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Washington County Courthouse


The Washington County Courthouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. 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 Washington County Courthouse, constructed at a total cost of $1,000,000 was completed in November, 1900. It has been fittingly described by another, as follows: "Well may the people be proud of this massive, noble building. It is constructed in Italian Renaissance style of architecture. Its height from the pavement to the top of the dome is 150 feet. It is constructed of Columbia sandstone from Cleveland, South Carolina granite, iron and steel, brick and cement; is entirely fire-proof, and contains fifty-four rooms, including three splendidly arranged court rooms.

"The interior of the building is on a scale of magnificence and artistic beauty that one only expects to see in the great buildings of national reputation. On entering the main corridor a graceful stairway is seen, on either side stretch away vistas of Italian marble corridors; above, supported by twelve immense pilasters, interspersed with Roman arches, hangs the majestic dome, with its jeweled art glass and frescoes in colors and gold. The general finish of the building is exquisite to a degree — the brass work, the bronze, the gleaming stretches of polished marble and the wonderful color scheme of the decorative work all combine in producing an effect that delights the eye and the senses. In every way the Washington County Courthouse ranks as one of the finest temples of justice in the United States.

There have been only minor internal alterations since its construction. The exterior consists of well-developed Beaux-Arts facades. Each facade has a projecting pedimented central pavilion with lower side wings. The main entrance has a semi-circular 2-story portico supported by colossal Ionic columns. The side elevations have three colossal Ionic columns "in antis." The building rests on a high foundation podium; the 1st and 2nd stories consist of deeply rusticated surfaces. The large stone gate posts reiterate the rusticated facades. The podium on the front elevation side pavilions consist of carved balustrades; this element is repeated on podiums of the side elevations, as parts of the blocking course, and above the semi-circular portico Classical entablatures with modillions, lentils are evident on all the facades. The windows and doors are all rectangular with flat projecting lintels, except the pavilions lintels which are a broken arch motif with a center wreath; and the three entrances, under the portico are set within archivolts with a simple low relief tympanum design. Acroteria crown the pediment corners and apex. On either side of the pediments are monumental sculptural groupings; behind these are small square towers with projecting piers and a dome with a lantern. The focal point of the building is the huge classical center dome with multiple piers rondels, a lantern and a crowning larger than life statue of George Washington.

The building has been used as the Washington County Courthouse since its construction. It is well maintained and in superior condition.

Significance

The present Washington County Courthouse is the fourth courthouse built in that county. To build the courthouse and jail on the public square, the 2-story brick town hall had to be lifted from its foundation and moved back. This occurred during the years 1897-98 and was considered a marvelous feat.

The commissioners chose the plans of the new buildings as prepared by F.J. Osterling, of Pittsburgh, and which has been approved by the judges.

The county lot was 240 feet square. One hundred feet on the west side was obtained by condemnation proceedings. Twenty feet along the south side was receded from to widen Cherry alley. The county lot now occupied, as enclosed by walls, is 220 feet front on Main Street and 340 feet in depth.

During the summer of 1898 the brick buildings — court house, jail and sheriff's house — were purchased by William Hockley for $200.

The statue of General George Washington sculpted by James B. Millard in 1842 was preserved through the patriotism of Charles F. Wallam, and still stands on the corner lot at Locust and Highland.

William Miller & Sons of Pittsburgh were the lowest bidders and therefore selected for the construction of the Washington County Courthouse and Jail. Their bid was $397,900. County bonds were issued to help defray all the necessary expenses which were determined to be $500,000.

The erection of the jail is practically identified with the erection of the new Washington County Courthouse. The tearing down of the old jail commenced early in April, 1898, and the excavation for the new jail was finished July 20, when the foundation was commenced. It was not until June 30, 1899, that the jail was occupied by prisoners.

Shortly after the excavation for the new jail, the excavation for the new Washington County Courthouse was commenced, and was speedily pushed to completion. When the cornerstone of the Washington County Courthouse was laid, March 7, 1899, a copper receptacle, containing relics pertaining to former courthouses, photographs of prominent citizens, copies of newspapers, pamphlets, histories, etc., was put in at the northeast corner of the building.

By August of that year changes were recommended and adopted, substituting certain marble floors, instead of wood and other materials, wainscoting with Italian marble and finishing with stucco work and decorations not contemplated in earlier specifications. This increased the original estimates to almost nine hundred thousand dollars, and other furnishings, which might be called extras, increased it that much more.

The Washington County Courthouse, constructed at a total cost of $1,000,000 was completed in November, 1900. The interior of the building is on a scale of magnificence and artistic beauty that one only expects to see in the great buildings of national reputation. The general finish of the building is exquisite to a degree — the brass work, the bronze, the gleaming stretches of polished marble and the wonderful color scheme of the decorative work all combine in producing an effect that delights the eye and the senses. In every way the Washington County Courthouse ranks as one of the finest temples of justice in the United States.

Architecturally the building was designed in the contemporary Beaux-Arts Classicism style which received its impetus in this country from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris and from the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. Greek, Roman, and Renaissance Classicism dominated the next generation of buildings; specifically public and quasi public buildings, from libraries to train stations. The style commanded respect and provided grandeur and dignity to any location. The Washington County Court House is one of the finest extant Beaux-Arts structures in the country. It derives much significance from the fact that it exists in a moderate size urban area and has had only very minor interior alterations since, its construction. It is a grand and majestic architectural statement, the most significant building in Washington County. Its architectural value cannot be denied.

References

McFarland, Joseph F., 20th Century History of the City of Washington and Washington County Pennsylvania, Chicago 1910, pp.208-210

  1. James D. Van Trump, Washington County Courthouse, nomination document, 1972, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Washington County Courthouse Map

**Information is curated from a variety of sources and, while deemed reliable, is not guaranteed.
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