The New Court House of Newton County Indiana

At the regular term of the commissioners’ court of Newton county, held at the court house in Kentland, April 3, 1905, the commissioners, David Hess, James A. Whaley and Elmer Skinner, made a contract with Eric Lund, of Hammond, Indiana, to furnish all material, construct and complete a court house on the public square in the town of Kentland, for the sum of $26,195, said building to be erected according to plans furnished by Joseph T. Hutton, architect and superintendent of construction.

Bonds were issued to pay the cost of construction and sold to J. F. Wild and Company for the sum of $27,251, they being the highest and best bidders for the same. There were sixteen other bids for the court house bonds.

Prior to the letting of the contract to Eric Lund to build the court house, proceedings were instituted in the Newton circuit court to enjoin the commissioners of Newton county, viz., David Hess, Elmer Skinner and James A. Whaley; and the county council of Newton county, to wit: James Chancellor, John R. Hershman, Charles Hartley, George M. Herriman, R. L. Ewan, Felix Tyler and Edward Roush, from letting a contract to build a court house at Kentland, Newton county, Indiana.

April I, 1905. Case came up for trial, and the court, after hearing the evidence of witnesses and arguments of counsel, overruled the motion to enjoin the commissioners from building the said court house, and made the further order that the defendants, to wit, the county commissioners and county council, recover from the plaintiffs their costs in this case laid out and expended.

The plaintiffs thereupon made a motion for a new trial, which motion was by the court overruled.

The plaintiffs then prayed for an appeal to the supreme court, which was granted by the court.

Transcripts of the proceedings were made out, filed in the supreme court, and on June 30, 1905, the supreme court, in a lengthy decision, overruled the action of the Newton circuit court.

The main point made hy the supreme court in its ruling on the case was that the county council, in making the appropriation to build the court house, had done so by a motion and not by an ordinance. I quote from same :

“It is therefore ordered by this court that the judgment of the court below, in the above entitled cause, be in all things reversed as to the board of county commissioners of Newton county, all of which is ordered to be certified to said court.”

During the time this case was pending in the supreme court, the contractor, Eric Lund, had commenced work on the building, and at the time the decision of the supreme court was rendered he had put in the foundation and the side walls up to the top of the first story. The commissioners had paid him on this work the sum of $12,000, for the payment of which amount they held an indemnifying bond signed by a large number of the citizens of Jefferson township to protect them against any loss that might come to the county by reason of such payment.

This decision of the supreme court, of course, brought everything to a standstill. What had been done would be a total loss unless steps were taken to complete the building. It also had the effect of destroying the legality of the bonds, issued to pay the cost of such construction. The owners of the bonds immediately proceeded by suit to recover from the county the amount paid for same, together with interest and costs. Everything that had been done was void and matters had to commence again at the very beginning.

The county council met and this time made an appropriation by ordinance instead of a motion, thereby complying with the decision of the supreme court.

September 6, 1905. The commissioners of Newton county met and placed upon their records the report of the county council, authorizing the commissioners to issue bonds and borrow $24,500 for the following purposes:

$19,450 for completing the court house.

$2,500 for furniture.

$800 for electric wiring and fixtures.

$250 for architect.

$1,000 for costs and attorney’s fees in circuit and supreme court.

$500 attorney fees for E. P. Hammond in commissioners’ court and county council meeting.

On November 6, 1905, the commissioners made an appropriation of $28,500 to pay the judgment obtained by the bondholders. Of this amount $13,529.97 was already in the treasury and new bonds were issued for $14,970.03.

At the January term, 1906, the commissioners ordered that, in accordance with the ordinance passed by the county council in November authorizing the bond issue, the bonds of Newton county for that amount be issued and sold for the purposes above stated.

It was ordered that bonds in the sum of $23,000 be issued and sold to provide funds for the completion of the unfinished court house at Kentland. It was further ordered, at the same term, that the bid of Eric Lund to complete the building for the sum of $18,525 be accepted.

August 6, 1906. Joseph T. Hutton, architect, employed by the commissioners to superintend the construction of the court house, filed his report, certifying the contract made with Eric Lund to perform the same for the sum of $18,525, had been fully complied with.

It was therefore ordered by the commissioners that the contract made with Eric Lund “having been fully complied with according to the terms and conditions of same, we therefore accept said court house and dedicate the same to the use of the public, and to be used as and for the court house of Newton county, Indiana.”

It was further ordered that the sheriff be directed to remove all books, papers, records and furniture from the old house and place the same in the proper offices in the new building, said removal to be made immediately.

The total cost of the new court house, when finished, may be thus stated :

Paid Eric Lund on first contract $12,000

Paid Eric Lund on second contract. . . 18,525


Amount of bid on first contract 26,195

Additional cost to county by reason of

appeal, etc $4,330

Afterward parties commenced suit in the circuit court to recover this difference from the signers of the indemnifying bond given to the commissioners but the court decided against them and the case was dismissed.

Source: Ade, John. Newton County: a collection of historical facts and personal recollections concerning Newton County, Indiana, from 1853 to 1911. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co., c1911.

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