OCT. 27, 1872
AGED 74 Ys
For almost 190 years, except for a brief period when a storm blew it off and when a third courthouse was being built, a 5 foot, 6-inch cooper fish has been atop the Monroe County, Indiana, courthouse. The weathervane was constructed by Austin Seward, one of the first pioneers to settle in Woodville, before our fair city got its current name of Bloomington.
Seward, dubbed Vulcanus Allheart by a local author of an early history of Bloomington, was a blacksmith who founded the Seward Foundry in 1822. Seward produced all sorts of iron and metal items, including plough shares, fencing, and guns. Seward also fashioned his most famous work, the courthouse fish, out of cooper which was placed on top of the cupola of the second courthouse built in Bloomington in 1826. The exact date the fish went up is still in dispute but most agree it was somewhere between 1826 and 1830—a long time ago. The fish was gilded in 1884 and sparkled from its perch.
In 1906 a new Beaux Arts-style courthouse designed by the Fort Wayne architectural firm of Wing and Mahurin and built by contractors George W. Caldwell and Lester Drake to occupy the square in the center of the city. The fish was saved and placed into its position of honor on top of the copper dome at the completion of the new building.
The fish is a curiosity, especially given that Bloomington is landlocked and not exactly a Mecca for fishing. It is likely, however, that Austin Seward, a Presbyterian church elder, chose the fish because it has been long considered a symbol of Christianity. Jesus Christ was a fisher of men. The fish is also a relatively flat animal and perfect for a weathervane to catch the wind.
Austin Seward (circa 1799 – 1872) a native of Kentucky who moved to Bloomington and opened his foundry in 1822, is buried in the tiny Dunn Cemetery on the Indiana University campus. Seward was notable for being the director of the first Bloomington band, and elder of the First Presbyterian Church, but most remembered for the fish weathervane on the top of the courthouse dome and center of the city square. After nearly 200 years, it is safe to say that his work has stood the test of time.