The Old Court House of Newton County Indiana

At the time of the organization of Newton county the town of Kent consisted of one store, one dwelling house, erected by David McHolland (now owned by Thomas Moore, one square west of the Catholic church), and a couple of unfinished store buildings. Through the courtesy of the owner of one of the latter buildings we were allowed possession of same for the transaction of county business, all of the officers occupying the one room. We at once opened up the books and from that time on were ready to discharge the duties devolving upon the several officers of Newton county.

When the commissioners, appointed by the governor to locate the county-seat, made their report locating the same at the town of Kent, they also reported the proposition of A. J. Kent, in case they should locate the same as he desired. His proposition was: A donation by himself in cash of five hundred dollars; i6o acres of land, being the southeast quarter of section 23, town 28, range 8; 195 lots, 30 x 150 feet each; and a court house square, 350 x 250 feet, to be selected by the county commissioners.

To indicate subsequent proceedings, I quote from the records:

“June 18, 1860. The commissioners, in pursuance of law, proceeded to select the site for the court house for said Newton county. After viewing the different blocks of land laid out into lots, as per plat of said town of Kent, said commissioners selected block 16, containing 30 lots, as a site for the court house and public offices of said county. At the same date it was ordered by the commissioners’ court that Reuben White be appointed agent to receive the donations for the county seat from A. J. Kent, as per the proposition made by him.

“March 6, 1861. It was ordered that the auditor, recorder and clerk of Newton circuit court are hereby appointed a committee with full power to contract for the erection of a building, to be used as a court house, on block 16, and superintend the building of the same at a cost not to exceed one thousand dollars ($1,000), to be paid for out of the donation funds of said county.”

The recorder and clerk refusing to serve on the committee above named, the auditor did, on April 10, 1861, take to his assistance Reuben White, and proceeded to post notices for proposed bids to furnish material and erect said court house.

On April 15, 1861, the parties above named met for the purpose of receiving bids, as advertised, and the contract was at that time let to John B. Cheseb rough for the sum of nine hundred and seventy-four dollars ($974). Afterward they made an additional contract with him to erect a portico over the east door of the said building for the sum of twenty-six dollars ($26), making the total cost of the house, when completed, one thousand dollars. This was at least one instance in which a court house was built within the limits of the first appropriation.

“June 3, 1861. Commissioners met. Present, William Russell, Michael Coffelt and Thomas R. Barker. Elijah Shriver, sheriff, declared the court in session. Whereupon it was, on motion, ordered that we do now adjourn to meet in the court room of the new court house, erected on block 16, in the town of Kent.”

This building was a plain, frame structure with the court room and two jury rooms above and four offices below. The lower rooms were appropriated by the clerk and auditor on the south side of the building, and by the treasurer and recorder on the north side.

This arrangement continued until 1867, when the small building, located north of the court house, was erected, containing two rooms. When first built, it was the intention to use these rooms as jury rooms. However, objections were raised on account of their being on the ground floor. Being abandoned for that purpose, the clerk soon after appropriated the west room, the recorder taking the east one. The auditor’s office was then enlarged by taking in all the south side of the court house on the first floor. The sheriff then took possession of the room deserted by the recorder, this being the first time he had been able to secure a separate office.

This arrangement continued until August, 1906, when the new and present court house was completed. The old building was abandoned after a continuous use of forty-five years and was, on November 5, 1906, sold to John Simmons for the sum of one hundred and seventy dollars. The original cost of the building had been one thousand dollars. Deducting the amount for which it sold, made the real cost to the county only $830 for forty-five years’ service, or an annual rental of $18.50 a year. I doubt if any other county in the state can show such an illustration of economy.

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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