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Evansville
Sunday, December 4, 2022

The Grand Dame Stands

The thick cloud of dust emerging from the imploded Old National Bank tower on Nov. 21 slowly rolled across Downtown Evansville, spreading block by block and sending spectators scrambling. When it settled, what poignantly emerged first was the Old Vanderburgh County Courthouse, 131 years old and still going strong.

The building has borne witness to countless eras, and its resplendent Beaux Arts architecture was always at odds with 420 Main’s corporate-favored modernist exterior. Yet the courthouse has stayed rooted on Court Street, its stability sound and historical impact preserved. Perhaps that’s the most striking image: A relic of 19th century design watching a testament to 20th century modern architecture gradually fall into disrepair.

In truth, the dust cloud provided a moment of quiet in Downtown Evansville’s transition. Out of the post-implosion silence emerged a new look for our city’s urban center. A beacon was gone, but that made every other surrounding structure seem proportional, unobscured, and within reach. Perhaps a tinge of sadness hung in the air, but on that rainy morning, a new day dawned for fresh plans. Out of the dust, a blank slate emerged. Anything was possible.

As it has since 1890, the Old Vanderburgh County courthouse will be keeping watch over the new development at Fifth and Main streets; at 216 feet, it’s now the second tallest building in the neighborhood. The grand dame of Downtown Evansville still stands and, perhaps, finds it just fine to no longer sit in the sleeping giant’s shadow.

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