Another block of a pre-Civil War downtown square in New Castle is in danger of demolition. Known as the Courthouse Annex, the now-vacant building was constructed to match the city’s historic courthouse that sits just across the street. The building was included on the Indiana Landmarks 10 Most Endangered list for 2021.
New Castle is perhaps best known for its basketball roots, being home to the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. However, at the turn of the century, the city was a vibrant, economically thriving community thanks to the gas boom and also a center of manufacturing prowess, producing everything from cars to caskets.
“This building was built during a time when New Castle was experiencing a real boom,” said local preservationist Richard McKnight. “We had the largest automobile factory in the world. Back in the 1900s, New Castle was one of the fastest-growing cities in Indiana.”
But once the gas wells dried up and major industry made its exit, the city found itself on a downward spiral, the effects of which are still evident even today.
“We’ve lost an entire block of downtown buildings to demolition. So, it’s important to maintain what we have left,” McKnight said. “This building has a lot of potential but as you can see, time’s running out.”
County Commissioner Steve Dellinger says the hope is to have a decision on what to do with the Courthouse Annex in the next few months.
“They’ve been sitting empty long enough now that we’re wanting to pull the trigger on it as quick as we can to try to get somebody interested that wants it,” said Dellinger. “We’ve talked about possibly even putting it up for auction.”
Carrie Barrett, executive director of New Castle Main Street, says historic preservation is economic development. She says taking a vacant building that is mainly used for storage of county records from the last 20-30 years would be a major boon.
“”That building coming back to life means that New Castle is coming back to life,” said Barrett. “I often think that the way your downtown looks indicates the health of your community. So, if you have a bunch of vacant, empty buildings that are boarded up, perhaps the health of your community low. Having a building alive again I think would be reflective of where our community is because I feel that New Castle and Henry County is alive again…alive and well.”