St. Joseph County Courthouses, 112 S. Lafayette Blvd. and 129 S. Main Street
Tagline: For nearly two centuries, most of the physical structures on this one block in South Bend were intended to stand for justice. They held the first steps of a legal case examining the rights of enslaved people seeking freedom, the first local volunteers and casualties of the Civil War, and a major gathering after the assassination of a civil rights icon.
South Bend’s colonizers soon built structures to hold people punished for committing acts deemed unfavorable by their laws. At a County Commissioners meeting at Alexis Coquillard’s home in October 1831, the Commissioners formally ordered construction of a jail. By April 1832, it was complete. Perhaps proving the adage “if you build it, they will come,” the jail was apparently filled often enough that by January 1835, the Commissioners ordered construction of a second story, doubling the capacity to imprison people.
As construction of the first jail was well underway, on February 7, 1832, the Commissioners accepted a $6,000 proposal to build a courthouse (worth about $192,000 today). Only 40 feet long and wide, this first brick court building faced Main Street and sat on the corner of Main and West Washington Streets.
In the late 1840s, one formerly enslaved family who escaped from Kentucky through Indiana on their way to Cassopolis, Michigan, were subjected to a traumatic experience in a case that brought national attention to South Bend’s first courthouse.
On the night of Saturday, October 9, 1847, in northern Kentucky very near the Indiana border, David and Lucy Powell (no known relation to South Bend’s Rebecca or Farrow Powell) and their four children—Lewis, Samuel, George, and James—fled from their enslaver, John Norris. Norris organized a mob of forty people to head north searching for two months in an unsuccessful attempt to retrieve their human property.
The Powells moved through Indiana along the network of paths and anti-slavery allies known collectively as the Underground Railroad. Indiana (as well as Illinois, Kentucky, and Ohio), rather than and risk upsetting economic ties with southern states, passed laws favoring southern enslavers.2 Michigan chose another path, becoming a safe (or safer, at least) haven for freedom seekers. The Powells quickly made their way through Indiana to a new home in Cassopolis, Michigan.
In September 1849, Norris—this time with eight others assisting him—again headed north in search of the Powells. On September 27, Norris and his gang broke into the Powells’ Cassopolis home. Lucy, her sixteen year old son George, and her fourteen year old son James were held at gunpoint, then bound for a journey back to Kentucky. Fortunately, David and his son Samuel were not home at the time.
As Norris began his trip back south, a neighbor of the Powells, Wright Maudlin, pursued and caught up to the Norris gang in South Bend by the next day. Maudlin found a South Bend attorney, Edwin B. Crocker, to draft a writ of habeas corpus—a legal report of an illegal detaining. Crocker and Maudlin quickly found Judge Elisha Egbert to review the writ and, with Maudlin believing that the Powells were free and under immediate danger of illegal deportation to the South, Egbert instructed the Sheriff's office to hold the Powells and the Norris gang until the writ could be formally reviewed.
In January 1832, the St. Joseph County Board of Commissioners voted to build the first courthouse. They placed an ad in a regional newspaper seeking contractors and bids. On February 7, they accepted a proposal by Peter Johnson and awarded him a contract for $6,000 (worth about $192,000 today). Only 40 feet long and wide, this first brick court building faced Main Street and sat on the corner of Main and West Washington Streets. It was finished enough by September 1833 for the Commissioners to accept and use it, though additional finishing work continued through September 1837.
By 1850, over 1,600 white colonizers called South Bend home. Only 18 African American people did the same. This disparity was in part because before the Civil War, the majority of people of African descent were living in the U.S. South under the system of enslavement. Though some in Indiana maintained an avowed opposition to enslavement, most people would rather avoid upsetting trade with Southern states (who were passing more stringent laws to reclaim ownership over people seeking freedom north) than value the humanity of other human beings.
As dozens gathered inside the first courthouse, an account published by the St. Joseph Valley Register (the newspaper of note at that time) reported that, “The whole town was aroused, and the people in a high state of excitement, were running about, anxiously inquiring into the matter."
