Greek goddesses and bare-bosomed muses adorn the Old Courthouse, a roughly 15,000-square-foot building with five majestic copper domes towering 216 feet in the air. “When you look at a courthouse like this, it says justice,” says Kelley Coures, the president of the Old Courthouse Foundation. With all its grandeur, the 1891-built courthouse was on the chopping block in the 1960s when a movement for newer facilities paved way for developments Downtown. What saved the courthouse from demolition, says Coures, was the high cost to tear down such a behemoth, but without the tenants who departed for the Civic Center Complex, the courthouse fell into decay.
Thanks to the efforts of volunteers like Coures, the building is 85 percent occupied today. Grants and donations helped restore what Coures calls “the significant rooms,” including the Wedgwood Room, used as a banquet hall, and a restoration of the courtroom. The latter comes from funds raised by members of the Evansville Bar Association in honor of the 100-year anniversary of the attorney organization in 2011. Renamed for the Indiana chief justice and Evansville native Randall Shepard in April, the room will serve for mock trials or, possibly, for appeals.
As much as the foundation has done for the restoration, Coures credits the tenants — from architects to haunted house operators — for improving the building. Such tenants include the Evansville Police and Fire Departments. Following a successful 2008 Guns & Hoses, a charitable boxing event that pits police officers and firefighters in the ring, the EPD’s Bill Bolin sought a year-round practice facility. The rental price he wanted: free.
He called Coures, an Evansville native, who showed Bolin the Old Courthouse basement. Like other rooms in the courthouse, plaster fell from the ceiling, and the floor showed cracks from more than a century of use. Bolin took it. He had plenty of help from the EPD and EFD. They replaced the floor with tile and built a drop ceiling. They brought in a practice ring and numerous punching bags. When thousands show to watch the annual Guns & Hoses, Coures knows the Old Courthouse played an important part.