100 Facts about the Hamilton County Courthouse

We're counting down to the Centennial Celebration on October 18 with 100 facts about the Hamilton County Courthouse in 100 days. Each day, we'll post a new fact on social media and add it to this blog post.

100. Hamilton County has had 6 courthouses to date, constructed in 1790, 1802, 1819, 1854, 1887 and 1919.

99. The first Courthouse in Hamilton County was a log cabin erected in 1790 on what is now Government Square. It had no jail or other place of incarceration so a public whipping post was installed and this was used as the primary means of punishment

98. Of the six Cincinnati Courthouses, three have burned to the ground.

97. The second Cincinnati courthouse, constructed in 1802, was located on the corner of Fifth and Main and cost $3,000 to build. Adjusted for inflation, that's about $60,000 in today's money.

96. The second Courthouse was used as barracks for soldiers during the War of 1812 and was burned down due to carelessness.

95. Hamilton County's first Courthouse, which was made of logs, was built by volunteers and so cost the county nothing to construct.

94: The third Courthouse, constructed in 1819, was located at Court and Main, which was far removed from the city center and considered extremely inconvenient. This building cost $15,000 to build.

93. In 1849, the third Courthouse burned to the ground when fire from a near-by pork-house spread and destroyed the building.

92. After the 3rd Courthouse was destroyed in a fire that spread from a pork-house, the Courts where temporarily housed in a pork-packing facility while a new structure was built.

91. The fourth Courthouse was designed by prominent architect Isaiah Rogers, who also designed the Burnett House in Cincinnati.

90. The fourth Courthouse closely resembled another of Rogers’ buildings, The Merchants Exchange building in New York City, which still stands to this day.

89. The fourth Courthouse cost $695,000 to complete in 1854, but was considered “the finest public building in the West”.

88: The 4th Cincinnati Courthouse was burned to the ground during riots from March 28-31, 1884. 

87: The Law Library has 6 stained glass windows bearing names of famous individuals from the Cincinnati’s legal history. They are: Salmon P. Chase, Chief Justice, U.S. Supreme Court, Jacob Burnet "father of the Ohio constitution,” and Ohio Supreme Court justice, George Hoadly, 36th Governor of Ohio, George E. Pugh, U.S. Senate, John McLean, U.S. Supreme Court, Stanley Matthews, U.S. Supreme Court justice.

86: Silver lines running through the stained glass windows in the Law Library are actually made of solid lead to allow for movement of the glass particles during hot and cold weather.

#85: There is a globe hanging from the middle chandelier in the Law Library. In 1919, newspapers reported that it was an accurate globe of the world when it is, in fact, a reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mappamundi (world map) from 1514.

#84: The Courthouse used to have two courtyards in the center of the building. One was filled in in 1962 to create more office space and courtrooms.

#83: The Courthouse did not have air conditioning for much of the 20th century and the building would get so hot in the Cincinnati summer that staff would have to be sent home at noon each day.

#82: 2001-2002 The Courthouse received the local and regional BOMA “The Outstanding Building of the Year” (TOBY) Award.

#81: In 2015, solar panels were installed on the roof of the Courthouse to provide supplemental heating to the heating and hot water systems and reduce the amount of natural gas needed for these systems.

#80: In 2016, a white membrane roof was installed on the Courthouse to increase efficiency and decrease cooling costs.

#79: The Hamilton County Courthouse has received consecutive EPA Energy Star Awards since 2016.

#78: Courthouses across the country have long been considered to be haunted and Hamilton County is no different. The 5th Courthouse was so spooky that most citizens were afraid to pass it at night for fear of seeing the ghost of Andy Deller, an employee of the Clerk’s office who had been killed in a buggy accident. It was rumored that Andy would tap on the window as you passed by the Courthouse and then go sit at his desk with his head in his hands. It was also widely rumored that when the night watchmen entered the Law Library, the old librarian, Maurice Myers, would put cold hands on you and entreat you to put the books back on the shelves when you finished with them.

It is worth noting that stories of ghosts and hauntings followed the court into our current building and many of the night security guards refuse to enter the Law Library on their own for fear of running into something spectral. They swear you can hear someone riffling through books and banging on pipes.

#77: When originally constructed in 1919, there were 11 miles of electrical wiring throughout the Courthouse.

