Jefferson County Courthouse History

Please click on pictures to view a larger version.

Two Story brick courthouse
built in 1809

Jefferson County Courthouse,
Steubenville, Ohio  1874

Jefferson County Courthouse, 1903
Flags - preparing for the
Bi-Centennial Celebration
Note the tower and clock intact.

Jefferson County Courthouse, Steubenville, Ohio As it appears today.

The first courthouse was built in 1798 and was a simple log cabin where the current courthouse now stands.  It was torn down in 1807 and a new building was completed in 1809.  It was a two story brick house and cost $2.260 and had a bell tower.  In 1870  a new courthouse construction began and was completed in 1874.  The courthouse was four stories high with a tower that held a handsome elegant clock that illuminated from all four sides and a bell below the clock, which is now housed at the Steubenville Union Cemetery.  The tower was removed in 1950.  The courthouse now stands as it was built exception only to the fourth floor new addition and minus the tower on top. 

FYI:  The Jefferson County Courthouse (s) has NEVER burned BUT there was a terrible snowstorm Nov 25, 1950 and the roof of the courthouse "caved in." The fourth floor was rebuilt at this time and many records that were stored on the upper floor of the courthouse were saved and carried to the courthouse basement.  (You can read more about the courthouse damage from the Herald Star newspaper, Nov 24-25, 1950, Apr 9, 1951

The courthouse that now stands - Work on the courthouse began  by laying the sandstone foundation in 1870. From an early photo seen at the Jefferson County Museum, several businesses surrounded the courthouse while the sandstone was laid:  

  • A Hotel
  • M. Gowan and Sons
  • Drugs (drugstore - the address on the building was 108)
  • S. Wilson and Son
  • A Music Store

The following information provided by Flora L. VerStraten

My father was born and grew up in Steubenville. He gave me a photocopy of the following flyer that was passed all around Steubenville and Jefferson County that included pictures of the courthouse and a song with lyrics to back it up. My father said there was a lot of political pressure starting in the early 1930's through the mid 1950's to tear down the old courthouse and build a new courthouse. I would also like to note that the roof was reported as "caving in" due to the snow storm. If you read the flyer, below, and the lyrics to the song, it sheds another light on what was really going on with the courthouse during that time period.

The politicians of the day ran articles in the local newspapers to inform the community  and have them start thinking that the courthouse was unsafe and should be torn down and replaced. Below is an example of the political climate that existed during that time in our county history. The following is exactly what appeared on the flyer:

Jefferson County Courthouse
Most magnificent structure in the State. 
History about the courthouse:
A gold mine of material wealth (quoted prices in 1932)
200,000 tons of Northern Ohio Sandstone = $5,900,000.
100,00 tons of free iron = $95,000.
Wild cherry wood = $25,000.
Total = $6,020.000.

In 1932 a group of crafty politicians conceived an evil scheme to steal your gold mine. To this end a bond issue for a new courthouse was submitted and defeated by the electorate. Between 1932 and May 1951, your courthouse was subjected to a deliberate sabotage to show such weakness that you would be willing to give it away by voting for a new one. You are asked to vote $3,000,000 for a planless project, and give the spenders $6,020,000 as a bonus. Don't do it!

Enclosed with my father's flyer was a photo of the Jefferson County Court House, that must have been given out with the flyer. It was a pencil drawing of the courthouse as it was in 1874.

Lyrics to song:
Stealing started when they took the clock; Scheming started when they took the bell. Wrecking started when they cut the block and piled debris on an attic cell. That's why the roof fell; Now they would sell that beautiful courthouse at an auction block.
Ev'ry time I pass that courthouse. I get the courthouse blues.
I mean the courthouse blues. Politicians spare that courthouse.
Why! Why do you refuse? I've got the courthouse blues.
Have you noted folks have voted? You gave them courthouse blues;
Their votes you'd make them lose. Politician spare that court-house Why! Why do you refuse? Break up that court house blues.
Woe to land mark with a trade mark. There! See old Romans muse
It's one of his-try's views - Politician spare that courthouse.
(repeat chorus)
Don't be dumb! The bells of freedom can ring you courthouse blues.
The meanest kind of blues.
Woe to you who'd down that statue - by hocus pocus ruse -
No wonder we've the blues.
Politicians spare that court house
(repeat the chorus)
Ten per cent! Is that you answer? Yes! That's why you refuse;
When human touch you lose.
Politician spare that courthouse - Why! Why do you refuse?
Break up that court house blues.
Song - Copyright 1951 by Michael Halapy
Performing Rights Allowed

Note - A restoration project began on the courthouse in 2006-07 and continues currently through 2008. Cleaning of the sandstone, replacing sidewalks, cleaning and restoring the inside structure of the building continues as of February 2008. (Come back for updates!)

What to do “If” the Courthouse Burned
First of all, this might not sound nice, but don’t always believe the overworked county clerk who brushes you off with “the courthouse burned and all the records were lost.”  There are a very small percentage of courthouses that have burned, contrary to what you may have been told by courthouse employees.  {Check the websites below to confirm this fact.}

Please keep in mind that county officials do their best to reconstruct lost records—especially those all-important tax lists!  In addition, records like deeds, which are essential to proving legal title to land, will be re-recorded.  Many records actually survive fires because they were kept in a safe or, if burned, were only “charred around the edges” but not totally consumed. 

For more information concerning lost records and tips on how to avoid the courthouse pitfalls go to:  

FYI:  The Jefferson County Courthouse (s) has NEVER burned,  but, there was a terrible snowstorm Nov. 25, 1950 and the roof “caved” in.  Many records were stored in the upper floor of the courthouse. (Herald Star Nov 24-25, 1950, Apr 9,1951) The balcony portion of the fourth floor of the courthouse was covered in debris from the weight of the snow…15,000 volumes of law books being housed on the balcony of the law library was pinned under the weight of the debris. The number one courthouse room on the fourth floor collapsed in upon the weight… but no books were lost! All records from… (Various courthouse offices) being stored in the upper floor were removed to the basement for storage and protection.  The legal vaults were removed to the basement as well.  So fortunately none of the books were lost…  damage was to the structure, furnishings, and seven large oil paintings valued at over $9,000.