Indiana's courthouse squares
See Orange County's courthouse square -- on of only three Lancaster plan squares in the state -- during Indiana Landmarks' Paoli Moveable Feast on July 13.
In Indiana, the courthouse square is a commonplace. You might naturally assume it’s a feature in all states, but the phenomenon is disproportionately concentrated in Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri. Although there are exceptions -- Georgia and Texas deserve spots on the list -- the heartland clearly claims the courthouse square title.
Researchers identify a link between courthouse squares and immigration patterns. The plan featuring an open square in the middle of town traces its origin to medieval Germany and Poland. Indiana’s large population of German immigrants may help explain the frequency of such designs here.
The late David R. Hermansen, a Ball State University professor, identified three types of courthouse squares in Indiana: Shelbyville, Lancaster, and Harrisonburg.
The Shelbyville Square -- found in 79 of our 92 counties -- is named for a town in Tennessee, developed in the early 1800s with the courthouse placed in the open center of a full city block with streets intersecting at each corner. The Lancaster Square comes from Pennsylvania, where Lancaster County placed its courthouse in the center of the town’s green in 1739, with the streets entering the square in the center of each side.
Adopting the street patterns of both the Lancaster and Shelbyville plans, the Harrisonburg Square offers six rather than four points of entry -- at the corners and the center of the east-west sides.
The street pattern of the Lancaster Square creates particularly grand entrances with dramatic courthouse views. You approach the courthouse directly and appreciate its mass immediately. Indiana claims only three Lancaster Squares, found in the neighboring southern counties of Dubois, Orange and Washington.
Orange County’s sparkling white-painted Greek Revival courthouse, built in 1850 and restored in the 1970s and again in 2010, seems especially suited to the Lancaster plan. In addition to placing the courthouse in high relief, the Lancaster plan also showcases the National Register-listed square’s commercial architecture. You can witness the drama yourself during our Paoli Moveable Feast on July 13.
Indiana Courthouse Preservation Advisory Commission (includes links to other resources)
Virtual courthouse tours of 32 Indiana courthouses
David R. Hermansen and Indiana Courthouses of the Nineteenth Century