#76: The court rooms were built to absorb sound so that very little echo would impede the proceedings. The paneling on the walls are built up with 3 inches of felt and fine wires and then covered in canvas for maximum sound absorption.

#75: Courtroom floor coverings were originally cork tiles to absorb sound. Some courtrooms still have the original cork under the existing carpet.

#74: Sometime in the mid to late 20th century the cork tile floors were sealed and the canvas courtroom panels were painted. This eliminated all sound absorbing abilities of the original design.

#73: The Hamilton County Courthouse is a perfect rectangle: 295 feet north and south, 262 feet east and west.

#72: Currently, the Courthouse has a total of 553,685 interior gross square feet.

#71: The suspension of the vaulted ceiling in the main hall of the first floor was considered an engineering feat of the day. The reinforced concrete ceiling is suspended from steel beams on the third floor.

#70: (In the riots of 1884) 10,000 citizens of Cincinnati rioted when a man named William Berner was found guilty of a lesser charge when he had confessed to murder.

#69: Over 300 people were wounded in the riots. Over 50 were killed. Businesses were looted and thousands of dollars of property damage was reported.

#68: Captain John Desmond, leader of the Company B of the First Regiment of the militia was killed while defending the Courthouse. A statue of Captain Desmond stands in the lobby of the current Courthouse, reportedly on the spot that he met his fate.

#67: Secretary of War Robert Lincoln was eventually forced to send 500 troops to Cincinnati to quell the riots.

#66: The Law Library was located in the Courthouse and considered the finest collection of legal materials in the country. When the Courthouse burned, the Law Library burned along with everything else.

#65: 17,000 volumes were lost in the fire.

#64: The Law Library’s insurance company was able to claim the benefit of a riot clause, which meant the library was left with nothing.

#63: It was only through the philanthropy of local attorneys, led by a man named Rufus King, that the Law Library was able to rebuild.

#62: Within 10 years, the library had rebuilt its collection to match that of its former glory.

#61: A fifth Courthouse was constructed from the remains of the destroyed building, reusing many of the previous walls and structures. This building was quickly outgrown and was demolished less than 30 years after its completion.

#60: The last proceeding to be held in the Criminal Court of the 5th Courthouse was a fake fight, or barney trial. Judge William Dickson presided and several members of Courthouse staff played the parts of “the principals”. The men entered the courtroom without removing their hats and then engaged in a staged tussle and were fined $25, which the Court agreed to suspend. A “flashlight picture” was taken of the affair to commemorate the last proceeding in the old Courthouse.

#59: The massive red granite columns from the 5th Courthouse were saved and moved to “Filson’s Outlook Park” in Mount Auburn.

#58: In October 1905, a leak in a gas line under the temporary Courthouse lead to an explosion that killed two members of the County Commissioner’s Office. Electric lights were quickly installed and used moving forward.

#57: In July of 1913, attorney Aaron Ferris filed suit when several county buildings, including the Courthouse, were decorated in honor of the convention of the Supreme Council, Loyal Order of the Moose. This raised the discussion about the need for impartiality in all matters from the Courthouse and the impropriety of any sign of support or favoritism.

#56: It was the inadequacy of the jail in the 5th Courthouse that eventually lead to the construction of the current Courthouse. The old jail was too small and was excessively damp and unhealthy.

#55: The roaches in the 5th Courthouse were so numerous that all files, furniture and materials had to be treated before they were moved into the new building and Volunteer Roach Killers were brought in to manage the infestation.

#54: A commission was created to oversee the construction of the jail and Courthouse. A special competition was held for the design of the building. The architects of the top five designs were awarded $1,000 and then the final design was selected by a jury made up of three disinterested architects chosen by the competitors.

#53: Waste not, want not. Much of the foundation, walls, bricks and other materials used to construct the 6th Courthouse were recycled from the 4th and 5th Courthouses.

#52: The Courthouse is designed in three distinct architectural styles. The first and second floors are designed to “typify the substantial material upon which a county government should be founded. The great columns which mark the third, fourth and fifth stories are intended to represent the dignity of the courts. The sixth and seventh stories are intended to represent the necessities of the county in the enforcement of law” (Enquirer)

#51: When the 6th Courthouse was constructed, if a jury did not come to a decision by the time set for retiring, they would sometimes be required to sleep in the Courthouse and try again in the morning. 

