The Van Wert County Courthouse
The Van Wert County Courthouse

VAN WERT – Those passing the Van Wert County Courthouse on East Main Street these days are witnessing a unique style of architecture referred to as “Second Empire Structure.” The building, constructed in 1876, is actually the county’s third courthouse. The village of Willshire was designated as the original county seat. Then in 1838, that designation was shifted to Van Wert where the second county courthouse included a courthouse and jail complex.

T.J. Tolan, of Fort Wayne, designed the courthouse after the Second Empire style, a square structure with towers on all four corners. Its architecture combines copious amounts of brick and stone. The foundation and the walls of the first floor are stone, along with pilasters, columns and quoins on the upper parts of the exterior, while the walls of the remaining stories and of the tower are built of brick.

The Second Empire Style in the United States and Canada is an architectural style most popular between 1865 and 1900. Second Empire architecture developed from the redevelopment of Paris under Napoleon III’s Second Empire and looked to French Renaissance precedents, according to Wikipedia files.

“It was characterized by a mansard roof, elaborate ornament and strong massing and was notably used for public buildings as well as commercial and residential design,” states Wikipedia.

In the 19th century, the standard way to refer to this style of architecture was simply, “French” or “Modern French” but later known simply as, “Second Empire.”

“The central feature of the Second Empire style is the mansard roof, a four-sided gambrel roof with a shallow or flat top usually pierced by dormer windows. This roof type originated in 16th century France and was fully developed in the 17th century by Francois Mansart, after whom it is named. The greatest virtue of the mansard is that it allows an extra full story of space without raising the height of the building,” states history on the courthouse.

A second feature is the use of pavilions, a segment of the façade that is different from surrounding segments by a change in height, stylistic features or roof design, and are typically advanced from the main plane of the façade.

The Van Wert County Courthouse became the first building in Van Wert Count to be listed on the Nastional Register of Historic Places. It received that designation in 1974 and qualified because of the well-kept historic architecture.