Courthouse Facts

  • Ground broken on May 11, 1894
  • Cornerstone laid July 12, 1894
  • Courthouse is octagonal shaped outside, Cruciform inside
  • Built of Cleveland sandstone veneering back by walls of brick
  • Dimensions are 110 feet by 119 feet
  • Center dome is 136 feet high
  • Corridor floors are mosaic tile
  • Interior woodwork is Quartered oak
  • Circuit Court room has seating for 400
  • Floors are fireproof
  • Ceiling over rotunda is of stained cathedral glass
  • Architect Washburn designed the oak furniture in the courthouse
  • Robert Franklin, Nebo, was the designer of keystone architecture
  • Courthouse dedicated November 1895
  • Total cost of building – $ 48,399.73
  • Cost of wood furniture, office furniture, and light fixtures – $ 7,482.40
  • Cost of heating and sewer – $ 8,172.66
  • Cost of architects and Building Committee – $ 4,465.52
  • Total cost of building and fixtures – $ 68,520.28
  • Local Superintendent of construction H.J. Westlake, Board of Supervisors



The red-domes structure sits like a huge crown on the square block of green grass in the center of Pittsfield, the county seat of Pike County.  In this building the county business is conducted; trials held; taxes paid; births; deaths, marriages recorded; traffic tickets paid; passport applications made; dog licenses received; records of land acquisitions and sales made; and assistance for the poor given.  It is the courthouse.


Pittsfield is not the first county seat of Pike County, nor is the red-domed courthouse the first in Pittsfield.  It is the third courthouse in the town, but the fourth in the county.  To explain this situation, look to early history of the area.

Pittsfield was created to be the county seat in 1833.  For twelve years before (1821), when Pike County was first carved out of Illinois territory, the county seat was southwest of Hardin at Coles Grove for two years.

In 1823, Atlas was named county seat and the same log cabin that had served as the courthouse in 1821 was taken apart and moved to atlas, then reassembled.  The same building, pictured above, served as courthouse in two different locations.

By 1833, a law had been passed requiring county seats to be as centrally located as possible.  The town of Pittsfield was created for this purpose.

There was no great majestic structure for a courthouse in the early days of Pittsfield.  A two-story frame building on the north side of the square next to the alley served as the official offices.

In 1838, a large square two-story courthouse was built in the central square.  It was the third of Pike County, the second in Pittsfield.  About fifty years later, this building fell into despair and was condemned.

The timbers had dry-rotted and the brocks had become crumbly beneath the plaster of the surface.

For a time, business was done in the opera house on South Madison Street; some offices were held in other rented locations in town.

Many people in the county were inconvenienced by the scattered officials, and the town of Barry circulated a petition to have the county seat moved to that place.  They would provide $ 50,000 to build a new courthouse.

By December 13, 1893, the Board of Supervisors met and a vote was taken on moving the county seat.  Barry lost.  However, Barry’s action hastened the Board to act on building a new courthouse in Pittsfield.

A Building Committee was names to investigate other courthouses and materials.  They were to solicit architects and contractors and report back to the Board.  The Committee visited several county seats in Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, and Iowa as well as stone cutting works in two places.


Finally on February 28, 1894, the Board chose a plan by Henry Elliott from a field of twenty architects who submitted plans by invitation of the Committee.  From bids received, Yaeger and Schultz’s of Danville, Illinois were chosen at the price specified, $ 45,000 to be completed within 400 days after the signing of the contract.


The foundation was put in and walls started.  When construction reached the level where the cornerstone was to be laid, a great celebration was planned for the occasion.


“The sun came up with heated brilliance…people came pouring into town from all points of the compass and by 10 o’clock in the forenoon, the city park and surrounding streets and walks were as crowded as if the great Barnum show was here.” – Pike County Democrat, July 18, 1894

Thousands of people came to see the laying; bands from Winchester and Louisiana came, entertaining people on the streets as they waited.  About 1:30 the parade lines up.

T.N. Hall, Marshall of the day put in appearance, mounted on that fine stallion of Perry Allen’s. – Pike County Democrat, July 18, 1894

Then the article lists organizations and numbers of people from groups marching in the parade for the celebration:

Louisiana band

G.A.R. Members, 56 strong


Mayor, Alderman, City Officers

Circuit and County Judges

Members of the Bar

Supervisors and County Officers

Modern Woodmen, 25

Knights of Pythians, 86


Daughters of Rebekah, 22

W.C.T.U., 52

Order of Eastern Star, 26

Knights Templar, 35

A.F. and A.M., 235

Grand Lodge A.F. and A.M.

