(The following is part of a series about early Whitley County gleaned from information provided in journals written by ancestors of Sharon Cearbaugh of Columbia City, who has generously allowed us a glimpse back through time. The Whiltey County Historical Museum was also instrumental in aiding the research.)
The dedication of the Whitley County courthouse cornerstone in September of 1888 may have been the highlight of the year and it was not quite two years later that the dedication of the completed structure was held.
The building had been occupied since April of 1890, but the official dedication was held June 14, 1890.
Invitations were printed and sent with a lithograph of the building, done by William B. Burfurd, printed on the cover. A complete list of the “Programme” was included inside the invite along with lists of committees.
The 26-member general committee was chaired by Thomas R. Marshall, who would be Vice President under Woodrow Wilson 23 years later.
The reception committee had 25 members, and the committees for decorations and invitations had eight and seven, respectively.
Joseph S. Baker of Warsaw, the contractor for the construction according to an article from 1954, claimed the structure contained the best of materials.
“There are beneath it, as a part of its foundation, 12,428 cubic feet of concrete, 3,670 square feet of stone footing and 8,850 cubic feet of rubble stone,” Baker said at the dedication.
About two million bricks and 21,430 cubic of cut stone went into the landmark structure. The floors, beams, roof and tower contain 508,000 pounds of iron, with the stairs and window shutters holding another 10,000 pounds. The roof also had 110 squares of slate and 1,160 square feet of copper in the dome and gutters. The building also had 1,000 feet of illuminated or glass tile and the 31 mantels were of marbelized slate.
A handwritten note scribed by William S. Nickey of Smith Township, county commissioner from 1888 to 1892, listed the “Cost of the New Courthouse,” as follows:
Original contract — $124,700
Extra Work on Foundation — $512
Extra for Changing Location of Boiler House — $2,286
Extra for Mantels — $100
Extra for Glass, Rotunda Floors and Dormer Windows — $6,200
Extra for Mantels, Pump, Well, etc. — $725
Total Amount of Contracts with Joe S. Baker — $134,523
Architect, local superintendent
Brent S. Tolan’s Commission as Architect on Completed Building — $4,988
C. H. Pond’s Salary as Local Super-intendent up to March 24, 1890 — $1,566
Total — $6,554
Robert Hood for lot boiler house — $2,150
A. Hilbert for well in boiler house — $74
Shields and Brown Co. for pipe covering — $512.68
E. Howard Watch and Clock Co. for tower clock — $1,155
Fenton Metallic Furniture Co. for metallic furniture — $2, 016.21
E. D. Miles for wooden furniture — $1,335.96
Total — $148,320.85
A call to John Roy, manager of Morsches Lumber in Columbia City got us a quote of about $15,000 just for the copper material for the roof and gutters of the courthouse at today’s price. The estimate didn’t include the other materials necessary to install it or the labor.
(An estimate of the cost to construct the building entirely at today’s prices is beyond the time allotted and the patience bestowed to this reporter. Perhaps Mr. Roy could be persuaded?)
The 1907 county history stated that on the first day of occupancy”.. the people of Whitley County will have no more clamor for a new courthouse for a century.” It has already exceeded that goal by 20 years.
William R. McNagny, a Whitley County lawyer of the time, accepted the building on behalf of the county commissioners and was quoted as saying of the structure, “Through its broad portals may neither wrong nor injustice, nor oppression ever enter. ... May the rights and liberties of every human soul there find the ark of safety.
“And may we not venture to hope, that protected by its strong wall the records and archives which it contains may be securely sheltered from fire and storm; that supported by its iron beams and pillars of stone it may stand, shooting its dome heavenward, a thing of joy and beauty for future generations, long after our little course is run, and we are numbered among the things forgotten.”