Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Ohio Traditions: County Courthouses

It's Spring Break so I'm digging into the archives for postings this week.

HomesickOhio.com was a social media concept for a website started back in 1995.  My website connected Ohioans all over the World with their fellow Ohioians still living in Ohio and elsewhere.  The site got national recognition in 1998 when featured by the Toledo Blade in a feature article and not one, but two editorials. This is an online revival of the Ohio Traditions columns that I wrote on the site 14 and 15 years ago.

Ohio Traditions: County Courthouses
by RickOHIO

January 1998
Ohio has 88 counties and, therefore, 88 county courthouses. Ohio counties and Ohio's beautiful, old courthouses are a standout Ohio tradition in every community.

The traditions that follow the Ohio county courthouses are well-established and repeated many times over, county by county. The courthouse is the hot bed of activity in every county and, in most cases, stands out very easily.

Want to know where to get in most downtowns? Just ask for directions in relation to the courthouse. Ask the natives, "How many blocks from the courthouse?" and you're sure to get an answer and sure to find your way.

Most of the time, county courthouses are old structures that have survived the years. More than just the place to go to find some old records, the old buildings have a lot to do with the character of a county seat.

Auglaize County, which proudly portrays it's courthouse on the front of its website, is typical among county courthouses.

Most courthouses have a cupola which is ornate and stands taller than any other building in the community like the one in Fayette County.

It used to be that the courthouses housed not only the courts but also all the county elected officials' offices and their staffs. Today, maybe as a sign of the largess of all government, its a rare courthouse that does house all of county government. Courthouses today, often, house only the courts with room for no one else.

Most courthouses are at the center of town. Most likely, the downtown formed around the courthouse not the other way around. The exceptions are in Wood and Ottawa counties. Their courthouses are a few blocks off the main streets of what their cities' downtowns are today.

Most courthouses are old. However, one of the newest true courthouses is also the most boring and that's in Champaign County. The courthouse in downtown Urbana is in 1960's style architecture and is inclined to remind you more of a post office or police station than the kind of place you expect of a courthouse. Vinton County's is newer than most but also quite boring (except for the controversy over a cross erected atop the building) while Gallia County's was ruined by fire and you can't tell where the old and the new begin and end.

The most unique one is also the oldest one in Ohio. It's in Meigs County where many of the county elected officials have an outside entrance to their office. The courthouse looks more like an old, southern estate mansion than a building you'd find in an Ohio county seat.

The courthouse in Williams County is also quite unique. It's more like a castle from the outside.

Some of the old courthouses have seen some recent remodeling to restore their old charm. Stark, Athens, and Harrison counties have redone theirs within the last few years to restore the historic buildings while making them more practical and usable for today's society.

In Jefferson County, they never bothered to repair the top of the courthouse when it was damaged. Instead, today, the cupola is gone and the top floor is bare of the ornate woodwork that once was there.

You'll find some pretty amazing architectual glass in these old buildings too. Clinton County and Mahoning County stand out in this category, but many, many counties feature stained glass ceilings in their main courtrooms and hallways.

Even with electronic commerce and government, Ohio is likely to see the tradition of county courthouses continue for some time to come. This Ohio Tradition stands out for sure.

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