#50: The original bid for construction of the Courthouse required the construction of a jury dining room, with dumb waiter connection to the jail kitchen and a 500 square foot jury sleeping room.

#49: The Adult and Juvenile Detention Centers were housed on the top floor of the Courthouse until the 1970’s. There were nine sun parlors or exercise rooms, two laundries and two kitchens.

#48: 300 jail cells were planned for the new jail: 250 for men, 50 for women and 40 for juveniles.

#47: Inmates with tuberculosis were kept completely separate from other inmates, with their own showers and exercise garden, called “tubercular exercise rooms”.

#46: The kitchen contained an 80-gallon soup kettle, gas ranges, a potato peeling machine (capable of peeling “half a bushel of ‘spuds’ at a time”) and a complete, modern bakery. Total cost of the kitchen with all equipment was $8,000.

#45: The steel used to construct the jail cells was considered “tool proof” and could only be cut with an acetylene torch. A five inch slab of reinforced concrete was sandwiched between two plates of steel to make the walls of the cells.

#44: The first "guests" of the jail were state officials who were in town for a Reds game who could not get hotel rooms. It was October 1919 and Judge C.W. Hoffman jokingly told them they could stay in the Juvenile dormitory since it wasn't open yet and they took him up on it.

#43: When first constructed, the Courthouse was home to 20 court rooms. There are currently over 30, plus hearing rooms, arbitration rooms and mediation.

#42: The total cost for the current building and its furnishings was $3,022,000, making it the most costly building in Cincinnati at the time. Adjusted for inflation, that is roughly $42,441,902.98.

#41: The Courthouse was constructed of steal, New Hampshire granite and Bedford limestone and entirely fireproofed to withstand disturbances.

#40: The plaster in the walls was mixed with horse hair, a well-known fire-retardant material of the early 1900’s. 

#39: The plans for the Courthouse did not call for fire escapes. It was believed that fire escapes would prove an easy avenue for inmates to escape. The commissioners instead insisted that every aspect of the building be fireproof, with metal window frames and doors. Even the furniture was to be fireproof.

#38: The New Building Commissioners were so determined that no part of the building be flammable that they had the builders remove an entire section of wall when it was discovered that a concoction used to fill in cracks in the terra cotta was, in fact, flammable.

#37: At the time of its construction, the Courthouse was the largest building in Cincinnati “as to area and as to cubical contents”. 

#36: Several sets of stairs in the building are solid marble, cut to interlock so that the back is perfectly smooth.

#35: The marble used in the construction of the Courthouse came from 25 quarries in the United States and one in France and cost $350,000.

#34: The only foreign material in the entire building is the wainscoting in the main hall, which is French marble, known as Hauteville.

#33: There are 30 different roofs on the Courthouse.

#32: The steam engines from the cranes used to construct the Courthouse were left in place and converted to coal fired steam boilers used to provide heating to the building.


Sources:

CONSECRATED: TO LAW AND ORDER NEW COURTHOUSE TURNED OVER TO CUSTODIANS. JUSTICE SOLE MEANS TO PREVENT FUTURE WAR, SAYS SENATOR HARDING IN DEDICATORY ADDRESS. DANGER TO CIVILIZATION PERCEIVED BY STATESMAN IN "TURBULENT AFTERMATH" OF WORLD CONFLICT. (1919, Oct 19). Cincinnati Enquirer (1872-1922) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.research.cincinnatilibrary.org/docview/865848547?accountid=39387

WHY WORRY ABOUT HOTELS?: STATE OFFICIALS, ROOTING FOR REDS, SLEEP IN COURTHOUSE. (1919, Oct 02). Cincinnati Enquirer (1872-1922) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.research.cincinnatilibrary.org/docview/865846120?accountid=39387

PROGRAM OF A COMPETITION FOR THE SELECTION OF AN ARCHITECT FOR THE PROPOSED NEW COURT HOUSE FOR HAMILTON COUNTY, CINCINNATI, OHIO

Stern, J. S., Jr. (1984). It was the Best of Times; It was the Worst of Times. Queen City Heritage, 42(1), Spring, 3-12.

Plattner, S. W (1984). Days of Dreaad. Queen City Heritage, 42(1), Spring, 13-38.

