At 37 miles long and averaging seven miles wide it’s easy to see how Vermillion County earned the nickname “the shoe string county.”1 The narrow county boasts a rich history of agriculture, coal mining, and immigrant traditions. Vermillion County history also holds a devastating record of courthouse fires.
The first Vermillion County Courthouse—a frame structure a mere 36 feet long by 24 feet deep—served from 1825 until 1831.2 While spared from fire, Commissioners claimed this early courthouse simply did not meet their specifications and refused to award the contractor his full payment. However, the Indiana Supreme Court found the building satisfactory and ordered Commissioners to pay the full amount plus court fees.3
A second incarnation—constructed in 1832 and made of brick—lasted until destroyed by fire in 1844. County records are unclear about whether the 1832 building was repaired or fully replaced, but the County Commissioners accepted the courthouse from the contractor in January 1845. Fire struck again in 1866, completely destroying the building. In 1867 a new courthouse constructed of brick and accentuated by Romanesque arches opened and served the county until 1923 when lightening struck, causing yet another fire.
County commissioners quickly selected H.L. Fillinger of Dana and John B. Bayard of Vincennes as architects for the fourth and current courthouse. Its three stories are clad in Indiana limestone. The building’s symmetry and details such as the Corinthian columns highlighting the upper stories of the façades, and the decorated cornice, are hallmarks of the Neoclassical style. The courthouse is located in a Shelbyville Square plan, with streets intersecting at each corner.
In 1996 the Vermillion County Commissioners took steps to preserve and modernize the courthouse for future generations. In addition to a new roof, rehabilitation work included the installation of a new elevator, upgraded heating and air conditioning system, new windows, exterior lighting, a generator, and sidewalks. While pouring the walk on the west side of the building, part of the foundation from the courthouse that burned in 1923 was discovered. Future plans include the restoration of the original clocks on each of the courthouse’s four faces.
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In part, these efforts were taken to ensure the security and health of courthouse staff in the event of the release of VX nerve gas into the air. This gas is stored in the nearby Newport Army Ammunition Plant and is in the process of being destroyed. The courthouse has annual “lockdown” training to prepare for this type of emergency. All of the doors and windows in the courthouse have airtight seals, and all outside air can be blocked by closing down the ventilation system and using the building’s own generator.
Robert M. Taylor, Jr., et al, ed., Indiana: A New Historical Guide, (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1989), p. 307.
Harold L. O’Donnell. Newport and Vermillion Township: The First 100 Years, 1824-1924. (Danville: Interstate Printers and Publishers, 1969), p. 26.
Ibid., page 26.
The above information taken from the Indiana Courts Vermillion County web page, located here
Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities Wheelchair ramp at the WEST entrance. Handicap accessible buttons are available to open all doors.
Parking Free curbside parking around the courthouse.
Courthouse Hours Monday through Friday 8:00a.m. to 4:00p.m. Closed on major holidays (see calendar above)
255 S. Main St. [map] Newport, IN. 47966 South County Residents Use: (800) 340-8155 All others please use: (765) 492-5345