When envisioning a courthouse most people conjure the image of a blindfolded allegorical statue standing in front of an imposing neoclassical temple of justice – much like the one Cass Gilbert designed for the U.S. Supreme Court. However, courthouses come in all shapes and sizes. With fifty-five counties, each one with a current – and often former – seat of power there are many courthouses across the state to explore. Below are just a few examples of the diverse architectural styles of the many historic courthouses of West Virginia.
Princeton, Mercer County
Alexander B. Mahood’s 1931 Mercer County Courthouse is situated in the center of a traffic circle in Princeton, WV. Visible from every angle, this limestone, art deco structure is the fifth courthouse to stand on the site. Mahood decorated the building with Roman-inspired motifs including medallions, engaged columns, and fluting. Also, the stylized heroic friezes of West Virginia history from the pioneer era through the rise of machines were based on paintings by the architect’s mother, Sallie Lee Mahood. The Mercer County Courthouse stands for progress, from its modern style to its frieze.
Parkersburg, Wood County
Drawing from the design of H.H. Richardson’s Allegheny Courthouse up the Ohio River in Pittsburgh, the Wood County Courthouse’s Richardsonian Romanesque style reflects the wealth of the county. The building’s heavy stone-faced walls in contrast with the subdued, yet intricate, sculptural detail exhibit the balance of a the raw materials of the county and the emerging culture created from the economic boom. This
commanding structure is the third courthouse built on this site.
Beverly, Randolph County
Although the county seat has since moved up the road to Elkins, Beverly’s early-nineteenth century courthouse still stands as part of the town’s heritage center. The building’s two-story symmetrical brick façade reflects the vernacular style of the mid-eighteenth century British colonies. Now joined with the neighboring Bushrod Crawford building, Beverly Bank building, and Hill store building, you can visit the former courthouse and explore the history of Beverly. Visit www.historicbeverly.org for more information and a calendar on upcoming events.
Charles Town, Jefferson County
The Courthouse of Jefferson County, built in 1808 on a plot of land donated by Charles Washington, is designed in the popular early-nineteenth century style – Greek revival. During the Civil War, the roof and interior of the courthouse were destroyed and the court temporarily relocated to Shepherdstown. The court returned to Charles Town in 1872. However, the Greek revival Doric portico and pediment were now topped by a Georgian belfry added during the renovation by Phillips and Cockrill. This courthouse has also seen many famous trials including that of John Brown after his three-day occupation of the U.S. Armory and Arsenal in Harpers Ferry, and the trail of United Mine Workers of American in the 1920s.
Go out and do these historic courthouses justice! Make these temples to jurisprudence your excuse for an excursion!