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100 Years Ago

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Shelby County Courthouse - 1881

First Courthouse

A temporary courthouse and jail were constructed side-by side on Ohio Avenue facing the public square. After Shelby County was formed, the commissioners met temporarily in local citizen’s homes before moving into the new two-story courthouse on March 4, 1822. Sidney’s first school classes were held there beginning in 1823.

When the county’s second courthouse was constructed, the original courthouse was sold and removed to West Avenue, between Court and Poplar streets, where it later served as a home for the Plow Works Co. In those days, resources were too limited to simply destroy buildings that had already been built. It was quite common for someone to buy an intact structure, relocate it and use it for another purpose.

Second Courthouse

The second courthouse was 44’ x 44’, two stories high, made of brick and completed in May, 1833. Painted white with green blinds, it stood in the center of the square, facing south. Shelby County’s first fair was held on October 8, 1840, on the court square.

At one time, the whole square was enclosed with a heavy poplar rail fence which was then supplanted by a fifteen foot high hedge that not only encased the fence, but obscured the view of the building. Eventually, the hedge was cut down and the fence destroyed. The commissioners then replaced it with a panel fence which had four patent gates resembling a turnstile. There were public protests to the building of these fences because the citizens wanted to ensure that the square was for the ‘public’ and not ‘fenced in’ for exclusive use by the commissioners.

On Thanksgiving Day in 1870, a flock of wild turkeys settled down in and around the court house square. E.S. Burnett, proprietor of the Burnett House (as the Wagner House was then called), shot one perched on the roof of the building. By 1872, the second courthouse was described as "a plain unpretending brick structure, painted a dirty white. It is, indeed, the court house of 1832, and stands there alone, looking rather like a mournful ghost of the past decades than what it is. The day is not far distant, however, we hope, when it will give place to a structure more in keeping with the city and country of to-day." (The photo below is of second courthouse)

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Third Courthouse

The second building was razed to make way for the third courthouse which was built as part of the great county courthouse drive in Ohio. It is considered to be one of the finest in the nation and was included with 124 courthouses in a 1977 traveling exhibition."

On August 14, 1880, the commissioners entered into a contract with Columbus architect G.H. Maetzel. July 4, 1881, marked the beginning of construction with large crowds gathering for a celebration as the cornerstone was laid. There were speeches, three bands, and an evening fireworks display. According to Blanche Gearhart, an early Sidney, Ohio, resident, "It was one of the most impressive ceremonies ever held in Sidney. Thousands of flags were displayed..."

Modeled after the courthouse in Newark, county seat of Licking County, construction was completed in 1883. Originally estimated at $140,000 it actually cost nearly $200,000 to build. Materials such as limestone, sandstone and marble were brought in by canal boat. The first floor exterior walls are coursed with a stone base of masonry of sandstone from Berea, Ohio, while the sandstone for the second and third floors came from Piqua quarries.

Highlighted by fountains, benches and landscaped grounds, the French Second Empire style building is composed of four symmetrical sides, with projecting pavilions at the entries, and a classical mansard roof. It features a 170 foot center tower of galvanized iron, with four clocks. A bell, which was placed in the courthouse after its completion, still hangs there today. It is inscribed with ‘1881’, the names of the architect and the county commissioners who supervised the construction. At one time, the Courthouse held all the county government offices including that of judge, county auditor, treasurer, recorder, coroner, prosecutor and the health department.

The 1881 cornerstone from the Courthouse was opened July 17, 1981, and its century-old contents removed. A lead box contained copies of newspapers of the era, some documents and coins. Some of the better preserved old items, along with new ones, were to be sealed in the cornerstone; to be reopened by Sidneyites a century from now.

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'Downtown' segment written in October, 1998 by Sherrie Casad-Lodge 


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