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Lost History Of Columbus: The Old Franklin County Courthouse(s)

Located in the heart of downtown Columbus, the Franklin County Courthouse has taken many forms over the years.

The original courthouse, constructed in 1840 for a sum of $40,000, was more than just a place for legal proceedings. It harbored a county jail in its basement and a sheriff’s residence on the first floor, merging the spheres of justice and domestic life under one roof.

Located at the southeast corner of High and Mound Streets, the courthouse is shown behind the trees on the left, with the annex shown on the right. (CML)

However, this multipurpose edifice was not destined to last; it met its demise on April 13, 1884, making way for progress and architectural innovation.

As the courthouse was “In Process of Being Torn Away,” a phrase poignantly captured in the photo below by Baker’s Art Gallery in 1884, Columbus was on the brink of welcoming a new era of justice.

old courthouse being torn down
Photo originally taken in 1884, while the courthouse was being torn down. (CML)

The cornerstone of the subsequent Franklin County Courthouse was laid with pomp and circumstance on July 4, 1885, heralding the dawn of a new chapter. This building, dedicated on July 13, 1887, under the watchful eye of George Bellows, Sr., the superintendent of construction, was a testament to the city’s aspirations and architectural ambitions.

A Monument to Justice and Its Pitfalls

The new courthouse, costing about a half-million dollars, was an architectural masterpiece clad in gray sandstone with polished granite columns guarding its entrances.

Franklin county courthouse in 1909
Looking onto the Franklin County Courthouse in 1909. (CML)

Its clock tower, rising majestically above the cityscape, was not just a timekeeper but a symbol of the enduring presence of justice. However, this grandeur was not immune to the ravages of time. The roofs, perhaps in a poetic nod to the leaks and lapses in the justice system itself, began to betray the building, leading to its eventual razing in 1974.

Adjacent to this monument of justice stood a modern stone fire-proof jail, facing Fulton street. This juxtaposition of the courthouse and the jail served as a tangible representation of the thin line between freedom and incarceration, watched over by the silent sentinel of the clock tower.

The Courthouse Today

The demolition of the 1887 courthouse paved the way for a modern reinterpretation of justice’s home. The Franklin County Courthouse complex, as captured aerially circa 1979 by David Lucas, showcases a sprawling expanse of justice administration, from the Hall of Justice to the Municipal Court and the County Jail.

aerial angle of franklin county courthouse
An aerial photo featuring the Franklin County Courthouse Complex in 1979. (CML)

This modern complex stands as a testament to the evolution of civic architecture, marrying functionality with the solemn dignity befitting its role in society.

The courthouse, once surrounded by electric arches and neighboring Lang Schenck Liquors, now finds itself in the company of parking garages and administration buildings, reflecting the changing landscape of downtown Columbus. Yet, amidst these transformations, the essence of the courthouse as a place of judgment, reconciliation, and community endures.

Photograph of the Franklin County courthouse, dedicated in July 1887.

The Franklin County Courthouse, in its various incarnations, narrates the story of Columbus’s growth, not just in bricks and mortar but in its pursuit of justice and order. Each building phase, from the original courthouse with its humble beginnings to the modern complex that stands today, encapsulates a chapter in the city’s history.