Ohio History Journal

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Late Nineteenth Century Courthouse

Architecture in Northwestern Ohio



As one drives through northwestern Ohio, the most impressive object to

be seen on the skyline of many communities might be the massive, towered,

form of the county courthouse. Often the city's largest and most

distinguished example of architecture, these courthouses were all built in

the last thirty years of the nineteenth century. The importance these

structures held for the people of the county when they were built-and their

descendants who follow-is evidenced by the fact that they were often built

on the site of an earlier structure used for the same purpose, which formed a

nucleus around which the business and residential community was

organized. In most cases the existing courthouses are the third to be built

within the county, the first and second having been lost to fire or the need

for expansion due to a rapid rise in population.1

The first courthouses in northwestern Ohio counties were built in the

1830s and 40s and consisted of log, frame, or brick construction. Their style

was derived from domestic architecture, with the size and decoration

determined by the funds available to the county. A few of the second

courthouses were described as plain and substantial, though they were

larger and more imposing than the earlier structures and some reflected the

popularity of the Greek Revival style. Through his architecture and his

influence on those with less knowledge and experience of Europe than his

own, Thomas Jefferson introduced the Greek Revival style of architecture

into America in the late eighteenth century. This style, in emulation of the

nation's capitol, was regarded as particularly appropriate for official

architecture. The Franklin County courthouse at Columbus and the Ohio

State Capitol building were early examples of this style, which was to

become common in Ohio before the Civil War.2





Doramae O'Kelley is a lecturer in art history at Adrian College, Adrian, Michigan


1. The Defiance Democrat, October 2, 1869, reported a 200 percent rise in the population

of that city between 1860 and 1869.

2. The Franklin County courthouse was completed in 1840. Its size and location might

have made it an attractive model to emulate. Construction did not begin on the State Capitol

until 1848; however, the competition for a design was held in 1838. This design might have