The Decatur County Courthouse and It's Tower Tree
Early in the 1870's, citizens noticed what seemed to be a small sprig on the northwest corner of the Courthouse tower. Soon it became evident that the small sprig was growing. So too was interest in this phenomenon.
Residents regarded the growth as a rare freak of nature. That explanation was quickly refuted by the appearance of more sprouts on the tower. Finally, five were counted, making a small grove growing at an altitude 110 feet above the courthouse lawn.
County officials became fearful the trees might cause permanent damage to the tower roof. In 1888, a steeplejack was employed to help workers ascend the building and remove some of the shurbs. Of the two remaining, one attained a height of about 15 feet with diameter of almost five inches at the base. This tree continued to weather the storms of different seasons for years.
At the same time, another tree made an appearance on the southeast corner of the tower, and in a few years grew to a considerable height. And during its maturation, another tree sprung up on the southwest corner. These two new trees endured, as did the county's legacy as the home of the Courthouse tree.
Over time, the process has been repeated, leaving a tree sitting atop the Courthouse for more than 130 straight years. The tree you see today is No. 11 in the long line of Courthouse trees.
The Smithsonian Institute of Washington, D.C. was called upon for a scientific classification. The determination: the trees were large tooth aspens. No definitive explanation has been offered as to how the seeds of the first trees found their way to their lofty position.
The first Courthouse in Decatur County was actually a home. According to the Lewis Harding's "A History of Decatur County" which was published in 1915, it was on May 14, 1822 when the first board of county commissioners met at the house of Thomas Hendricks, a double log building. The commissioner's court records show the specifications that were drawn up for a proposed courthouse. On March 7, the order was issued to receive bids for the construction on the building on the Public Square in the downtown of Greensburg.
Several different buildings were there until the current structure was built in 1874. In 1994, a major renovation and expansion at the north end, more than doubling the size of the facility. at that time, the decision was made to replace the existing stucco exterior with brick, which was also the original outer material.
Today, the Courthouse is the county's most recognizable building and is noteworthy for more than just the tree on its roof. It has been a popular place for political hopefuls to stump for votes. One of the most famous visits to the downtown square was made by presidential hopeful Robert Kennedy in May of 1968, just one month before his assassination.
It was on the Courthouse lawn that brave men camped out to defend their families from threats of possible attack by Morgan's Raiders.
Over the years, the Decatur County Courthouse has truly become the hub of the community.