Perry County Courthouse History

Perry County Courthouse

Written by Eric Schnittke

In southeastern Ohio, tucked away in the rolling foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, lies a rural county where a stone courthouse overlooks its citizens. It is distinct from the rest of the scenery in Perry County and presents itself as a castle upon a hill. The stone facade distances itself from all other buildings in the city and even in the county. The building of this courthouse coincided with many themes that were prevalent in Perry County during the late 19 th century.

Perry County was established in 1817, with the town of Somerset as its county seat. In 1887, a new courthouse was built in the new county seat of Perry County, New Lexington. The building was finished in 1888 as a cost of $143,000. Architect J.W. Yost designed the courthouse and it was built by Hilbert Shaus.

Upon first glance, one might see a castle, misplaced from the Rhine River to the middle of southeastern Ohio, perhaps a tribute to the German ancestry of Perry County. In actuality, the courthouse was built in the Richardsonian Romanesque architectural styling, a design that was adopted from ancient Roman architecture into the courthouse. This styling is marked in particular by its use of the Roman arch, which is apparent on the facade of the courthouse. It also features large stones and contrasting colors. The outside walls are made of large stone, with three entrances into the building, two by large staircases. The top of the courthouse is dotted with five ascending peaks, one on each corner and a bell tower with a clock in the middle of the building. The windows are arched; with different kinds of glass fill each pane, with an opulent blue dominating the window area in the main courtroom and stained glass above two of the three entrances. An antique cannon rests in the lawn on the northeast corner of the courthouse, dedicated to the members of the armed forces from Perry County. On the opposite lawn lies a plaque dedicated towards the same cause.

The interior of the Perry County courthouse is filled with intricate details. When entering, one first notices the staircase and its railings. They are done in cast iron, with gold painting to accent the features. There are three floors in the courthouse. The basement is home to the juvenile, probate and county courts, along with other offices. Throughout the building, ornate decoration covers the space. The woodwork on the walls includes wooden buckeye leaves, symbols of the state of Ohio. There is gilded work that borders the ceiling and painted faux-wood that decorates walls. The arches that fill the courthouse are encased in wood with designs carved into them.

Culturally, some of the themes covered earlier are noticeable in the courthouse. First, is the sweeping staircase that was found in homes of the 19 th century that can be found in the courthouse. Upon entering the courthouse, the doors open up to a large staircase with ornate cast iron railings. These have been changed, however, to accommodate the changes in technology. In particular, the stairs were limited in size and walls were added to insert an elevator into the building. As the need for more space occurred, other changes were made. A women's lounge was cleared out to make room for downstairs entrance and structures were altered to add further security. While these changes were necessary, they have detracted from the original grandeur of the courthouse.

What is intriguing about the courthouse is its entire look. In the middle of the rural, conservative, culturally limited area stands a stone behemoth. The design may be a tribute to the German immigrant roots of Perry County, yet it sticks out amongst the scenery. During the time of building, the population of Perry County was comprised of mostly working class families. The design of the courthouse contradicts those themes. Perhaps in the building of such a stately building, the citizens of Perry County were hoping to bring class and honor to their lands.

The Perry County courthouse is a great example of the changes that were taking place in the late 19th century. It is a product of small town politics, influenced by economic, technological and cultural changes. In a sense, it is a perfect representative of material culture studies. It is an object that tells us more about the history of a certain place and even a certain era. In studying an object with which one has grown up, it is interesting to delve into the history of it as a whole new entity, with a completely new perspective. The Perry County courthouse is truly a result of its environment and history.