Norris’ lawyers made the case that the Fugitive Slave Law of 1793 gave Norris the right to enter another state—even one that did not allow slavery—and retrieve his property.
The defense pointed out technicalities in the Fugitive Slave Law that Norris did not follow—specifically that it required the arresting party to go before a judge in the city, county, or jurisdiction in which the fugitive was arrested (Cassopolis). Norris did not follow the letter of the law. While in Cassopolis, he sought no judge.
The courthouse was packed with people anxious to hear how the judge would rule. Did Norris have a right to reclaim his property by any means necessary, or were there still steps that needed to be followed while reclaiming enslaved human capital? Judge Egbert sided with the latter argument. Due process had not been fulfilled, therefore Norris’ capture of the Powells was illegal.
Immediately after the verdict, Norris and his gang erupted. They circled and grabbed the Powells and pulled out guns before the unarmed crowd threatening to shoot anyone who interfered.
Order was restored and the Powells were later safely escorted back to Michigan, but Norris was not yet finished. In December 1849, he brought a lawsuit against the white people whom he felt aided in the escape of his property—the lawyers arguing in favor of the Powells, Wright Maudlin, the Sheriff, and others. Norris sought compensation for the value of his human capital, declaring them worth $2,500 (almost $90,000 today).
The lawsuit was heard in the U.S. Circuit Court in Indianapolis on May 20, 1850, with U.S. Supreme Court Justice John McLean presiding. Again, the rights of the enslaved to due process was the crux of the case. Norris’ legal team argued that enslaved people have no right to habeas corpus, and even though Norris failed to follow the proper procedure or provide the proper paperwork to any authority in Michigan or South Bend, since he was not obligated to do so anyone who stood between Norris and his property was liable for his financial loss.
In the end, the jury awarded Norris damages set at $2,856 (almost $98,000 today). Norris then sued fifteen other people in twelve more lawsuits, recovering an additional $500.  In 1857, the U.S. Supreme Court in Dred Scott v. Sanford similarly debated the rights of enslaved people in states where slavery was outlawed. The court decided that African Americans were not U.S. citizens, and therefore not protected by rights outlined in the U.S. Constitution. Judge McLean, who presided over Norris’ case seven years earlier, was one of two dissenting justices in Dred Scott.
The South Bend 1833 courthouse where the Powells first sought justice—a “plain, square built” 40-foot by 40-foot structure—was, by the 1850s, considered too confining.In 1853, the county commissioned architect John M. Van Osdel to design a new courthouse at a cost of $35,000 (roughly $1.25 million today). The 1833 courthouse was demolished, and the new one built on the same location as the first at the corner of Main Street and West Washington with the entrance facing east. Completed in 1855, the new structure was larger and less “plain” than the one it replaced, with numerous decorative features including columns along the front, and a cupola atop containing a bell. Another jail followed in 1860, also at a cost of $35,000.
In April 1861, as fighting erupted when troops of the new Confederate States of America attacked a U.S. fort, the second St. Joseph County Courthouse was “crowded with a mass of voters, irrespective of party, who hailed this opportunity of showing their determination to stand by the Government, the Union and the Constitution. On Friday, August 2, the building held a service for the first person in St. Joseph County killed during the War—John Auten.
He was twenty-two years old. By the last decade of the 19th century, the second courthouse, like the first one, was increasingly viewed as too small and too limited. On May 24, 1895, the County Commissioners passed a resolution outlining the need for a new courthouse in place of the old one, and setting $300,000 as the cost cap.12]
That has the buying power of $10 million dollars today—an extraordinary increase over the roughly $6,000 ($192,000 today) for the first courthouse and the $35,000 ($1.25 million) for the second.
The County Commissioners announced the architect for the new project—Amos William Rush and his son, Edwin, from Grand Rapids, Michigan.
