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Allen County’s Third Courthouse ca. 1880
By Randy Harter
Fort Wayne Reader
When people gaze today at our magnificent Allen County Courthouse, which was completed in 1902, it would likely be surprising to many that it’s actually the fourth one that has sat on the Courthouse Square. Our first courthouse had its beginnings in 1831 with a contract being let for the “cutting of brush and removal of stumps” on the public square bounded by Calhoun, Main, Court and Berry Streets so that a structure could be built. The resulting forty feet square two-story courthouse, completed in 1832 at a cost of $3,321.00, was shortly deemed to be of questionable quality and abandoned in 1841.
Our second courthouse, completed in 1847, was a steeple topped two-story brick building, however, just eleven years after completion leading citizens decided that it was inadequate for the thriving community which now featured the newly completed Wabash & Erie Canal a mere two blocks away. In order to fund the construction of an even grander courthouse which, “should last for a century, at least”, in 1858 a levy of fifteen cents per $100.00 taxable property valuation was enacted.
In 1860 plans for the new Romanesque Revival style building designed by Indianapolis architect Edwin May were accepted and construction begun. This, the pictured courthouse, was completed in the summer of 1862 at a total cost of $78,000.00 including all furnishings. The cross-shaped courthouse measured 65 feet wide and 120 feet long. When completed it was 160 feet from the sidewalk to the top of the copula, which featured a large bell and clocks on four sides. The building’s exterior was additionally augmented with larger than life statues of General Anthony Wayne and President George Washington in second floor niches. The gazebo on the square’s northeast corner and ornamental drinking fountain were both moved to Swinney Park in 1897, the same year this beautiful 35 year old courthouse, meant to last “a century, at least” was demolished so that our current Allen County Courthouse could be built.
This view is looking south and a bit west. Court Street, lined with wagons and now part of the Courthouse Green, is at the left. The gazebo sat at the corner of Court and Main, and Calhoun Street is seen at extreme right. As an interesting aside, the disposition of the Wayne and Washington statues, removed when the building was razed in 1897, is one of local history’s enduring lost artifact mysteries. Additionally, the fate of the eagle-topped gazebo, which photographs confirm resided in Swinney Park until at least 1908, is also unknown. (Image from authors collection)
A tip of the hat to Craig Leonard for his architectural acumen. Randy Harter is a Fort Wayne historian and author of two books on local history.