Current Washington County Courthouse
January 6, 1885, the 2nd Courthouse was condemned by the Health Department and a committee of architects. Later on June 8th the Grand Jury also condemned it. With those decisions and public sentiment strongly in favor of a new courthouse, county commissioners on December 12, 1885 set a date of March 5th 1886 to present plans and specifications for a new Washington County Courthouse.
These were the parameters of the town’s wants:
Made of brick/stone or both. Cost not over $60,000.00 and include some old brick. Build on the site of the previous courthouse and front north and south. Fireproof with iron beams and rafters. Dimensions 90 ft. long and 70 ft. wide. Two stories high with a proper tower in due proportion to the building. First floor rooms for Clerks Office, Auditor, Treasurer, Sheriff, two other rooms and a hallway. Second Floor ; to contain a court room, two jury rooms, one judge’s room and a private staircase. The roof to be of the finest slate. No galvanized iron to be used for the cornice or finishing. Cellar under the building nine feet clear. Corridor to be tiled in one inch marble.
April 17, 1886 plans were adopted. The old courthouse was sold to Alfred Shrum for $285.00. Some bricks from it were used to build a beautiful home on Hackberry which still stands today.
Ten bids were presented, the lowest a combined from Crumbo & Melchoir of New Albany, H. H. Routh, Alfred Shrum, and George Duncan of Salem. The McDonald brothers were given the job of superintending the building until completion.
The courthouse was completed and turned over to the county on August 9, 1888. The entire cost came in at just under $73,000.00. It has a limestone exterior (from the local quarry) with brick on the inside and marble foyer running the length of the building north and south. The building was first fitted up with grates but these were not sufficient to warm the rooms and a steam-heating plant was put in. The boiler was located in the basement tower. In a short time it was discovered the furnace was damaging the walls, so a boiler-room with a brick smoke stack (shown in photo) was built underground about fifty feet southwest of the courthouse.
Our current courthouse has served this county well. It is still used today for the most the offices it was built for. In 1906 two north basement rooms were given to the Washington County Historical Society for local historical documents and pioneer artifacts to be preserved for future generations. Now they are all displayed at the John Hay Center’s Stevens Museum, Pioneer Village and The Depot.
On Thursday July 12, 1934 a bolt of lightning hit the cupola of the courthouse shortly after 4:00 am and set it on fire. Due to a lack of water pressure the fire could not be contained so the firemen resurrected the old steam engine and attached it to a cistern under the street. The water was sprayed up into the belfry and the fire was put out.
The clock was left undamaged but the bell was cracked from the heat and water. It was later recast.
Eugene Kiefer was hired to rebuild the tower. He had Hugh Keisler, Ernie Fisher and Bud Hedrick help him. It is said the weather was very hot. The men were brought some lemonade which they decided didn’t have much taste so one liquor bottle of two was put into the drink. Afterwards all the men wrote their name on a piece of paper put it in the bottle then buried it and another full bottle somewhere in the construction where it still said to be today.
The lawn surrounding the courthouse has had many changes over the years. In the beginning dirt roads, hitching posts, cannons and iron gates. We now see parrot guns, historical plaques and the inspiring Veterans Memorial dedicated to those who left home and never returned from the ravages of so many wars.
The beauty and majesty of this stone castle is the center piece of the city of Salem but belongs to each and every citizen in Washington County.