What the St. Joseph County Courthouse might have looked like. Rush’s buildings were often done in the Richardsonian Romanesque style incorporating influences from medieval Europe, particularly 11th and 12th century France, Spain, and Italy. For example, the Fulton County Courthouse, Rochester, Indiana. Photo courtesy Derek Jensen, CC BY 2.5. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fulton_County_Courthouse_in_Rochester.jpg
Rush County Courthouse, Rushville, Indiana. By Warren LeMay from Cullowhee, NC, United States - Rush County Courthouse, Rushville, IN, CC0. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rush_County,_Indiana#/media/File:Rush_County_Courthouse,_Rushville,_IN_(48483580986).jpg
Pulaski County Courthouse, Winimac, Indiana. By Chris Light - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pulaski_County_Courthouse_(Indiana)#/media/File:Pulaski_County_Courthouse_Winimac_Indiana_P1300092.jpg
County Commissioners sorely misjudged many citizens’ appetite for an expensive, ornate new structure. About two weeks after announcing the courthouse, nearly 100 people in Greene Township (likely mostly farmers) sent an open letter to the County Commissioners outlining their criticism.14 Among the issues was the exorbitant cost, and their strong desire to use as many materials and laborers from St. Joseph County as possible. On June 20, 1895, Liberty Township joined Greene in expressing disapproval. The next day, Warren Township shared their resolution echoing the disapproval of the first two.
On January 29, 1896, the Commissioners finally bowed to public pressure and rejected architect Rush’s exorbitant plans. They selected a new architectural firm—Shepley, Rutan, and Coolidge—whose long list of works included the current Chicago Cultural Center (formerly the Chicago Public Library) and the World's Congress Auxiliary Building, built for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair that later became (and remains) home to the Art Institute of Chicago.
Before work on the new courthouse could begin, the County still had one big question to answer: What to do with the second (1855) Courthouse? Though no future use had been set, the County decided not only to keep, but to flip it around 180 degrees to face the west side of Lafayette Street.
On November 19, 1895, Harvey Sheeler of Chicago oversaw the beginning of the months-long process. They started by cutting holes into the foundation of the building and inserting long logs, iron and steel beams. The building was lifted up, placed on rollers, and very slowly turned and moved during the cold and snowy winter months. On February 27, 1896 at 3:45pm, the old courthouse’s bell tower rang to acknowledge its new location, mirroring the previous one. The second courthouse remains at this location through today.
By the fall of 1896, contractors for the third courthouse were locked in, the location was marked by stakes in the ground, and the second jail on the south east corner of the block was put up for sale for scrap. On November 11, work officially began on the Coolidge designed third St. Joseph County Courthouse.
On November 4, 1898, after years of starts and stops and occasionally bitter fights, lights in the new court house were lit and the public invited to tour. An estimated 10,000 people came to witness the historic occasion, with hundreds able to come up to the roof and see the view—then unobstructed by any significantly taller buildings. The final cost was just under $240,000, or about $8.1 million in today’s dollars—significantly less than the $300,000 cap set by the County Commissioners that first architect Rush’s plans came very close to.
Decades later, on April 4, 1968, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated while advocating for Black sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee. During the following month, over one-hundred cities across the U.S. erupted in violent protest. South Bend may also have been one of those cities were it not for the work of Dr. Roland Chamblee and George Neagu quickly advocating and organizing a peaceful march to the steps of the third St. Joseph County Courthouse.
George Neagu was a white ally who served as the first Director of South Bend’s Human Rights Commission. After King’s murder, he recognized how the community’s frustrations could easily boil over into violent expression just as it had in July 1967. Mr. Neagu suggested a peaceful march begin with people flowing in from all different directions of the city towards the city center. He called Roland Chamblee, an African American doctor, for help.
In the evening on April 4, Dr. Chamblee and Mr. Neagu went to Mayor Lloyd Allen’s house to plead for city support. When Mayor Allen’s wife greeted them at the door, she told the men that Mayor Allen was busy dressing for a party that evening. They tried impressing upon her the importance of their purpose in visiting, and yet Mayor Allen still did not come downstairs.
