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Inside the Decatur County Courthouse

It's been described as a curiosity of nature, a conversation piece and even a tourist destination.  But the Decatur County Courthouse tree has been something else for all these years.

It's been described as a curiosity of nature, a conversation piece and even a tourist destination.  But the Decatur County Courthouse tree has been something else for all these years. 

It's been a constant. WTHR decided to take a look from the inside out.

"What is with that tree up there?"

It's a question visitors to Greensburg, Indiana have been asking for over a hundred years.  The Decatur County Courthouse was built in 1860 and boasted of the tree at its top since 1870. 

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It certainly captured Barb Fields' attention.

"But what I want to know is what damage has it caused inside?  Or does it leak?  And I wonder what insurance company would insure that?  I would think if that building belonged to me they would say, 'Lady, you gotta get that out of the roof,'" Fields exclaimed as we both looked skyward toward the wayward tree.

"Okay, I have never been up in this part," Janet Chadwell, the Decatur County auditor, told me as she served as our tour guide for the first few levels.

So how far are we up now?  "At the vents. I don't know," Chadwell responds.

We reach the Bell Tower and that was as far as Janet cared to go. 

"It usually gongs on the hour and half hour," she informs us.

From here on out we are on our own.

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"You can tell I am climbing an extremely steep ladder.  It appears I am about to run out of ladder.  Oh no. I am not!" WTHR Photographer Ben Reiff says.

Then we reached the inside of the clock face.

"This is the inner workings of the clock and how they set the clock up there.  That is kind of the old fashioned way but that is where they change the time twice a year when we change our clocks," Melanie Maxwell from the Decatur County Visitors and Tourism Office explains.

It's beautiful, really.  To see the bell was really cool, but now to see the clock gives you an idea on the outside of where we are on the inside. We continue to climb the ladders which keep getting smaller and smaller as we climb higher and higher.

If you talk to the locals 110 feet below us on the ground, they love to share the story of how the tree is watered.  So I tried it.

"You know where it gets its water," I asked Barb Fields. "Something about the springs of the clock.  Did you see that?  I thought that was weird," she says.

"That's it. That's the peak," Ben Reiff says he emerges onto the top level.

And at the very top all you can see on the inside are bricks.

So here we are at the very top of the Decatur County Courthouse and the tree is right outside - and the surprising thing is you can't see it from the inside.

What is the biggest fallacy about all of this, I ask Melanie Maxwell?  "That the roots are showing underneath and there is dirt.  And people always ask how it got there.  Either the wind blew some seeds up there or the birds, who knows," Maxwell tries to explain.

It certainly gives you pause.

Back down on the ground Barb Fields explains it this way.  "It is quite a phenomenon.  Only in Indiana.  Only in Indiana!" 

Twelve trees in all have dominated the Greensburg Courthouse skyline for the last one hundred years but it isn't the only show in town.  Not anymore.  A 13th seedling seems to be sprouting up just across the street.  It makes sense.  Isn't imitation still the biggest form of flattery?

The courthouse tree in Greensburg is trimmed once a year to help prevent any possible structural problems.

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