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Schoharie County Courthouse


The Schoharie County Courthouse Complex (Main Street between Spring Street and Cemetery Lane) was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [1] Adaptation copyright © 2009, The Gombach Group.

Description

The Schoharie County Courthouse Complex is located on the southeast side of Main Street at the center of the village of Schoharie business district. The Schoharie County Courthouse Complex encompasses two contributing buildings, the Schoharie County Courthouse of 1870 and the Schoharie County Clerk's Office of 1934. Both the Schoharie County Courthouse and the County Clerk's Office remain in active use for county government functions. The boundary is drawn to include only the two buildings and the land they occupy, as well as the immediate front (west) lawn of the county government complex along Main Street.

The Schoharie County Courthouse is situated with its principal (front) elevation oriented west toward Main Street. The building is set back 40 feet from the street behind a lawn, and is approached by means of a central paved walk. Cast iron lamp posts with multiple luminaires flank the walk near the entrance to the building. The Schoharie County Courthouse property is flanked by a nineteenth-century hotel building to the north. The modern Schoharie County government office building, a three story, austere, tan brick structure (1987; excluded from the nominated parcel), occupies the space between the courthouse and the clerk's office located at the northeast corner of Main and Spring Streets. Despite its architectural incompatibility, the modern office building maintains the same setback/facade line of the adjacent historic buildings.

In plan, the historic Schoharie County Courthouse building consists of a square main block built of cut stone. A two-story structure above a raised basement, the Schoharie County Courthouse is constructed of cut limestone block laid random ashlar. A stone water table surrounds the building, and corner pilasters with quoins frame each elevation. Fenestration is regular and symmetrical, consisting of tall rectangular and round arched windows containing double-hung sash. The window sills and lintels of the north, east and south elevations are of bush-hammered limestone. The formal front of the courthouse is organized around a tall central entrance pavilion. The entrance architrave of cast iron components consists of a triangular molded pediment with modillions supported on fluted columns bearing Corinthian capitals. A cut stone stoop gives access to the double doors surmounted by a round arched glass transom. Above the entrance, additional cast iron details include an oculus and the building's 1870 date of construction. Flanking the entrance pavilion, fenestration includes secondary round arched entrances at street level (formerly the offices of the county clerk and treasurer), and tripartite bands of tall windows within heavy cast iron moldings at the second and third story levels. A heavily molded pressed metal cornice with modillions surrounds the building. The shallow hipped roof is surmounted by an ornate pyramidal cupola and corner turrets of pressed metal, all with wrought iron cresting.

Much of the interior of the Schoharie County Courthouse retains a high level of integrity to the period of significance, though some interior spaces have been modified and partitioned to accommodate changes in the building's function over time. A pair of curved staircases with turned wood balusters flank the central entrance vestibule. Historically these stairs provided access to hearing rooms and offices on the second floor, and to the courtroom above. The courtroom occupies most of the third floor, and retains its original design and decorative features, including varnished wainscot covered walls, coffered wainscoted ceiling, judge's bench, wood and iron spectators' seating and decorative metal ceiling grilles embossed with an organic hop plant motif (celebrating the importance of this regional money crop at the time the courthouse was completed). Many of the offices occupied by judges, court staff and the law library have been remodeled several times, though in most cases original features remain discernible and historic finishes are present beneath one or more layers of later wallboard, panelling, etc. Restoration of the historic configuration and finishes is expected to begin in the near future.

A non-contributing, three story, brown brick annex wing erected in 1966 is slightly stepped back and linked to the rear (east) wall of the main block by means of a connecting hyphen This connector also encloses a modern steel staircase and elevator shaft serving both the old courthouse and the annex. A modern entrance lobby near the southeast corner of the courthouse provides access to the annex as well as the adjacent county office building constructed in 1987.

The Schoharie County Clerk's Office is the only other contributing building on the Schoharie County Courthouse Complex. The Clerk's Office was constructed in 1914, when the clerk's function and records storage were removed from the original courthouse. The two story, hip roofed, rectangular stone building is built of random ashlar limestone, slightly darker than the stone used to construct the courthouse. The building's decoration is limited to several Neoclassical-inspired features. Fenestration on the Main Street facade consists of round arched openings with voussoirs on the first story and square openings containing paired sash on the story above. Stone quoins and a molded wood modillion cornice frame the principal (west) elevation. A stone parapet and coping rise above the roofline. The interior of the County Clerk's Office contains offices and records storage areas which have been somewhat altered from their original configuration to accommodate changes in use over time.

Significance

The Schoharie County Courthouse is historically and architecturally significant as a distinguished example of late nineteenth century, monumental civic architecture in Schoharie County. Erected in 1870 to the design of Albany builder/architect John Cornelius, the 3-story court building constructed of dressed local limestone reflects the eclecticism of the late Victorian period in its design and decorative elements. Constructed at a cost of $25,000, the Schoharie County Courthouse of 1870 was heralded as a fire-proof building, commissioned by the Board of Supervisors after fire destroyed two predecessor buildings in 1845 and 1870. The Schoharie County Courthouse and the nearby County Clerk's Office of 1914 continue to serve as the seat of county government, and remain key visual and architectural elements in the setting of Schoharie's Main Street. Contributing cast iron lamp posts enhance the significance of the setting.

