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First county courthouse built in 1798

April 8, 2013
Marietta Times
Although sentencing and punishments differ a bit, crimes were handled about the same in Ohio’s first 100 years as they are today.

Procedures for handling crimes were set by the nation’s founding fathers in the U.S. Constitution, and those rules have changed very little over the years.

“We have a very unique system of justice,” said former Marietta Municipal Court Judge Milt Nuzum. “It works very well and I don’t foresee it changing much — not even a hundred years from now.”

Nuzum said even years ago when a crime was committed, the burden of proof was on the prosecution, that a jury would weigh the evidence and a judge would make a ruling based on the jury’s decision.

Marietta erected its first courthouse in 1798, at the southeast corner of Second and Putnam streets, where Chase is located today.The courthouse included a jail, pillory, stocks and a whipping post.

According to reports, it was at that location the first hanging by law took place in the Northwest Territory.

In the early 1800s, crimes such as breaking and entering were punishable by 39 lashes of the whip and probation. Eventually, incarceration became the preferred form of punishment after larger jails were built in 1823.

As Marietta grew, the need for a larger building to accommodate city offices and the new fire department was realized. A large city building was erected in 1871 to serve those needs. That building stood at Third and Putnam Streets, until it was destroyed by fire in 1935.

Construction of the Washington County Courthouse began in 1901 and was completed a year later. It was designed by S. Hannaford & Sons of Cincinnati, and its construction cost $147,032.62. Washington County Common Pleas Court has been in existence since pretty much since Marietta’s start. The court officially opened on Sept. 2, 1788.

The court’s first judges were Gen. Rufus Putnam, Gen. Benjamin Tupper and Col. Archibald Crary.

Current Washington County Common Pleas Court Judge Ed Lane said nothing much has changed in court since those times.

“A lot of it has survived ... the paperwork, the procedures are very similar,” Lane said. “Of course, there are certain things that change from time to time. Statutes change and evolve ... but a lot of the paper flow is pretty similar to the way it was then.”

Lane said summons forms from the 1800s are still used today by the court.

More about the Washington County Courthouse

• Designed by highly-regarded Cincinnati architect Samuel Hannaford and constructed by W.H. Ellis & Co., the Washington County Courthouse cost roughly $200,000. The cornerstone was laid on April 9, 1901, in a ceremony which attracted hundreds and celebrated with much fanfare by American Lodge 1, Free and Accepted Masons.

• The ornate clock and bell tower rises to 158 feet. More than 2 million bricks went into the construction of the courthouse’s walls. The McShane bell, weighing about 3,000 pounds, was hung in the tower in March of 1903, nearly six months after the courthouse’s formal dedication.

• The column-lined balconies that face both Putnam and Second streets were typical of public buildings built in the early 1900s.

• Walter and Lawrence, the two lions perched at the Second Street entrance to the courthouse, remain on watch 24 hours a day. The cast iron lions “survived” the 1913 flood at their original home, a two-story brick structure known as the Milton Pomeroy Wells house, which was located only a few hundred feet from where they sit today.

• Various mosaic tile patterns decorate the floor, the most distinctive being an adopted Indian symbol for “good luck and prosperity.” Often mistaken for reverse swastikas, the Indian motif was created long before Adolph Hitler’s rise to power in Nazi Germany.

• During dedication ceremonies on Saturday, Nov. 15, 1902, the structure was christened “a temple of justice” by attorney A. Dewey Follett, one of 10 who had served on the courthouse planning committee.



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