Ocean County Courthouse
The Ocean County Courthouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2013, The Gombach Group.
Centrally located on a 3.6 acre plot, the Ocean County Courthouse situated on Washington Street, Toms River, NJ, is 81 feet long by 52 feet wide. The county courts occupy three buildings within the Courthouse complex. Additional buildings include an 1851 jailhouse, new county jail, and sheriff offices.
On a more modest scale, the Ocean County Courthouse was modeled after the Greek Revival style of the Hudson County Courthouse. Originally, the building contained a large courtroom on the second floor with auxiliary offices on the first floor. The walls and ceiling of the courtroom were decorated with intricate plaster carvings of ribbons, birds, and cupids. A fire in 1927 destroyed these features and the room was remodeled. The exterior of the original Courthouse has not been altered. Due to the increased volume of county business, however, two adjoining wings were added in the 1950's and 1960's.
The area around the Ocean County Courthouse complex is developed as additional county owned buildings, municipal buildings, professional offices, and parking lots. Along the south side of Washington Street, some historic buildings such as the Presbyterian Church (1852-1857), and the Town Hall (c.1905), had their wood exterior fabric bricked over in the 1940's, disguising their unique period details. This alteration became the trend for other sites in the immediate area.
The original Ocean County Courthouse c. 1850-51 is centrally located between two main additions constructed in the early 1950s. These two-story brick wings are 13 bays wide. The west wing is L-shaped and the east wing rectangular in form. Two multi-level buildings adjoin the north (rear) elevation of the east wing and were constructed to accommodate new courtrooms and law enforcement offices.
The two wings are connected to the original courthouse by enclosed walkways measuring 12' by 10'. The east wing walkway is located on the second story, hidden behind an arched brick wall, with a breezeway below. On the west wing, exposed walkways are located on both the first and second stories. The first story walkway is recessed 24' from the main elevation and the second story walkway, 12' from the courthouse facade.
The inconsistent treatment of these walkways and the close proximity of the wings to the historic building inhibits a full appreciation of the total proportion and massing of the original courthouse. From the streetscape, however, the overall visual impact is compatible with the old courthouse, being visually distinctive from the contemporary additions because of its Greek Revival details. Its tall Doric columns support a full entablature and pediment gable preserving the essential architectural concept of this popular mid-19th century style. These distinctive features allow the historic building to be viewed as an independent entity from the other buildings on the block-long property.
While the adjoining wings and other buildings are compatible in scale, in use of materials, in roof shapes and window and door placements, they are not significant architecturally or historically. Since the old courthouse is significant for its historic architectural design, which can be easily discernible from the adjoining wings,it would be confusing to the public to have the whole courthouse complex included in the designation.
The Ocean County Courthouse is a significant building both in architectural design and historical association. The Courthouse, with its formal and elegant appearance, reflects the mid-nineteenth century interest in Classical architecture. With its tall Doric columns supporting a massive pedimented portico, the Ocean County Courthouse is an excellent example of the temple form that was the most distinguishing feature of the Greek Revival style.
Historically, the building has served continuously for over 128 years as the county "hall of justice" and place of county government business.
The building has also served as a meeting place for political and social gatherings. In the nineteenth century, Republicans and Democrats held their county conventions in the building. During the Civil War, the Courthouse was the scene of Union recruiting rallies. Company F, Fourteenth N.J. Volunteers, under the command of Captain Ralph Gowdy, organized and were drilled in front of the Courthouse steps. Locally, being the most important and impressive building in the community, civic and religious social events were held in the building's auditorium.
Brown, Alfred W. "Historical Ocean County," May, 1945.
New Jersey Courier (Toms River), March 17, 1869.
Ocean County Courthouse. Deed records. Minute Book I Board of Chosen Freeholders. Toms River, N.J.
† Ocean County Courthouse, Toms River, NJ, nomination document, 1983, NR #93001610, nrhp.focus.nps.gov, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, accessed March, 2013.