The Schoharie Valley originally was settled by Palatine German immigrants in 1712, and was considered the frontier of colonial New York for much of the eighteenth century. The area became the seat of bloody conflict between Loyalist and Patriot neighbors during the American Revolution, and much of the rich agricultural region was devastated by the war. Upon conclusion of hostilities, the area that would become Schoharie County was made a part of Albany County (1788), governed from Albany without local representation. Seeking to remedy this situation, local citizens submitted numerous petitions requesting that a separate government be established for the Schoharie region. Acceding to these requests, the New York State legislature passed an act formally establishing the County of Schoharie effective June 1, 1795. The first meeting of the county's judges, justices and supervisors was held December 16, 1795.

The first court sessions of the new county were held in the Ingold wagon barn located south of the present village of Schoharie. In 1798, the board of supervisors purchased land on the Main Street of Schoharie, intending to erect the first county government buildings there. The first courthouse on the site was completed in 1800, and served as the seat of county government until 1845, when it was destroyed by fire. The successor to this building, described as "a fine edifice built of blue limestone," was constructed in 1846. The second courthouse stood until 1870, when it, too was consumed by fire. Once again left without a courthouse, the Schoharie County Board of Supervisors appropriated $25,000 for the design and construction of a replacement building. The commission for the proposed work was awarded to Albany builder/architect John Cornelius.

Erected in 1870, the third Schoharie County Courthouse is significant as a distinguished example of monumental civic architecture in the region. Built of locally quarried blue-gray limestone block, the Schoharie County Courthouse is an exuberant expression of late Victorian eclecticism. Italianate-inspired details such as oculi, molded iron window sills and lintels, a central pavilion with molded entrance architrave, bands of fenestration and a modillion cornice are combined with French Second Empire pyramidal corner towers and a Mansardic center roof cupola embellished with wrought iron cresting. The third-floor courtroom remains substantially intact to its 1870 appearance, and has remained in use as the county's judicial center to the present day. The Schoharie County Courthouse is a notable example of its type, period and method of construction, and retains a high level of integrity in its design, materials and finishes.

The Schoharie County Courthouse derives additional architectural significance as a rare extant example of a New York building documented as the work of "architect" John Cornelius. A shadowy figure about whom little information is available, John Cornelius is listed as "architect" in Albany city directories from 1867 to 1880. In the New York State census of 1875, John Cornelius identified his occupation as "architect," stating his age as 29 years and his place of birth as Rensselaer County. In reality, John Cornelius may have been a builder/architect, or a supervising architect by trade. The name of John Cornelius may be firmly linked to only two extant buildings, the Schoharie County Courthouse (1870) and the Coeymans School (Action Civil Polytechnic Institute), Coeymans, Albany County (1873; National Register listed, 1970), and his role in each (i.e., design versus construction) is unclear. As one of Cornelius's two documented works, the Schoharie County Courthouse is an architectural rarity worthy of preservation.

As the seat of Schoharie County government, the Schoharie County Courthouse Complex achieved social and political importance in the community. After the second courthouse was destroyed by fire in 1870, the town of Cobleskill attempted to become the new county seat, offering to donate land and underwrite the cost of construction if the county seat were relocated there. Facing this challenge squarely, Schoharie interests pledged to rebuild the courthouse at local expense to keep the seat of county government in the village. Ultimately, the county paid a substantial portion of the construction cost; nevertheless, the county seat remained in its historic location.

In 1913, a new state law was passed requiring all county governments to provide secure storage for county records. Citing the inadequacy of existing facilities and the need for a new government complex to comply with the state mandate, the Cobleskill interests in 1914 again sought to have the county seat transferred there. Despite this pressure, Schoharie County accepted a parcel of land from the village of Schoharie as the site where a new county office building might be constructed. Designed to accommodate offices of the county clerk, county surrogate, a meeting room for the board of supervisors, and secure storage of county government documents and records, the new building was erected at a cost of $30,000. Remembering the disastrous courthouse fires of 1845 and 1870, the Committee on Public Buildings insisted that the new building be constructed so that in case the existing courthouse were destroyed by fire, a third story could be added at little cost to county taxpayers. The specifications prepared by Demers, Mosley and Champaign, Architects, of Troy, New York took this concern into account. Built by the Nial Bros. construction firm (also of Troy), the separate facility was completed and first occupied in December, 1914. Both the Courthouse of 1870 and Clerk's Office of 1914 remain in active daily use for government functions, and the complex remains a prominent civic and architectural landmark in the village of Schoharie.

References

Child, Hamilton. Gazetteer and Business Directory of Schoharie County, New York. Syracuse, 1872.

Keyser, Donald. "The County Clerk's and Surrogate's Office Building at Schoharie 1914." Schoharie County Historical Review, Spring-Summer, 1985, 9-14.

Noyes, Marion F. A History of Schoharie County, New York. Schoharie, 1964.

Roscoe, William E. History of Schoharie County, New York. Syracuse, 1882.

  1. National Register nomination document, 1995, prepared by Raymond W. Smith, New York State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Schoharie County Courthouse Complex, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Schoharie County Courthouse Map

Street Names
Cemetery Lane • Main Street • Spring Street

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