Dr. Chamblee was apparently usually very mild-mannered, but seeing the Mayor give more preference for his outfit that evening over a potentially violent uprising in his city, Dr. Chamblee raised his voice and firmly expressed to Mrs. Allen the importance of his presence. With his tie still untied, Mayor Allen finally came downstairs—bothered at the interruption, and apparently still unpersuaded about the seriousness of the impact of Dr. King’s assassination. In an oral history, George Neagu later recalled their pleading to Mayor Allen: “Look, the city’s exploding…and you’re going to a social event, and we need your cooperation on this. …[T]here’s no compromise. We have to have some way of channeling this, you know. We’re talking about…saving another riot, preventing another.” Mayor Allen relented, and he agreed to make a statement on behalf of the city.
The march began early the next morning at five separate starting points representing multiple racial and faith communities, including Sinai Synagogue (at the corner of Eddy and LaSalle Streets on South Bend’s east side), the former St. Paul’s Bethel Baptist Church (across the street from St. Augustine’s on West Washington), and others. Participants were encouraged to gather at 9:30am at a starting point nearest their home, then march in unison towards downtown joining the other groups at the final destination—the third St. Joseph County courthouse.
From the South Bend Tribune. Used by permission.
Mayor Allen made his statement, calling King’s assassination “a tragic and senseless act of violence.”
The Reverend Charles Rowlett of Pilgrim Baptist Church (who considered Dr. King a friend) said, “Many times I have sat at the feet of his father and listened to the wonder of his words. Martin Luther King gave his life for the gospel saint, for what he stood for, what he lived for, what he will always live for.” Charles Wills from the NAACP said that Dr. King:
[B]elieved what we believed, no man is free unless the least of them is free. There are little black boys and girls who don’t learn about Memphis, they learn about South Bend. For there are little black boys and girls in South Bend who can’t read or write and that is what Martin Luther King would want us all to know.
Some of the people who gathered to listen were construction workers working on the nearby County-City building—a fourth courthouse and city office structure that, by its completion in 1970, towered over anything previously erected on this block. For nearly two centuries, the physical structures on this one block in South Bend were all intended to stand for justice. When Edwin Crocker wrote about the Powell family seeking justice from enslavement here, he wrote that, “The citizens of South Bend generally, without distinction of party evinced the strongest feeling of sympathy for the oppressed.” Though there were times when that statement may have been true, the incredible damage done to people in general—and people of color in particular—by our punitive legal structure and system of mass incarceration requires some deep reflection about how infrequently those courthouses have ever truly been places of justice.
 History of St. Joseph County, Indiana (Chicago: Chas. C. Chapman & Co., 1880), 364-66.
 Emma Lou Thornbrough, The Negro in Indiana before 1900: A Study of a Minority (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993), 63–68. [ADD BRIEF NOTE ON COLFAX AND LOCAL THOUGHTS TO THIS]
 Edwin Crocker, Review of the South Bend Fugitive Slave Case (South Bend, IN: A. Beal, Book and Job Printer and Bookbinder, 1873), https://michianamemory.sjcpl.org/digital/collection/p16827coll4/id/0., 2.
 Ibid., 5.
 Ibid., 8.
 Ibid., 15.
 Ibid., 21.
 History of St. Joseph County, Indiana (Chicago: Chas. C. Chapman & Co., 1880), 534-35; “A Look Back: 1855 Courthouse in South Bend Has Had Many Uses,” South Bend Tribune, April 2, 2018, https://www.southbendtribune.com/story/news/local/2018/04/02/a-look-back-1855-courthouse-in-south-bend-has-had-many-uses/45723727/.
 In 1873, Circuit Court Judge Thomas Stillwell Stanfield ordered a redesign of the building, adding rooms, new staircases, and rearranging other portions of the layout of the building.
