The Highland County Courthouse is considered a centerpiece of uptown Hillsboro with a long and unique history – and it’s the oldest continuously used courthouse in Ohio.
But keeping the facility in working order requires periodic upgrades and maintenance. County commissioners are currently collecting pricing information for a new roof. Plans are in place to replace the front double wooden doors of the courthouse. Other recent efforts included refurbishing the rear entrance to counteract the sinking impact of water runoff over the years. Various electrical, heating and cooling problems are a constant battle at the courthouse.
The front portion of the courthouse was constructed between 1832 and 1834, according to local historian Jean Wallis, and finished under the guidance of Christopher Arthur, a Virginia woodworker. Arthur was responsible for much of the woodwork and interior, Wallis said, and some of his handiwork is still in place today, including wooden pegs securing large beams in the roof of the courthouse.
Wallis said construction crews back then didn’t have automated equipment when the courthouse was being built, so construction took much longer than it would today and required a lot of manpower.
“That was a big undertaking back in those days,” she said.
Much of the rear of the building, including what is now the Highland County Clerk of Courts office, was not constructed until later on, according to county custodian Tom Perrin.
The courthouse and jail were extensively remodeled in 1976 in honor of the country’s bicentennial celebration, Wallis said.
Perrin said most of the courthouse’s interior and the common pleas courtroom were almost completely gutted in the process, except for the curved wall behind the judge’s desk and the dome ceiling, since workers weren’t sure they could reconstruct those aspects of the architecture properly.
The courthouse used to have eight fireplaces to provide heat for the building, Perrin said, but those were all removed during the remodeling.
The courthouse’s current roof, which county commissioners are currently evaluating for replacement, was put on when the building was remodeled, and it’s showing some signs of wear and tear, Perrin said.
Wallis said she knows for sure the bell in the courthouse’s cupola was not manufactured at the C.S. Bell Foundry, since the foundry was not established until 1858, but it may have been manufactured by Buckeye Bell in Cincinnati.
The bell still remains in the cupola, but hasn’t been rung in years, Perrin told The Times-Gazette.
The former jail – now the Highland County Prosecutor’s Office – was constructed in 1894, according to Wallis.
Wallis said the jail also served as the office and home of the sheriff at the time, with the sheriff’s wife being hired by the county to provide food and laundry for prisoners incarcerated there.
During the renovation, all but one of the former jail cells were removed or walled over, but one still remains for the public to view – including the toilet and two bunks on either side of the cell.
Perrin said many details still remain in the prosecutor’s office hearkening back to the builders’ attempts at making the sheriff’s office more like a home – including several hand-forged locks and ornate door handles, as well as artistically designed doors and stair rails.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.