Historical portraits of the United States in the 1920s and ‘30s are riddled with the exploits of gangsters, hoodlums, and other shadowy figures of the underworld. More Photos
The “Dillinger era” made little impression on the small city of Goshen, Indiana – until after it ended. It was in 1939 that, in the center of town, and odd octagonal form appeared, reporting for duty as sentry over the serenity and security of Goshen.
On December 6, 1938, Mayor Clell Firestone announced plans for the installation of a small, fortified building to protect the banks at the corners of Main and Lincoln streets. Construction costs would be paid by one of several Works Progress Administration grants that were at work in those years. WPA funds allocated to the booth were $1,794 and the city provided another $1,500. Holding expenses down was the donation of limestone by the city of Bedford, Indiana.
Today, in its limestone panels and green glass, the booth is at first sight an oddity…looking more like it belongs along a great canal or seaway, controlling locks or drawbridge.
Actually, the booth’s location and construction were designed to put police within clear sight – and shooting range – of the entrances to Salem Bank and Trust, and First National Bank, at opposite corners of the city’s busiest intersection. Goshen’s Main Street was actually a minuscule segment of the transcoastal Lincoln Highway. Goshen’s shops, banks and Main Street homes thrived in full view of vacationers, freight trucks, and criminals, destined for New York, San Francisco, and places in between. The country moved through Goshen. (Much interregional truck traffic still does today.)
The irony that lives on in our hometown fortress is that its location was perfect, but its timing was off by several years. Dillinger’s presence in Warsaw, where he stole guns from the city jail, and in South Bend, where he robbed banks, sent shock waves through northern Indiana. But his reign as the leading icon of the Midwest underworld ended in 1934, when he was gunned down in Chicago. This was the same year that Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow went down in a hail of bullets, in Louisiana. Al Capone was rendered harmless as early as 1931, by disease that took his mind off running rum and guns down the nation’s backroads. The end of the 1930s brought recovery from the Great Depression, buoyed by a new optimism, and expansion of the money supply – and the prospect of a work war. Nevertheless, in 1939, the mayor’s response to the end of the Dillinger era was to introduce the Goshen Police Booth.
The booth, then, is a testament to the extensive fear and mythology that became lodged in the national psyche long after “the Untouchables” pulled the most active criminals off the streets.
The police booth was placed in operation on February 25, 1939 as the central dispatching station of the Goshen Police Department. There were only five on the force; they took turns manning the booth 24 hours a day. As time went on, traffic violators would ascend an enclosed stairway to pay their fines to the officer on duty.
In 1982 a committee was established by the city to determine a new role for the structure. The committee’s recommendations were followed, and today the historic Goshen Police Booth belongs to the Goshen Historical Society.
In downtown Goshen, there is a building so small that it couldn’t seat even half of an Amish family. Yet it has stood through many of our nation’s most turbulent times. And it has survived a few battles of words and philosophies about what our downtown should look like. Our police booth hasn’t the Victorian stature that dominates Main Street, and it pales in the shadow of one of the country’s most charming courthouses.
But this enigma is unlike any in the entire world, and it is ours.