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Max, Elias Tippecanoe County Courthouse, Lafayette, 1880 – 1884


Elias Max was a local contractor in Lafayette. When he was selected in 1880 by the county commissioners to design the courthouse, there were objections because he was not an architect. His plans were accepted, however, and work was begun in 1881. James Alexander, a local architect, was building superintendent, and many still think that the design of the courthouse belongs to him. The cornerstone was dedicated on October 26, 1882, and the building was finished two years later. That same year Mark Twain visited Lafayette and commented: “A very striking courthouse, very striking indeed. It must have struck the taxpayers a very hard blow.”

Architects are another type of artist and their buildings are their works of art. Buildings can be thought of as very large pieces of sculpture, but there are more considerations than artistic design because buildings must be occupied by people and house many different kinds of activities.

  • Tippecanoe County Courthouse, Lafayette, 1880-1884
  • Keywords: architecture, administration buildings, stone
  • Subjects: outdoors, buildings, trees, windows, doors, clocks, domes, columns, statues, carvings

This building combines a number of architectural elements, including suggestions of Baroque, Gothic, Georgian, Victorian, Beaux-Arts, and Neo-Classical styles. The temple-like porticos and sculptures show touches of the Neo- Classical; some of the windows show a touch of Victorian Gothic. There are relief carvings of George Washington, George Rogers Clark, and Tecumseh. There are four female figures in the niches beneath each clock, possibly signifying the four seasons of the year. There are figures representing important areas of Indiana life, including education, agriculture, and the law. There are 100 columns, nine statues, and a dome containing four large clock faces and a bell that can be heard for 12 miles.

The top of the cast iron dome is 212′ above the ground. The statues of the four women are 9.5′ tall. The faces of the clocks, installed in 1884, are 8′ across with hands 4′ long. The bell, cast in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1884, weighs 3,300 pounds and was tuned in the key of C-sharp. Each walnut door at the main entrance weighs 500 pounds. In 1887, a statue of the Marquis de Lafayette was set. It was made from a mold created by an eminent sculptor, Lorado Taft. The 14′ figure on top of the dome represents the Goddess of Liberty.

Some Points To Consider

  • Have students use architecture reference books to identify the many different styles of windows and columns and the historical cultures with which they are associated. (Art 4.2.1)
  • Ask students: How does the architecture of this building change the characteristics of Indiana culture? How do you think the people of Indiana responded to this courthouse when it was new? (Art 4.1.1)

Suggested Activities for Classroom Follow-Up

  • Allow time in a museum or library for students to research the design and construction of the courthouse nearest your school. Then take students on a field trip to photograph the courthouse and learn how it is being utilized today.
  • Invite an architect to talk to your students about how architecture has changed in your area and what styles are popular.
  • Ask students to find sculptures on buildings near where they live or go to school. Give them class time to draw those sculptures in their journals and add notes about where those sculptures are and what types of buildings they are on. Ask them to speculate on the meaning of those sculptures.
  • Take the class on an architectural field trip into your own community. Have students search for interesting sculptures, structures, and styles of architecture. Help them create an exhibit, photo album, scrapbook, or digital slide show about their findings. Have students present their project to other classes at school and to family and friends who visit the classroom.