Best known as the site of the 1935 Lindbergh kidnapping trial, the Hunterdon County Courthouse has statewide significance as the oldest surviving county courthouse in New Jersey and is a fine example of temple-form Greek Revival architecture.
The exterior preservation of the Courthouse included repair of deteriorated stucco and masonry, roof and window restoration and site drainage improvements.
The public is welcome to attend the program which will be held on the steps of the Courthouse at 11:00 am.
The firm of Ford Farewell Mills and Gatsch of Princeton was the project architect. The contractor was Integrated Construction Enterprises, Inc. of Belleville.
The Freeholders intend to apply for additional funding from the New Jersey Historic Preservation Bond Program to restore the interior of the Courthouse.
Historic County Courthouse
Prior to Restoration Efforts
(photo dated 1999)
Historic County Courthouse
As it looks today
and Construction Chronology of the
Hunterdon County Courthouse
By Connie Greiff, Heritage Studies
the Courthouse and Jail:
On the night of February 13, 1828, the old Hunterdon County Courthouse, which was built in 1793, was struck by a disastrous fire. Only the stone walls were left standing.
The Hunterdon County Courthouse is significant both architecturally and historically. Because many of New Jersey's early courthouses have been replaced by later and larger buildings, the Hunterdon County Courthouse is now one of the oldest surviving examples of this building type in the state and one of the few, along with Morris and Warren, still in its original use. It also is possibly the earliest Greek Revival temple-form building in New Jersey. Since 1829 it has served as the seat of government and seat of justice for Hunterdon County. On a national, indeed an international level, the Courthouse and the 1925 Jail have worldwide recognition as the sit of the Lindbergh kidnaping trial in 1935.
Construction and Original Appearance
of the Courthouse
On the night of February 13, 1828, the old Hunterdon County Courthouse, built in 1793, was struck by a disastrous fire. Only the stone walls were left standing. Also surviving on the site was a one-story brick building to the north of the Courthouse. Built later than the old Courthouse, this accommodated the clerk's and surrogate's offices.
On March 10, the Board of Chosen Freeholders held an emergency meeting to determine what course to follow in providing a Courthouse. The board quickly determined to undertake new construction, rather than rebuilding the 1793 structure. The initial decision was to build a separate courthouse and jail. Stone from the walls of the old Courthouse would be reused for the jail; enough of the walls would remain in place to provide a foundation for the new Courthouse. A committee was appointed to visit courthouses in Morris, Monmouth and Warren Counties and Doylestown, PA.
Some communication among the Freeholders must have occurred before their next meeting on April 3. It appears that a decision already had been made to combine the Courthouse and jail in a single building. The freeholders moved swiftly to accept, with some modifications, a plan presented by Mr. Saxton. The plan had been drawn by a Mr. Springer, who later was paid $12.00 as the ""architect" for the building. It called for a high first story, identified as the basement, in which would be located the jail and the jailer's quarters, with a courtroom on the floor above, and a Grand Jury room in the attic. The board called for the building to be 50 feet in width and 70 feet in depth, with a portico 10 feet deep if that was agreeable to the architect. Evidently it was not, for the portico is approximately 15 feet in depth. The first, or basement, story was to be 10 feet high, the upper or courtroom, floor to be 16 feet in height. The front of the building was to be built of brick, the remainder of stone. Except for the portico, these dimensions were more or less adhered to.
Construction began quickly, with the cornerstone laid with considerable ceremony on May 7. It contained copies of the Bible and the laws of New Jersey and a brass plate with the names of the architect and the members of the building committee. By December 28, the space in the jail set aside for the accommodation of debtors was ready. The Freeholders met for the first time in the new Courthouse at the end of March. The cost of construction had been $13,513.86
The new building was on the same site, at the northwest corner of Main and Court Streets, that had been occupied by the 1793 Courthouse and may, indeed, rest, at least partially, on the same foundations. To its north it was linked to the existing one-story office building by a high board fence. At the rear was an exercise yard for the prisoners. This was bounded by a high stone wall and contained a pump and sink. A cistern at the front of the Courthouse was part of the water supply.
The completed Courthouse was an imposing Greek Revival building, with its portico with four colossal columns of a simplified Tuscan order. Temple-form buildings always were rare in New Jersey and the Hunterdon County Courthouse is an unusually early example.
None of the courthouses visited could have served as the precedent, for none was as advanced in style. All four were Georgian or Federal. The closest was the Warren County Courthouse, built in 1826, which also presented a gable front to the street. Its internal arrangements (now much altered) may have been similar to those of Hunterdon, with the jail on the first floor and the court room on the second, although its overall dimension, at 40 feet by 60 feet, were smaller. But Warren was Federal in detailing with, originally, a small one-story portico.
Nor does the exterior design of the Hunterdon County Courthouse resemble any of the pattern or builder's books examples then available. What Mr. Springer and the members of the building committee could have seen were a number of recently-erected Greek Revival buildings in Philadelphia. The most fully realized of these was the Second Bank of the United States. Designed in 1818, but not finished until 1824, this was a full-blown Greek Revival building, modeled on the Parthenon. For the Hunterdon County Courthouse, a more modest, but in a sense more original, Philadelphia building may have been the prototype. This was the First Presbyterian Church, designed by John Haviland. Built in 1820-22, it stood on the south side of Washington Square, until it was demolished in 1939. The Washington Square church had six columns across the front rather than four and they were Ionic rather than Tuscan. Nevertheless it may have formed the precedent for the somewhat unusual combination of a temple-form building with a cupola located toward the front of the roof just behind the portico. A cupola or belfry was an important feature not only for a church, but also for a courthouse. In Flemington, the bell summoned the Freeholders to return to their meeting after a lunchtime adjournment. It also was rung to announce the arrival of a verdict, and probably also at the opening of court. The cupola on the Hunterdon County Courthouse did not accord with the Greek Revival style of the rest of the building. Rather it harked back to earlier Philadelphia models, Carpenters' Hall (1774), the Walnut Street Jail (1776) and Congress Hall (1789).