 History of St. Joseph County, Indiana, 410.
 Ibib., 448-49. South Bend’s Auten Road is named after him. See “Road Namesakes | St. Joseph County, IN,” accessed April 7, 2022, https://www.sjcindiana.com/1296/Road-Namesakes.
 “A New Court House,” The South Bend Tribune, May 24, 1895, 5.
 “No New Court House,” The South Bend Tribune, June 13, 1895, 1.
 The issue of using local Indiana stone versus importing from other places dominated many pages of the Tribune for many months.
 “Liberty Protests,” The South Bend Tribune, July 20, 1895, 5.
 “Voice from Warren,” The South Bend Tribune, July 27, 1895, 3. The U.S. was in the second of what would become four years of one of the worst economic depressions in history—certainly the worst until that point. The farmers were not unreasonable by suggesting a modest building—or even rehabilitating the current one—rather than building an ornate and expensive new one.
 Charles Allerton Coolidge would visit South Bend several times over the coming months.
 “To Move the Old Courthouse,” The South Bend Tribune, November 11, 1895, 4.
 Harvey Sheeler previously moved the Immanuel Baptist Church in Chicago, and ended up moving several more structures over the course of his career. For more, see “This Chicago Building Was Literally Rolled Away From Demolition,” WBEZ Chicago, June 6, 2019, https://www.wbez.org/stories/whats-that-building-cassidy-tire-at-344-n-canal/7b88ffb8-c0f5-4ffe-a79c-2218660fe181.
 “The Work In Progress,” The South Bend Tribune, November 19, 1895, 4.
 “Looking Westward,” The South Bend Tribune, February 29, 1896, 5.
 “Safe at Home,” The South Bend Tribune, February 28, 1896, 5.
 “Court House Bids Revised,” The South Bend Tribune, September 16, 1896, 4; “Setting the Stakes,” The South Bend Tribune, November 6, 1896, 1; “No Bids for the Jail,” The South Bend Tribune, November 9, 1896, 1; “Court House Work Begun,” The South Bend Tribune, November 11, 1896, 1.
 “Court House Open To-Night,” The South Bend Tribune, November 4, 1898, 1; “Thousands View It,” The South Bend Tribune, November 5, 1898, 1. The November 4 article makes the open invitation clear: “Everybody is invited, especially the ladies, by the commissioners to look through the building.”
 “Indiana's Model County,” The South Bend Tribune, February 7, 1899, 4. By June 1899, there were still no firm plans of how to best use the second courthouse. Some people suggested giving it to the Northern Indiana Historical Society for their use. In 1906, they did just that. The second courthouse was used as a local history museum until 1994 when the Historical Society built a new museum adjacent to the former J.D. Oliver mansion on the corner of West Washington and Chapin. The second courthouse was eventually reused for its original purpose as a courthouse—and continues to do so through to this writing. It is called Courthouse 2 in a three building complex including the 1896 courthouse (Courthouse 1) and part of the County-City building (Courthouse 3).
 George Neagu, interview by Dr. Les Lamon and Candice Leuthold, February 25, 2002, Oral History collection, Civil Rights Heritage Center Collections, Indiana University South Bend Archives.
 Roger Birdsell, “4,000 March to Courthouse,” The South Bend Tribune, April 5, 1968, 1.
 “Spokesmen for City Express Unified Sorrow for King’s Death,” The South Bend Tribune, April 5, 1968, 26.
 Jeffrey Stone, “Start Memorial Service Plans Quickly,” The South Bend Tribune, April 5, 1968, 26.
 Interestingly, the County/City building cost almost $3.7 million in 1970—worth over $26 million today in yet another exponential growth in the size, cost, and complexity of a building meant to serve a population that had also grown exponentially. See “Saint Joseph County | US Courthouses,” accessed April 7, 2022, http://www.courthouses.co/us-states/h-l/indiana/st-joseph-county/.
 Crocker, 8.