts. “This inclusion will help future commissioners maintain the courthouse.”
He has consulted with HMI on building materials and methods to be used in the remodeling of the courthouse. “This is an important structure in our National Historic Landmark District. We want to get things right on how these repairs are done.”
HMI’s Heidi Valco Kruggel said officials at HMI are prepared to offer any technical assistance needed in the repairs of the courthouse. “We will help make sure any repairs and replacements are done in accordance with historic guidelines.”
The first courthouse in Jefferson County, Ind., was built in 1811, according to documents on file at the Research Library of the Jefferson County Historical Society’s Heritage Center.

Jefferson Co. Historical Photo of the Courthouse

Photo courtesy of the
JCHS Research Library

This historic photo
of the courthouse is
considered the oldest
on record at the
Research Library
of the Jefferson Co.
Historical Society.

Prior to 1811, the first court or justice of the peace was held in the home of pioneer John Henry Waggoner. In spring 1811, Madison’s first sheriff, John Vawter, and two helpers built “Old Buckeye,” a two-story log courthouse made of “buckeye logs.”
By 1819, Madison had become the largest and richest town in the state, and its 821 residents decided it needed a more “fitting” courthouse. Old Buckeye was removed, and an octagon-shaped brick structure was built in its place.
By 1853, some residents were calling for the octagonal courthouse to be removed. On Sept. 12, 1853, that courthouse was destroyed in a fire. It was a particularly dry summer, according to records, but it was alleged that suspected arsonists burned the building because they didn’t like it.
Not even during a Feb. 15, 1878, hanging of John Beavers did protesters ever try to burn the courthouse again. Beaver was hanged in the courthouse yard for murder. People gathered from miles around, standing on roof tops and in available space to see the first and only hanging in Jefferson County. Many brought lunch boxes crammed with good things to eat, and it was evidently a gala occasion for everyone but poor Beaver.
In 1854-1855 the present courthouse was built. The original cost of the two-story structure was $36,000. The architect in charge of the project was David Dubach, of Hannibal, Mo. The builders in charge of the construction were David Dubach, Henry C. Kyle and J.W. Hinds.
The courtyard around the courthouse, which cost $953.96, was made with 20,000 bricks, stonework and an iron fence.
The bell that sits in the tower today was made by West Troy Bell Foundary of New York. It cost Madison $762.29 to have the bell made. On Nov. 9, 1855, the 3,116-pound bell was placed in its tower.

Jefferson County Courthouse

Photo courtesy of the
Madison-Jefferson Co. Public Library

This photo from the Harry Lemon
Photo Collection shows what the
courthouse looked like in the 1940s.

In 1859, during a fire in the courthouse, the bell fell through the roof and landed in the basement. Because of that fire, the design of the roofline was changed, and the pitch was made steeper.
The bell has not been rung in five years because the mechanism is broken, according to County Manager Joe Robinson. It is on the list of repairs to be completed in a later phase.
“I hope they fix the bell because it would be nice to hear it ring again,” Robinson said. “It used to ring on the quarter hour, half hour and chime on the hour – similar to a church bell tower.”
Robinson added that he had to repair the clock mechanism this year. Clocks face in all four directions on the outside of the bell tower and are all operated by one motor unit in the center.
“It’s really neat up here, and the view is terrific in all directions,” Robinson said, gesturing to the view down Main Street during a recent tour of the cupola.
It wasn’t until 1959 that the courthouse actually was remodeled from the inside and a third floor added. According to Schnaitter, before the addition of the third story, noise disruptions because of traffic along Main Street were common.
“Trucks would go up the street, and the large windows would rattle,” he said. “It caused such a ruckus that the transcriber sometimes was disrupted.”
Although no major trial was ever affected, lawyers at the time agreed the noise was horrible and something needed to be done about it.
During the extensive remodeling during that period, an elevator, one of the first in the state, was added to the courthouse, and the trial room was switched to the south side of the building.

Inside the cupula

Photo by Don Ward

This is the view looking up inside the
cupula of the Jefferson County
Courthouse, a view only seen by a
few people who have climbed the
stairwells to the top.

Architects came up with the idea to add the floor to the interior of the building after a courthouse in Winchester, Ind., did the same thing. That entire project cost $275,000 to complete.
As for the Lottie Lockman trial, 90 percent of the town thought she was guilty of poisoning the elderly and ill wife of Dupont, Ind.’s Mr. McConnell with bichloride of mercury. The chemical was historically used in photography, preservation and as a medicine.
Special Prosecutor Sylas Kibett was hired to take on the case, and local counsel Joe Cooper was hired to defend Lockman. Schnaitter said the first thing Cooper did when he met Lockman in jail was to bring her a Bible. Every day, Lockman was seen reading that Bible.
Kibett ordered the exhumation of other elderly people who had died during Lockman’s care. Each body was found to contain traces of bichloride of mercury.
“It looked like the case was cut and dried,” said Schnaitter.
When the “Not Guilty” verdict was read, the crowd was shocked. “No one knew quite how Cooper managed it,” said Schnaitter. “Maybe it had something to do with that Bible.”

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