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History by the numbers

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COURT: Retired local attorney Jeff Price leads a tour of the Miami County Courthouse on Monday, June 10, 2019.
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INSIDE: Jeff Price shares history about the building of the Miami County Courthouse between 1908 and 1910 during a tour on Monday.

BY JARED KEEVER - jkeever@perutribune.com

Jeff Price has spent plenty time in the Miami County Courthouse over the years.

If you asked him to add up all the hours, days or months or years, he might even coax some sort of pattern out of the figures.

He’s got a bit of a knack for it. And noticing patterns, it seems, is what drew him into the architecture and history of the courthouse where he practiced law for decades.

“Maybe it’s OCD, I don’t know,” he said Monday morning, joking as he led a group of amateur local historians and courthouse workers on one of his tours.

Retired from the law these days, it is something Price says he does a few times a year – sometimes for school children and sometimes for interested residents.

Hints of the law, though, remain. He prefaced his talk with the assertion that anything he was sharing was only his opinion – something a lawyer, he said, would just call a disclaimer.

After meeting on the first floor, the small group headed outside for his brief talk on the courthouse’s 1908 cornerstone and photos from the time it was put in place.

The town had a well-attended party, he said. There were plenty of people, but the absence of one thing hinted at the era.

“It appeared from pictures there might have been four cars that were here,” he said.

From there he turned his attention to the outside of the east entrance and started listing off patterns he sees in the number of ornamental elements in the facade.

The theme – which centers mostly around the numbers six, 10 and 16 – would continue throughout his tour, which, once inside, started on the third floor and then continued back down the stairs and out through the west entrance.

Inside the Miami Circuit Court courtroom, Price explained how elements of the building’s design started to catch his eye.

“I’m sitting there in Circuit Court waiting for my case,” he said, and he eventually started counting things.

He noticed balusters on railings – oftentimes double sets of three – or other items that would number 10.

And doorways? Four sets of four in many hallways, making 16.

“And notice if you count the lights in the fixture,” he said, pointing at a brass fixture hanging from the ceiling outside a courtroom, “there are six, one of our numbers.

Price says it all happens too often throughout the building to be a coincidence and believes now that the patterns pay homage to Greek architecture and the 16th century Italian architect Andrea Palladio, to whom, his studies have shown, such things were important.

“It can’t be an accident,” he said.

And it’s likely no accident that Price sticks to the numbers as he sprinkles the tour with history.

He explains how a disagreement led to two sets of county officials’ names getting inscribed on the wall inside the buildings’s west entrance. He talks about the pneumatic clock system that once existed in the building which was not completed until 1910 (a form that was part of the building’s registration to the National Register of Historic Places says it was the fourth courthouse to serve the county). And he gives little lessons on architecture and points out interesting elements seen throughout the building.

But the students he gives the tours to, like him, often get like the numbers.

While some are interested in the back staircase that connects to a tunnel that ran underground to the old jail at Fifth and Wabash, he said, most get hung up on the balusters surrounding the three story rotunda.

On each of the four sides on a given floor there are two outside sections of three balusters each. One would assume, Price points out, that the larger center section would then have 10 balusters. But they don’t. There are 11, for a total of 17 per side.

“It drives them nuts,” he said of his younger tour participants.

It seems it drove Price nuts too for quite some time. But one day in circuit court, he said, he counted the squares in the central pattern on the courtroom’s plaster ceiling. There were 68.

That’s when it clicked for him and he saw another pattern. The 17 balusters on four railings made up the same number.

“And my question is …” he led Monday’s tour into a question. “No, I don’t buy it, it was on purpose.”

He does the same thing for the students when teachers ask him to give a tour.

“I thought the kids might find this interesting,” he said. “And the numbers just make it easy.