The Grand Master of the State of Illinois Masonic Lodge help a ceremony for the laying of the cornerstone.  He deposited within that stone, a box containing numerous county documents and data of the time:

All the names of teachers and school officials in the county

Names of all library trustees

Copies of newspapers from Pike County towns, St. Louis and Chicago

Lists of City and County Officials

Names of Members of the Illinois National Guard

Memberships and officers of many other organizations

Copies of bids and contracts of courthouse

All Masonic members in attendance that day participated in the laying.  After the stone was in place the Grand Master poured wine, oil, and corn over it.  These symbolize plenty, health, and peace.


The cornerstone face to the northwest bears this inscription:

Laid by the Masonic Fraternity

A.L. 5944, L.A. Goddard, Grand Master

On the northeast face, the date and those responsible are named:

Corner stone laid July 12, 1894

Board of Supervisors: J.R. Easley, Chr.

W. Bright, J.L. Cawthon, A. Duff, M.F. Goodwin, G.W. Gerald, W. Hess, C.I. Rupert,

W.I. Ware, F.L. Hall, W.R. Hooper, C. Johnston, F.W. Jaritz, W.P. Kennedy, L.W. Mahan, G. Main, G. Williams, H. Young, V.A. Grimes, Clerk.

Building Committee: W. Scarborough, T.N. Hall, D. Elder, S. Hull, H. Westlake

Henry Elliott, Arch. Yaeger & Schultz, Blds.


As the courthouse walls grew, the building contractor watched the days of the 400-day contract.  He lamented because he did not have any men among his stone-cutting crew who could do the keystone work of the design and searching for such a craftsman might extend his build time.

Robert Franklin, who lived near Nebo, was in town to pay his taxes and heard the contractor’s problems.  Franklin had been a stone mason in England before moving to this country and volunteered for the work of the new courthouse.  He and some members of his family walked or drove their team of horses from home on Monday morning, worked six days on the stone cutting, then returned to Nebo on Saturday evening.

For this work, Franklin is remembered in a plaque in the center hall courthouse:

In member

Robert Franklin

English, 1849 – Nebo, 1915

A master mason who designed and Supervised the keystone architecture of this courthouse


The courthouse is fashioned of Cleveland sandstone veneering, backed by heavy walls of brick.  It is octagonal shaped, with overall dimensions of 110 feet by 119 feet with the center dome raising to 136 feet.

The stone for the courthouse was shipped in the rough from the quarries and formed into blocks as required for the building at the site.  For this job, many stone cutters were employed, yet no one had a particular keystone skill for which Franklin was needed.

The four entrances of the courthouse are all exactly alike.  Large double doors of oak have glass panels in them and stained glass above the door frame.  Identical stone porches cover each entrance.

Because these entrances are alike, people often get confused.  They enter the courthouse by one door, accomplish their business, and leave by another exit, not realizing their departure was not from the same door as their entrance.

They go outside, cannot find their vehicle, and assume it must have been stolen.  More than a few people, both residents and strangers, have had this bewildering experience.  Some have walked across to the sheriff’s office in the jail to report a stolen car, only to find it where it was left – – on a different side of the courthouse.  To help avoid this confusion, the hallways in the center of the courthouse are marked with the direction above them: N,S,W,E.


The sketch attempts to show the unique design of the courthouse tables.  These are found in the law library, the County Court room, and the Circuit Court room, among other places.

The handsome wood furniture is of quartered oak designed by Mr. Washburn, the second architect employed for the courthouse.

“Metal furniture for filing papers is as fine as anything in the state” states Grace Mattison in historical file.

Stained glass panels are above each window in the building and decorate transoms over most office doors.  Not only are the transoms ventilating, but beautiful.


The first floor hallways lead into offices of the

County Treasurer

Circuit Clerk

Supervisor of Assessments

General Assistance Office

Country Clerk

There is also a County Court room which is now used for small claims court or when the Circuit Court room on the second floor is busy, or as a meeting place for the County Board of Supervisors.

