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Jackson County Courthouse Gets Historic Designation

Last updated on Monday, February 27, 2012

(BROWNSTOWN) - Jackson County Courthouse recently earned placement on the National Register of Historic Places, which means the possibility of federal and state money to help maintain and preserve the nearly 140-year-old building.

It could, however, put the brakes on any ideas about expanding the courthouse, built in 1873, to meet future - and current - space needs, County Commissioner Jerry Hounshel said.

The structure was built in 1873 and extensively remodeled in 1910 after a fire.

Indiana Landmarks Vice President Mark Dollase says all of Indiana's 85 historic courthouses are now on the national register or in a historic district.

Dollase said county commissioners don't have to worry about any potential restrictions on changes to the courthouse because of the listing on the register.

"If they are spending local funds, they can make whatever changes they want to make," Dollase said.

He said there is a state historic preservation office that will review any project where federal funds are being used to make changes on a historic property.

Jackson County officials are now taking a look at the county's space needs, especially those surrounding Jackson Superior Court II, now housed in the annex, which served as the county jail until a new jail and juvenile center opened in 2000.

Hounshel said one of five options being discussed is the idea of adding on to the present courthouse.

The listing on the National Register of Historic Places came about because of an initiative led by the Indiana Courthouse Preservation Advisory Commission.
Dollase said Indiana Chief Justice Randall Shepherd, who will soon retire, helped initiate the effort to establish the advisory commission. Shepherd has long been active in historic preservation.

Indiana Landmarks and the Indiana Division of Preservation and Archaeology, which is a part of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, was involved in the process. That process eventually led to the Indiana General Assembly establishing the commission.

The advisory commission was established with other goals in mind, including helping county officials preserve and maintain historic courthouses, helping with the grant process and providing technical assistance, Dollase said.

Hounshel said he answered a survey for the project to have the courthouse placed on the list last summer with the help of former county engineer Jason Fee, a Jackson County resident.

Fee oversaw a courthouse restoration project led by RATIO Architects in 2005-2006 while working for the county. That restoration, paid for through a bond issue, included repairs to masonry, doors and windows, re-establishing the original lobby, refurbishing the woodwork and tile floors, updating mechanical systems and improving handicapped accessibility.

Built in 1873 in the Second Empire style, the courthouse in Brownstown also was extensively remodeled in 1910-11 in the neoclassical style.

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