By Melinda Krick?Paulding County Bicentennial Committee
Part of a series
PAULDING – Paulding was not Paulding County’s first county seat, and the courthouse is not the first to be constructed here. Those topics will be addressed in a future article in this history series. Because the bicentennial opening event will, in part, take place at the courthouse Feb. 12, it is appropriate to take a look at 130-plus years of history of this landmark.
In the year 1886, Paulding County was in the midst of a great 20-year boom in population and economy. In less than 10 years, the population had doubled, and would double again to a peak of 27,528 residents by the 1900 census. Towns had been springing up all over the county and virtually all had a sawmill or stave factory or some type of business engaged in manufacturing wood products. Three railroads linked the county with the distant marketplaces for its products.
At this point, the county did not have a courthouse for both transacting county business and holding court. A frame building containing only a courtroom and jury rooms stood on the northeast corner of Paulding’s public square facing Main Street, and county officers were housed in a crumbling brick building known as “brick row” south of the court building. It was decided a new courthouse was needed with offices for county officers and for safely keeping county records. Undoubtedly, the building would also symbolize the modern, prosperous and fastest- growing county in Ohio as it emerged from the woods and looked to the future.
In January 1886, a petition was circulated requesting the state legislature to grant the county commissioners permission to sell $40,000 in bonds for constructing a new courthouse. A bill was passed in mid-April and planning began immediately. A seven-man building committee was organized, composed of the three commissioners, F.M. Wade, J.V. Sharp, and Thomas Chester; Clerk T.J. Champion; Probate Judge W.G. Lee; Sheriff D.W. Parr; and J.B. Zuber (appointed by the common pleas judge).
The committee traveled on April 27-29 to Celina, Ottawa, Lima, Findlay, and other points to view their courthouses to gather ideas for a design and floorplan.
Architects from as far away as Kansas and Pittsburgh traveled to Paulding to present their plans. The commissioners selected Toledo’s Edward Oscar (E.O.) Fallis, a prominent and prolific architect who designed every type of building, including as many as a dozen courthouses. The design is virtually identical to the Lenawee County Courthouse in Adrian, Mich., except the Adrian building has more extensive and costly exterior and interior trim. The building committee traveled to Adrian to view the building, constructed in 1885.
After obtaining permission from the Village of Paulding to build the courthouse on the public square, and selling the bonds, the commissioners awarded the construction contract to Rudolph Ehrhart of Defiance for $33,380. Under terms of the contract, the basement was to be finished by Oct. 15, and the building fully completed by Dec. 1, 1887.
Stone for the basement came from Preble County, Ohio, and Stony Point, Mich. Much of the brick was manufactured locally, except for some shipped from Defiance when supplies ran low.
The courthouse cornerstone was laid by members of the local Masonic lodge in a ceremony held in December 1886. The event was attended by Masons from surrounding towns and counties as well as a crowd of local residents. The ceremony included depositing a time capsule in the cornerstone that included coins, copies of newspapers and lists of local county, village and school officers.
Work was suspended for several weeks during winter. Beginning in March 1887, the more visible construction of the courthouse began. Nearly every week, the newspapers chronicled the latest developments:
March 10 – “Stone cutters have commenced dressing up stone for use in the new court house.”?April 14 – “The inside brick walls of the new court house are commencing to loom up.”?May 12 – “The brick work on the new court house is now about 15 feet high above the level of the ground.”
June 9 – “The first story of the new court house is now up, and the second story commenced.”?July 14 – “The walls of the new court house are now up to the top of the second story.”?July 28 – “The brick work of the second story is about completed and work on the roof and dome will be
commenced ere long.”? There were inevitable delays. Ehrhart had trouble getting brick in June. The hot, dry weather of August caused most of the bricklayers to fall ill, stopping work. One newspaper told readers that fall, “The whole structure has been greatly delayed by furnishing of material.”
The slate roof was completed and the dome was taking shape by late October. Plastering had started inside, windows were installed and exterior brick work was finally finished.
At the end of November, workers held a brief strike after the construction superintendent refused to provide artificial lighting for men installing the heating system in the basement.
The men hoisted a black flag at half mast on the flagpole on top of the dome and marched around the courthouse, carrying an effigy of the superintendent. Work resumed a few days later after the commissioners gave the superintendent a leave of absence and hired a replacement.
In contrast to the previous year, work continued through winter since the building was under roof and the furnaces were working. As painting and finish carpentry proceeded, the commissioners selected a bid from a Toledo company for new furnishings costing $2,752.
Construction was completed in April or May, 1888. County officers finally were able to leave the “brick row” and move into their new quarters by early July.
Some hailed the new courthouse as a “marvel of cheapness,” completed for about half the average cost of a courthouse built in that era. The total cost, including furniture and miscellaneous items not included in the original contract, was $42,524.29.
The finished building is 105 feet north and south, measured from the brick entrance columns, and 98 feet east and west. Its height from the ground to the highest point of the dome is 163 feet. Originally, the first floor contained the offices for recorder, clerk, treasurer and commissioners. On the second floor were a courtroom 70 feet long and 40 feet wide; offices for common pleas and probate judges, surveyor and sheriff; and rooms for jurors and witnesses. The attic contained a cistern and record storage, while in the basement were the furnaces, fuel storage and a water pump connected to the cistern.
The courthouse has remained a source of pride and a symbol of the county since its completion, and is one of the oldest remaining public structures in the county. It stands relatively unchanged from its original appearance except for periodic repairs and interior renovations in the interim. A notable exterior change occurred in 1914 when the stairs on the north and south entrance were altered to accommodate entrances to the basement. In 1978, the second-floor balcony overlooking the main floor was enclosed and a floor added to create a conference room and restroom. At the same time, the large courtroom was divided into two courtrooms, one for common pleas proceedings and the other for probate and juvenile court. Efforts were made to retain as much of the original furniture and trim as possible.
The building’s history has included at least two tragic events. A courthouse janitor was found dead in the attic in 1925 after apparently falling from a ladder to the dome. An elected official fatally shot himself in his vault in 1929.
Fire threatened the structure a few times, causing minor damage. In June 1890, the dome was struck by lightning, starting a fire that “gained considerable headway” before being extinguished thanks to the help of some visiting firefighters. Lightning struck the dome several times, according to records, usually only damaging the slate roof or the flagpole. In 1939, just before the start of the county centennial parade, fire broke out in the sheriff’s office on the second floor when a short wave radio short-circuited; the only damage was to the radio. Parts of the courthouse sustained smoke and fire damage in 1968 when a blaze broke out inside the dome.
A two-day celebration was held in June 1986 for the courthouse’s 100th birthday. Events included a parade, craft demonstrations, bands and entertainment, exhibits of antique vehicles and machinery and dedication of a new bandstand. The original cornerstone was opened and its contents were displayed for the public.
This year, another chapter is being added as 20 new display boards, featuring photographs covering Paulding County’s 200-year history, will be unveiled to the public starting at 7 p.m. The photo collages will be a permanent addition to the courthouse.
Next time: Early Records of Paulding County.
More information on the bicentennial can be found on Facebook at www.facebook.com/PauldingCounty200.