Thrane, S. W. (2000). County Courthouses of Ohio. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Giglierano, G. J., & Overmyer, D. L. (1988). The Bicentennial Guide to Greater Cincinnati: A Portrait of Two Hundred Years. Cincinnati, OH: Cincinnati Historical Society.

Morris, W., & Krieger, E. B. (1921). The Bench and Bar of Cincinnati. Cincinnati, OH: New Courthouse Publishing Company.

PROGRAM FOR THE COURTHOUSE DEDICATION

HAMILTON COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF FACILITIES

March 22, 1972 (page 14 of 69). (1972, Mar 22). Cincinnati Enquirer (1923-2009) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.research.cincinnatilibrary.org/docview/1888474954?accountid=39387

WORK: ON NEW COURTHOUSE IS BEGUN BY CONTRACTORS FOLLOWING CEREMONIES. ADDRESS BY PRESIDENT OF THE COMMISSION PRECEDES THE BREAKING OF GROUND FOR EDIFICE. JUDGE ROBERTSON, MRS. J. A GREEN AND OFFICIALS "MADE DIRT FLY"--U. S. MARBLES ARE URGED. (1915, Apr 04). Cincinnati Enquirer (1872-1922) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.research.cincinnatilibrary.org/docview/869337674?accountid=39387

ATTORNEY MAKES PROTEST: AGAINST DECORATION OF COURTHOUSE IN HONOR OF MOOSE CONVENTION. (1913, Jul 26). Cincinnati Enquirer (1872-1922) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.research.cincinnatilibrary.org/docview/866884303?accountid=39387

QUOTATIONS: TO ADORN COURTHOUSE. INSCRIPTION ON MAIN STREET SIDE TO BE FROM CICERO. FORMER PRESIDENT TAFT FURNISHES WORDS FOR BOULEVARD FRONT--SUGGESTIONS TO BE INVITED. (1916, Mar 29). Cincinnati Enquirer (1872-1922) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.research.cincinnatilibrary.org/docview/869211959?accountid=39387

HARMON: WILL BE GRAND MARSHAL OF BIG PARADE AT LAYING OF COURTHOUSE CORNER STONE. MAYOR PROCLAIMS NEXT FRIDAY AFTERNOON HALF HOLIDAY. WOODWARD HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS TO FORM A GUARD OF HONOR FOR FORMER PRESIDENT TAFT. (1915, Sep 26). Cincinnati Enquirer (1872-1922) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.research.cincinnatilibrary.org/docview/870494277?accountid=39387

TALK OF THE TOWN. (1918, Nov 18). Cincinnati Enquirer (1872-1922) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.research.cincinnatilibrary.org/docview/865815317?accountid=39387

SUGGESTIONS.: FOR INSCRIPTION SOUGHT. NEW COURTHOUSE COMMISSIONERS DECIDE NOT TO ENROLL NAMES ON BRONZE TABLET. (1917, Jun 13). Cincinnati Enquirer (1872-1922) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.research.cincinnatilibrary.org/docview/870035542?accountid=39387

One of the Volunteer Roach Killers. (1918, Sep 25). GETTING RID OF 'EM. Cincinnati Enquirer (1872-1922) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.research.cincinnatilibrary.org/docview/865811226?accountid=39387

PIECE: OF WORN-OUT GAS PIPE EXHIBITED AT INQUEST IN COURTHOUSE FATALITY--COMMISSION PREPARING PLANS. (1905, Oct 14). Cincinnati Enquirer (1872-1922) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.research.cincinnatilibrary.org/docview/895535716?accountid=39387

PIONEER DAYS VISUALIZED: IN PANELS TO BE PLACED IN WAITING ROOM OF NEW COURTHOUSE. (1918, Jun 05). Cincinnati Enquirer (1872-1922) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.research.cincinnatilibrary.org/docview/865357967?accountid=39387

FIRE ESCAPES: MUST BE PROVIDED IF JAIL IS LOCATED ON ROOF OF NEW COURTHOUSE, SAYS BUILDING COMMISSIONER. (1913, Sep 05). Cincinnati Enquirer (1872-1922) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.research.cincinnatilibrary.org/docview/866735442?accountid=39387

