02 May 2013

From Falls of the Iroquois to Rensselaer

Downtown Rensselaer
Rensselaer.  I have to admit it took me several weeks typing that over and over again before I stopped mis-spelling it.  The little Hoosier city is the county seat of Jasper County.  Its founders decided to confuse future generations of outsiders by deviating the plat, established in 1839, at an angle from true north.  James Van Rensselaer and his son, John, purchased land surrounding a series of short falls and rapids along the Iroquois River in 1835.  Here they platted a town which the state recognized as the county seat of Newton County (prior to the separation of Jasper on the east).  The Van Rensselaers named the town the "Falls of the Iroquois" but the state chose "Newton".  In 1841 the state was petitioned to change the name to Rensselaer....for which it has remained named.

Jasper County Courthouse, 1896
While many of Rensselaer's downtown buildings date to the mid 1800s, the most notable development in the commercial hub of the county happened in 1896 when a new, quite magnificent courthouse was constructed on the public square.  It was designed by Grindle & Weatherhogg of Fort Wayne and was their only Indiana courthouse commission.

An unusual English cottage style diner, c. 1925.

As is often the case when new courthouses are established in a downtown area, the commercial buildings around the courthouse go through substantial renovations often to mirror the new architecture of the courthouse if not in style, certainly in impressive detail.  Such was the case opposite the courthouse in Rensselaer when three notable buildings sprung up.
A great moment in Jasper County history was when President Dwight D. Eisenhower spoke at the courthouse in 1962 to honor Rensselaer resident Charles Halleck.  Halleck was a member of the US House of Representatives from 1935-1969.  The downtown was placed on the National Register in 2011.

Buildings opposite the then-new courthouse include the bank (left) and the Odd Fellows' Lodge (right)

1 comment:

Kestrel said...

Really "Falls"? It is a muddy ditch of river......