There is no longer a “Count y Court,” though the name remains etched on the glass doors.  The two-court system was dissolved in the reform act of 1964, and County Court was combined with the Circuit Court.


On the wall in the south hallway, a World War Honor Roll of Pike County hangs with dates 1917-1919.  Engraves on this bronze tablet are the names of Pike County citizens who served in that war.  Identifying marks beside each name tell of what person’s action, place of service, and medals won.

In the north hall, A historical quilt hangs, pieced by the Pittsfield Star Quilters in 1986.  Each block of fabric pictures a landmark of Pittsfield or Pike County.  Nearby hangs the legend for the 24 blocks with the identification of the scene and the person making the block.

At the intersection of the first floor halls, a large picture hangs of Paul Findley.  He was a “Member of Congress 1960-1982.”  On the opposite wall, a memorial plaque for Don Irving is located.  It states: “1899-1975.  He loved mankind and honesty.  He served the Democratic Party, the people of Chambersburg and the kingdom of Pike with distinction.”


Above the Irving plaque in the courthouse rotunda, a picture catches the eye – – that of Abraham Lincoln, taken in Pittsfield on October 1, 1858 by Calvin Jackson.

Though Lincoln did not serve in this particular courthouse, he was in Pittsfield many times and had many friends here.  He did have many friends here.  He did practice law here.  “Beginning in 1839, he had at least twice had cases in the Pike County Circuit Court when his duties on the old Illinois Eighth Judicial Circuit permitted.” “Lincoln’s 1858 visit to Pittsfield, Illinois” by Leroy H. Fisher.

Lincoln’s personally signed documents have been stolen from the courthouse.  Many people in the county have seen them and know they exist.  The public is alerted to watch for them, should they surface at sales, in museums, or private collections.  The dockets listing Lincoln’s cases still remain, stored in ancient records in the courthouse basement.

Before leaving the rotunda, look up!  See the railed opening of the ceiling onto the second floor and the oaken spindles lining the stairs.  See the elaborate design of the cathedral stained glass high in the dome


Descending the steps from the first floor to the basement, one first notes the machines of the mapping department in the main section of the center room.  The equipment is part of the Supervisor of Assessment’s office.  Radiating from the center space of the basement are the offices of the custodian, Civil Defense and Zoning.

Two locked doors protect record storage of County and Circuit Clerks.  For safe keeping, some record are microfilmed and kept in nuclear-proof storage in Michigan.  The first decade of Pike County files were lost when the Circuit Clerk’s office burned at Atlas in the Winter of 1829-1830.


From the basement, one climbs the utilitarian steps to the first floor, then the worn stone stairs to the second.  The dark wood wall paneling of the stairway does not prepare the eye for the beauty of the center hall of this upper floor.

Looking to the south, the graceful twin curved stairways form a balcony on this second floor.  From this walkway, doors lead into the gallery of the Circuit Court room and the attic.

The intricate designed balustrades of the stairs match that of the banister around the opening from the first floor into the rotunda.  The wood is quartered oak with a rubbed finished, repeated throughout the courthouse in wainscoting and other railings.


In the Circuit Court room, the viewpoint is immediately on the judge’s golden oak bench, flanked by desks and seats of the bailiff and witness stand.  In front of the bench are tables and chairs for lawyers and their clients, the accused and defendant.

Because of the building’s octagonal shape, windows form the southeast, south, and southwest sides of the courtroom, curtained panes with art glass in red, blue, and gold above the sashes.

The courtroom has a decorative metal paneled ceiling, painted white.  The same design and material of the ceiling is on the front of the balcony, but this seating is no longer used.

Many citizen recall how full and overflowing the area was in November, 1937, during one of the most famous trails held in Pike County – – that of Reverend Newton.

Rev. Newton had murdered a parishioner with whom he was having an affair and had thrown her body off the Hannibal Bridge of the Mississippi River.  Though both Rev. Newton and his lady friend were from Missouri, the crime took place in Pike County, Illinois, near East Hannibal.

News reporters came from across the county to cover the scandalous trial.  In Pittsfield, high school classes were dismissed so students could attend the court proceedings.  Adults, however, were angry the trial took place in Pittsfield.  The Depression was on, and the taxpayers were responsible for the expense of the trial when the people involved were not even from Pike County.