The finished building came close to what the Freeholders had called for, approximately 51 feet 6 inches in width and 70 feet 4 inches in depth. The walls were stuccoed directly on the masonry and whitewashed, including the wall of the pediment, as were the columns. There is no evidence as to whether at this time the stucco was scored to stimulate stone. Probably the walls were constructed, at least in part, of reused stone from the old building, since the bills include only small amounts for the purchase of stone, although new stone window lintels came from Pittstown. The columns, however, are brick, and it is possible that the front wall also is brick. A broad, but plain cornice, with no dentils or other ornament, rested on the columns. It consisted of architrave, frieze and crown molding; the latter element continued along the rakes of the pediment.
The roof was wood shingle, painted; the most likely color would have been red. Three tall brick chimneys were disposed along either side, with gable-roofed dormer windows between them; another chimney rose in the center of the rear wall. An octagonal cupola was placed at the peak of the roof towards the front of the building, behind the pediment, in which the bell from the old courthouse was rung. (Almost immediately after completion of the Courthouse, a new bell was purchased.) Its arched openings were filled with louvers or, as they are referred to in the documents, "Venetian blinds." There were no other exterior blinds or shutters on the building. The roof of the cupola was copper, gold-leafed; it was surmounted by a weathervane with gilded ball. Copper gutters were placed along the north and south sides, with 10 copper down spouts.
The building was approached by a flight of five brown sandstone steps, leading up to the portico floor, which may at that time have been floored in wood. The front was three bays wide. The wide central doorway had sidelights above paneling, framed by Tuscan columns, paneled jambs and soffit and an elliptical four-light fanlight. The door was double-leafed, each leaf with four sunk panels arranged vertically. To either side was a single window. (All windows were double-hung sash, undoubtedly with smaller panes than the present widows.) On the second floor, there were windows above each of these openings. There also were two rectangular windows in the pediment.
The depth of the building was five bays, with two ranges of windows in each bay. The upper windows in all but the front bay were about half again the length of the other windows, in order to supply ample light to the high-ceilinged court room. Although no views of the rear of the building exist, the upper floor, at least, was lit by at least two large windows to either side; there may also have been an even larger window at the center. Again there were two windows in the pediment, the central bay being occupied by a chimney, which served a fireplace in the Grand Jury room.
There is no documentation as to the finish of the exterior, although there are references to painting. It is possible that the stucco had an intrinsic color and that only the trim was painted. Alternatively the entire building may have been painted.
Source: Historic Hunterdon
County Courthouse Preservation Plan,
Ford Farewell Mills and Gatsch, July 1996.
Schedule of Events
Refreshments will be served in the park behind the Courthouse immediately following the program
|Hunterdon County Board of Chosen Freeholders
Marcia A. Karrow, Director
George D. Muller, Deputy Director
Frank J. Fuzo
George B. Melick
Paul C. Sauerland, Jr.
Cynthia J. Yard, County Administrator
Gaetano M. DeSapio, County Counsel
Rededication Program Committee
Honorable Edmund R. Bernard
Sheriff William Doyle
Marcia A. Karrow
John W. Kellogg
Paul C. Sauerland, Jr.
Cynthia J. Yard
Hunterdon County Facilities Committee
Frank J. Bell, County Architect
John P. Glynn, Director of Roads, Bridges and Engineering
John W. Kellogg, Director of Planning
Cynthia J. Yard, County Administrator
Ford Farewell Mills and Gatsch, Architect
Integrated Construction Enterprises, Inc.
The Freeholders wish to acknowledge their appreciation to the Reading-Fleming Middle School Eight Grade Band and Tigeretts for their participation in today's program. They also want to extend their appreciation to Ford Farewell Mills and Gatsch, Architects and Integrated Construction Enterprises, Inc. for their contributions which made today's refreshments possible.
|Music for the ceremony was provided by:
(left) Pipe Major Larry Booker of the Somerset County Police Pipes and Drums;
(top) Reading-Fleming Middle School Tigeretts;
(bottom) Reading-Fleming Middle School 8th Grade Band
|Remarks were made by:
(clockwise) Donald T. DiFrancesco, Senate President; Marcia A. Karrow, Director, Board of Chosen Freeholders; Stephanie Stevens, Chair, Hunterdon County Cultural and Heritage Commission; Michael Mills, Ford, Farewell Mills and Gatsch, Project Architects; Harriet Hawkins, Director, NJ Historical Society; and Robert E. Guterl, Assignment Judge, NJ Superior Court
|Close to 100 people attended the Rededication
Ceremony despite the rain.
Ford Farewell Mills and Gatsch, Architects presented the County with a pen and ink drawing of the historic courthouse.
The Freeholders & Architects unveil a rendering of the plaque that will adorn the front of the courthouse once it is completed.