Washington County Courthouse
Courthouse Square, Salem
Seeking Justice for a Classic Indiana Limestone Courthouse
Most people would be surprised to learn that a venerable nineteenth-century courthouse faces jeopardy, but the Washington County Courthouse is endangered. At the center of the National Register-listed courthouse square in Salem, the 1888 courthouse towers over the landscape, an imposing reflection of the commitment our nineteenth-century counterparts gave to this symbol of community life and justice.
Louisville architect Harry P. McDonald designed the building in the Romanesque Revival style, using artfully rusticated Indiana limestone with arched entryways and a conical clock/bell tower to convey solidity and strength.
The appearance of solidity is deceiving. Lightning struck the beacon-like tower in 1934, sparking a fire. Ill-conceived repairs at the time trapped water in the stone and caused deterioration over the intervening decades, making the tower unstable. The structure needs reinforcement before a high wind causes a collapse. Chronic roof and masonry leaks also require urgent attention.
In a rural county with limited resources, it will be a tough challenge to find the money to rehabilitate the courthouse.
Saving threatened buildings takes teamwork. You can be a part of that team. Reach out to local leaders. Let them know these buildings are important to you. And support state and local preservation groups.