Old Grafton County Courthouse
The Old Grafton County Courthouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2011, The Gombach Group.
The Old Grafton County Courthouse is a one-story, hip-roofed frame structure of square floor plan, measuring 34 feet in width and depth. It stands on a late nineteenth-century brick and stone foundation, having been moved to its present site in 1876. A doorway at the northeast corner of the foundation gives access to the basement. The building has simple exterior detailing which includes wide corner boards with simple square capitals under the cornice with bed mouldings, a deeply-projecting soffit, and a cyma crown moulding. The walls are clapboarded.
The building has three-bay fenestration on the front (north) and east elevations, the central bay on the north being the principal doorway. Window trim consists of simple square-edged side casings; wide, flat top casings; and a small drip moulding as a cap. Windows have 12/12 panes. The doorway has flat side casings with square backhand mouldings, a flat upper casing or architrave, and a gable-roofed porch roof supported by diagonal braces. The latter was added sometime after 1906.
The roof is covered with asphalt shingles and is crowned by a square open cupola with a low-pitched hipped roof supported by four square corner columns. A chimney with fireplace rises inside the west wall; it is flanked by two windows.
A wood-frame addition measuring 8 by 12 feet was constructed against the south (rear) wall in 1963. Access to this addition, which has a low-pitched roof and two windows, is gained through, the original rear door of the courthouse.
The interior of the building is a single room with a brick fireplace centered on the west wall. The walls and ceiling are sheathed in stained hardwood panelling; the flooring is also hardwood. All interior detailing, including perimeter shelving for library use, was installed in 1876 when the building was moved to its present site and renovated.
This structure was built in 1774 as one of two buildings (the other was in Haverhill, N.H.) for the use of the courts of newly-formed Grafton County. The building was described in its original state as square, with "a stately cupola out of proportion to the diminutive size of the structure." A new and larger brick courthouse was built in 1823, and the old building was sold and moved to the outskirts of Plymouth village, where it was used for a time as a wheelwright's shop. Photographs of the structure taken during that period show that the front doorway was altered from what must have been its original form and that a large double doorway for wagons had been cut into the side of the structure where the present exterior detailing, including corner boards and window casings and caps, must have been installed during the remodelling of 1876. In that renovation, the structure was given its present form (except for the cupola, which was rebuilt later) and presented to the Young Ladies' Library Association for use as a library. The cupola was added sometime before 1906 as a replica of the original, lost during the years when the structure served as a shop.
The Old Grafton County Courthouse is one of the earliest surviving public structures in New Hampshire. Though remodelled several times, the building retains the form of an eighteenth-century structure and in addition contains much detailing added in the late nineteenth century under the influence of the Colonial Revival. The building is further significant for its judicial history and for its use since 1876 as the first public library structure in its town.
The Grafton County Courthouse is one of few eighteenth-century public structures, other than meeting houses, to survive in New Hampshire. It is significant in revealing the architectural form that was chosen for a rural courthouse built only eleven years after the town in which it stands was chartered. The square plan and hipped roof have an ancient lineage in New England, being the form chosen for most meeting houses from the mid-seventeenth century until about 1700. The same plan and roof form were also seen on eighteenth-century New England schoolhouses. Thus, the building's form denoted its public nature, and the structure is a rare survivor of this form.
The Old Grafton County Courthouse is further significant as an early instance of architectural preservation. Probably spurred both the nation's centennial and by a respect for the memory of Daniel Webster (who pleaded one of his first court cases in the structure in 1806), U.S. Senator Henry W. Blair (1834-1920) acted to preserve the building. In 1876 Blair purchased the dilapidated courthouse and arranged to have it moved to a lot adjacent to the modern courthouse in the center of Plymouth. At his own expense, he renovated the exterior and fitted the interior for use as a library. Although his work cannot be termed a restoration, it was an early act of adaptive use. The architectural elements that Blair added to the building thus have an importance of their own as early examples of Colonial Revival taste and as part of a pioneering effort at architectural preservation.
When Blair moved the old courthouse to a site adjacent to the newer one, he secured a lease of the property from Grafton County "for so long as the Courthouse shall be occupied for the use of a public library or other benevolent and useful purpose of public nature." Shortly after renovating the structure with library fixtures, Blair presented it as a gift to the Young Ladies' Library Association of Plymouth, which was formed in 1873 and incorporated in 1878 as an agency to promote and support a circulating library. With the encouragement of Blair's gift of the building and other donations, the library grew to a point where the Town of Plymouth commenced to vote appropriations for its benefit in 1885 and to co-direct it as a free public library in 1896. [Note: The Plymouth Historical Museum is now housed in this former Plymouth Public Library building.]
Young Ladies Library Assoc., Record Books held by members: 1908-1981.
Stearns, E.S. History of Plymouth, N.H. Vol. 1 Univ. Press, Cambridge, Mass. 1906.
Speare, Eva A. Twenty Decades in Plymouth, New Hampshire, Courier Printing Company, Inc. Littleton, N.H. 1963.
† Juliet B. Rand, Young Ladies Library Association, Old Grafton County Courthouse, Plymouth, Grafton County, New Hampshire, nomination document, 1981, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.