No longer is the court room full of trial-watchers, though it can hold about 400 people.  Few persons occupy the courthouse except as necessary for the case.


Near the jury box, on the southwest side of the courtroom, a small room holds a long table and twelve chairs for the deliberating group.  From this, a short hall leads to the law library.  The rows of stocked book shelves serve as a resource for all lawyers in town.

From the library, one enters into the center hall of the second floor again, near the States Attorney’s office which is next to the Probation Officer’s quarters.


A locked door off the balcony stairs closes off most of the public to the attic of the courthouse.  It is the third floor; a very large, open, unfinished room.  Its wooden beams show youths’ leisure was spent in this area.

In one side of this attic, a mesh fence and locked gate protects articles, records, and evidence stored there from criminal cases.

In the center of the attic is a large round brick tower with a stairway leading up the outside to a door near the roof of the attic.  This opens into the very center of the dome.  Stairs and walkways surround the inside walls of the tower, for in the middle of the dome is a very large iron water tank.  It must have been incorporated into the building as a gravity flow supply for the new courthouse.  The tank has long been empty, but is too big and heavy to remove from the building without damage or reconstruction.

Ladders replace stairs as the dome becomes smaller in diameter and taller, but very few people have climber to the top for the awe-inspiring view of the Pike County from the peak of the dome.


Another unique and unusual feature of the original construction of the courthouse is the underground tunnel to the jail.  Some legends say the tunnel was used to take prisoners from place to place.  The actual use was for electricity and heat pipes as well as sewer lines to run from the courthouse and jail to a central plant.  The tunnel is too low and narrow for traffic.


Building the new courthouse in 1894, did not go smoothly, even at the very beginning.  Some Board members wanted a new courthouse, others did not.  Part of the county citizens were content to use the old opera house and rented rooms for county officials, while others said if Pittsfield was not going to build a new courthouse, then the county seat should be moved to a town that would.

After the Building Committee was name and they began taking investigating tours, they were criticized for taking too many trips.

After the architect was hired and construction was well under way, people were still in argument.  The Barry Adage of September 19, 1894 reports

We hear many complaints about the new courthouse.  The people of Pittsfield are not at all satisfied with it.  Generally conceded that the building is not substantial enough.  Pretty, but not solid.

Finally in November of that year, a prominent architect from Chicago was called in to inspect the building.  He said the courthouse under construction was in a bad state of affairs as to the safety of the building and he could condemn it as unsafe if it were completed without further strengthening.

The committee then fired Mr. Elliott, the original architect, and secured the services of George P. Washburn of Ottowa, Kansas to complete the courthouse.  He strengthened the existing structure and made some important changes in the circuit court room.

Not only was there debate over the location of the courthouse and county seat, the building Committee’s trips, the architecture and safety, but the contractor had his bad moments too.

In May, when the rock began arriving by the train car loads in huge blocks straight from the quarries it was reported that “there is no wagon in town that will hold up the largest.”

In June, delays occurred, due to unsettled conditions of railroad matters.  The month was not a good one! There was trouble with the cement mortar with which the rock was laid.

There were delays in receipt of stone and cement.  The Berea rock stone was running low due to a miner’s strike.  Because the rock was slow in arriving, the stone cutters were laid off.

In August, 1894, some of the stone cutters mashed two hind wheels of the large bummer’s wagon hired for carting stone.  In November, “Three stone cutters left via prairie schooner and a team of wheezy horsed headed for St. Louis, then the sunny south.” (Grace Mattison files)

One older stone cutter has a paralytic stroke while another one developed typhoid fever and died.  (These were not the keystone mason of Nebo, but the stone cutters with the general work.)

When the courthouse dome was added, critics said the square base should have been bigger and it did not look good perched on so large a roof.

As the building nears one hundred years, what do you think?

At summertime festivals, the courthouse is a generous host to gaiety as tents, booths, popcorn stands, and children’s carnival rides cover the lawns.  The sheltering porches hide young lovers, and cradle weary children and tired parents from the day’s activities.

The courthouse is solemn and dignified on Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Veterans’ Day surrounded by United States flags places by American Legion in memory of those who lost their lives in military action.

The courthouse is a symbol of the county.  Its red dome decorated tee-shirts, businesses are named for it, visitors photograph it, and residents admire it daily.

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