Ritchie County Courthouse
The Ritchie County Courthouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2013, The Gombach Group.
The Ritchie County Courthouse located at 115 East Main Street, Harrisville, is eligible for the National Register under Politics and Government criterion for its local significance with Ritchie County's political history. The building is associated with the political tendency to form new counties in western Virginia as populations increased. This demonstrated a desire on the part of rural and remote citizens to bring the institutions of local government to their communities. The courthouse is a representative of that trend. Citizens desired close access to civil government and were hopeful of economic and political benefits that a county seat would bring to the area. The Ritchie County Courthouse is the material evidence of the county's population growth and a symbol of the residents' values.
The Ritchie County Courthouse is also eligible under Architecture criterion for its significance in its Neo-Classical Revival architecture in a rural setting. A project of courthouse architects Holmboe and Pogue, this may be their finest creation. The period of significance is 1923, the year the building was constructed, to 1954, corresponding to the National Register's fifty-year cut-off date.
Settlement of the area that became Ritchie County began in 1800 when a few farmers settled in the area that became the town of Pennsboro. The first settlers were in the vicinity of Harrisville by 1803. The town of Harrisville, originally Solus, was established twenty years earlier in 1822 on property owned by Thomas Harris for the purpose of being the seat of a new county that was contemplated even then.
Growth was very slow until 1832 when the Virginia State Assembly adjusted the land laws of the state. This encouraged more settlement in remote jurisdictions, as delinquent and forfeited lands were sold to those wishing to settle elsewhere. Ritchie County became an attractive place to settle with the construction in 1830-40 of the Northwestern Turnpike between Winchester and Parkersburg. Ritchie County was formed in 1843 and named after a prominent Richmond journalist, Thomas Ritchie, editor of The Richmond Enquirer and The Washington Record. Territory for the county came from the adjacent counties of Lewis, Wood, and Harrison. It encompasses approximately 450 square miles.
The first meeting of the Ritchie County Court was held in the home of John Harris, Esq., on April 4, 1843, as prescribed by the Virginia legislation creating the county. At the first meeting of the court, the justices appointed Harris to the task of renting the Methodist Episcopal Church as a meeting place for the court. He and James Harris were also appointed to locate a site for a permanent courthouse. They worked quickly. By July 1, 1843 Henry Rexroad and his wife Katherine deeded town lot 75 for the purpose of building a courthouse. Among the first items of business was the construction of a jail for the county. The county contracted with Alexander Glover to construct the building. The court ordered that Glover be paid the first installment for the construction on July 4, 1844.
In 1845, the court moved its meeting place to the Baptist Church until the temporary courthouse was completed. It is unknown what happened to the first jail. A second jail was constructed in 1869. The first permanent courthouse was completed in 1874, and an annex was added in 1899. This annex housed the circuit clerk, county court room, and county clerk's office.
This courthouse was apparently unacceptable or difficult to work in, because the county bar petitioned the county court for a courthouse that was more suitable for a seat of law. The court was responsive. On May 30, 1923, the present building's cornerstone was laid "with an impressive ceremony," according to writer Minnie Kendall Lowther. A time capsule was embedded in the stone. It contains a copy of the day's local newspapers, a copy of the order authorizing the Courthouse construction, a list of the county officials, pictures of the old courthouse, and a copy of Lowther's History of Ritchie County, autographed by the author. The dedicatory ceremonies were conducted by the local American Legion Post led by Commander Ralph D. Woods. The county court took custody of the old brass key to the first courthouse, and in the early years of the twentieth century it was a cherished historical artifact for the county.
The architecture of the Ritchie County Courthouse is very elaborate and high style for such a rural setting. The building was designed by architects Holmboe and Pogue and was constructed in 1923. The courthouse, executed in the Neo-Classical Revival style, joins with many other small West Virginia communities whose courthouses also are executed in this style. Neoclassical Revival architecture was popular during the later years of the second Industrial Revolution in America and was often chosen for courthouses and other public buildings constructed during the same era. For Ritchie County, the style differs greatly from the vernacular buildings that otherwise characterize the county. This courthouse replaced two earlier courthouses.
Alterations and Additions, Ritchie County Courthouse, Harrisville West Virginia. Original drawings by Holmboe and Pogue. 18 November 1922.
Ambler, Charles H. West Virginia: The Mountain State. N.p.: Prentice-Hall, 1940.
Comstock, Jim. Hardesty's West Virginia Counties; Gilmer, Ritchie, Lincoln, and Wayne, Vol. 7. Nap.: Richwood, W.Va., 1973.
Little, Virgil. History of West Virginia in two Parts. Philadelphia: Hubbard Brothers, 1889.
Lowther, Minnie Kendall. History of Ritchie County, with Biographical Sketches of its Pioneers and Their Ancestors, and with Interesting Reminiscences of Revolutionary and Indian Times. Wheeling, W.Va.: Wheeling News Litho Co., 1911.
North, E. Lee. Fifty-five West Virginias. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 1998.
Ritchie County Historical Society. The History of Ritchie County, West Virginia to 1980. [Harrisville, W.Va.]: Ritchie County Historical Society, 1980.
Six, Stephen D., comp. "History of Ritchie County read by Gen. T.M. Harris, July 4, 1876." The Ritchie Gazette, Harrisville, W.Va., 1975.
The West Virginia Historic Records Survey, microfilm reel 212. Available at the West Virginia Regional History Collection of West Virginia University Libraries.
† Alan Rowe and ErinRiebe (West Virginia State Historic Preservation Office) with Barbara E. Rasmussen, Historic Preservation and Research Co., Ritchie County Courthouse, Harrisville, West Virginia, nomination document, 2003, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.