17 Jul 2019
Downtown Crawfordsville, Indiana has that Hallmark movie feel to it. Old buildings dating back to the 1860’s line Washington and Main Streets. Almost every space is occupied by a business, whether it be Wabash Music, Athens Art Gallery or Little Mexico Restaurant.
As a new hour arrives, the clock tower on top of the Montgomery County Courthouse on the corner of Washington and Main rings the hour in. This pleasant sound was missing for over three-quarters of a century until a promise was fulfilled on May 2018.
The courthouse, which was built in 1876, originally had an ornate clock tower right off of the front porch overhang. The clock, which had to be hand-wound every 48 hours, was the focal point of the town and many Crawfordsville residents kept time by listening to the bells ring in the new hour.
However, in 1941, everything changed. An artist named Fritz Schlemmer came to town in order to paint a portrait of the courthouse. He believed the tower appeared to be leaning to one side and reported it. Since World War II was the main focus of the nation at the time, no money or effort was given to inspect the structural integrity of the clock tower. Instead, it was hastily and unceremoniously removed and the bell was melted down to make ammunition to support the war effort.
Now, the courthouse sat on the corner essentially decapitated. The tower base remained, leaving the courthouse looking incomplete. Along with that, no more music filled the air of The Athens of Indiana. Dr. James Marion Kirtley, a native of Crawfordsville, was off at war when the tower was removed. When he arrived back home, he was devastated to see his beloved courthouse was decapitated. After seeing this, he vowed to see a tower back on the courthouse someday.
Dr. Kirtley stayed very busy after returning from the war, working as a physician and politician. This meant that his aspirations to see the tower restored was put on the back burner for several years. This changed in 1996 when the Montgomery County Courthouse Clock Tower Committee was formed to raise money and awareness to restore the landmark.
In 2000, Dr. Kirtley lost his battle with Leukemia, but he still wanted the tower to be restored. The night before he passed away, he asked his dear friend Sandy Lofland-Brown to promise him that the tower would be restored, and she told him the tower would be restored even if they had to sell pencils on the corner to bring awareness to the project-which they did.
The clock tower committee never gave up, even when it looked like all hope was lost. But on May 17, 2018, the promise was officially fulfilled. After nearly twenty-two years and more than a half-million dollars later, a new clock tower was put up on the courthouse. The near-exact replica of the original tower was fabricated by Kentucky-based Campbellsville Industries and was raised onto the original tower base in a couple hours’ time while people crowded the sidewalks to watch, and even motorists pulled over to get a glimpse of the action. Mrs. Brown looked on with tears in her eyes while standing alongside Mayor Todd Barton and Ray Kirtley-the son of Dr. Kirtley.
Once again, bells and chimes echo through the Indiana breeze in Crawfordsville, the courthouse is complete once again, and the skyline is forever changed. Dr. Kirtley is smiling down on Mrs. Brown, the committee and everyone who donated time and money to see his vision through. That is the power of love.