CAMPHOR: SNIFFED BY INSPECTORS WHEN PATCHES ARE SCRATCHED FROM TERRA COTTA BLOCKS. NEW COURTHOUSE MATERIAL, BELIEVED TO BE INFLAMMABLE, REJECTED BY COUNTY OFFICERS. (1916, Jun 16). Cincinnati Enquirer (1872-1922) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.research.cincinnatilibrary.org/docview/870149980?accountid=39387

GEIGER'S: FATE IN HANDS OF JURY, WHICH SPENT NIGHT AT COURTHOUSE UNABLE TO AGREE--MAY NOT REACH VERDICT TO-DAY. (1905, Mar 23). Cincinnati Enquirer (1872-1922) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.research.cincinnatilibrary.org/docview/895139414?accountid=39387

TAFT: LAYS CORNER STONE OF COURTHOUSE BEFORE THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE. COURTS ARE DEFENDED BY FORMER PRESIDENT IN SPEECH POINTING OUT DANGERS OF RECALL AS APPLIED TO THE JUDICIARY--IMPRESSIVE CEREMONIES PRECEDED BY NOTABLE CIVIC PARADE. (1915, Oct 02). Cincinnati Enquirer (1872-1922) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.research.cincinnatilibrary.org/docview/870092505?accountid=39387

GROUND: WILL BE BROKEN TO-DAY FOR THE NEW COURTHOUSE AND JAIL WITH ELABORATE CEREMONIES. MOTION PICTURE OF PROCEEDINGS TO BE UNUSUAL FEATURE. JUDGES EXPRESS SATISFACTION WITH TEMPORARY QUARTERS--MOVING BEGUN IN EARNEST. (1915, Apr 03). Cincinnati Enquirer (1872-1922) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.research.cincinnatilibrary.org/docview/869345811?accountid=39387

"FAKE" FIGHT: STAGED IN COURTROOM AS LAST PROCEEDING IN OLD COURTHOUSE AND FLASHLIGHT TAKEN. FAREWELL BANQUET ALSO GIVEN IN ABANDONED BUILDING. PROLATE LUDGE LUEDERS RECEIVES APPLICATIONS TO ADMINISTER ESTATES IN NOW QUARTERS. (1915, Apr 16). Cincinnati Enquirer (1872-1922) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.research.cincinnatilibrary.org/docview/869343192?accountid=39387

SEALING: OF CORNER-STONE BOX FOR THE NEW COURTHOUSE WILL TAKE PLACE THIS AFTERNOON. BIG COLLECTION OF MEMORIALS TO BE PLACED IN IT. FORMER GOVERNOR HARMON WILL APPEAR ON HORSEBACK AS GRAND MARSHAL--0THER ARRANGEMENTS. (1915, Sep 30). Cincinnati Enquirer (1872-1922) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.research.cincinnatilibrary.org/docview/870076252?accountid=39387

SPOOKS: INFEST THE COURTHOUSE, ACCORDING TO SOME SUPERSTITIOUS AND CREDULOU PERSONS. WHO TELL OF WEIRD SIGHTS AND STRANGE SOUNDS. NIGHT WATCHMAN "BUTCH" LEES TALKS OF THEIR FOOLISH STORIES AND EXPLAINS SOME QUEER RAPS. (1902, Jul 07). Cincinnati Enquirer (1872-1922) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.research.cincinnatilibrary.org/docview/886611682?accountid=39387

CANAL: IS MENACE TO HEALTH, DECLARES JAMES ALBERT GREEN, SEEKING ITS ABANDONMENT. CITY OFFICIALS URGED TO FIGHT RENEWAL OF WATER LEASE. CONTRACTS FOR OFFICE FURNITURE. COSTING $300,000. AWARDED BY NEW COURTHOUSE COMMISSION. (1918, Mar 30). Cincinnati Enquirer (1872-1922) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.research.cincinnatilibrary.org/docview/865374305?accountid=39387

STRUCTURE: OF LOGS ERECTED IN 1790 AS COURTHOUSE IN HAMILTON COUNTY. CABIN OF JUSTICE WAS WORK OF VOLUNTEERS AND TAXPAYERS ESCAPED CONSTRUCTION COSTS. THREE OF FIVE BUILDINGS DEDICATED TO LAW ENFORCEMENT BURNED--$3,022,000 SPENT ON SIXTH. (1919, Oct 19). Cincinnati Enquirer (1872-1922) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.research.cincinnatilibrary.org/docview/865848833?accountid=39387