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Thursday, August 11, 2022

Saved from the Wrecking Ball

Made from Indiana limestone, 14 allegorical figures top the Old Courthouse. Craftsman Franz Englesmann began sculpting for the impressive courthouse in 1888. 

A year later, just blocks away, leaders at the Vulcan Plow Co. on First Street received a majestic 9-foot, 6-inch statue. The hollow metal figure had a long, god-like beard, but he wore a simple apron. His pious features were by design: Vulcan was the ancient Roman god of fire. He became the trademark of the Evansville-based company, and the imposing figure overlooked the riverfront until 1957 when the Vulcan building met the same fate as many historic structures. It was torn down as another victim of an urban-renewal project. 

During that same time, community leaders were eyeing the courthouse for demolition. What saved it was the high cost of razing, says Kelley Coures, president of the Old Courthouse Foundation. By 2011, the Old Courthouse had an 85-percent occupancy rate. 

But the Old Courthouse hasn’t been the only thing worth saving. Shortly before the scheduled demolition of the Vulcan building, Dr. Frederick L. Kiechle, a pathologist, saved the Vulcan statue from the wrecking ball and placed the behemoth in his family garden. From there, the Vulcan changed ownership several times until it landed under the protection of the Old Courthouse Preservation Society (now known as the Old Courthouse Foundation). Today, the Vulcan statue stands in the basement of the Old Courthouse.

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