Baltimore County Circuit Courthouses
Baltimore County Courthouse
Courthouse from northeast
|Location||Washington Avenue between Pennsylvania and Chesapeake Avenues, in Towson, Maryland|
|Area||4 acres (1.6 ha)|
|Architect||Dixon, Bilbirnie & Dixon; E.F. Baldwin, Josias Pennington, Baldwin & Pennington|
|Architectural style||Greek Revival|
|Governing body||Baltimore County, Maryland|
|NRHP Reference #||72000569|
|Added to NRHP||October 27, 1972|
The "Baltimore County Courthouses" are located in Towson, the older original Baltimore County Courthouse ("Historic Courthouse") of 1854 (and three additions to eventually form an 'H' shape) houses many of the offices of the County government, of both of the executive branch (county executive and their departments/agencies/boards/commissions, etc.) and the legislative branch (County Council), while the "County Courts Building" ("new" courthouse to the west separated by a plaza) of 1970-1971 is dedicated to the civil, criminal, family and juvenile divisions of the Circuit Court of Maryland for Baltimore County, as well as the Baltimore County Sheriff's Office with its protection of the Courthouse and its judicial personnel and law enforcement functions.
The historic Baltimore County Courthouse is an edifice of limetone and marble, two stories in height and nine bays in length surrounded by a modest park and square on the east (and north/south) sides with a variety of flowers and shrubs and small trees, with winding paths and benches. The east facade is of Greek Revival styled architecture with a portico/porte-cochere with a pediment supported by fluted Doric columns. The structure is one hundred and twelve feet in length in front, by fifty-six feet in depth. A shallow A-frame roof of the main block is crowned with a centered, eight-windowed, pilastered, frame cupola bearing a domed copper roof. Originally constructed in 1854–55, the building is one of the few H-plan buildings, public or private, remaining in the State. All of the original exterior treatments are preserved intact.
The Towsontown Courthouse begun in 1854 replaced the earlier City/County Courthouses that had been shared by both Baltimore Town (and later City) and County, the first one being located in old "Courthouse Square", begun construction in 1768, one year after the site of the county seat had been moved from old Joppa near the mouth of the Gunpowder River at Chesapeake Bay along the mid-eastern boundaries of the County then to the newer and bustling port town of Baltimore Town, then thirty-eight years old. The second City/County Courthouseone was constructed across the street in downtown Baltimore to the west at the northwestern corner facing East Lexington Street and North Calvert Street, facing the empty square of the recently razed earlier Courhouse for several years. After consideration as the center city site for the proposed first monument to honor General and first President George Washington, the town even went so far as to lay a cornerstone for the new planned Washington column on "Independence Day". July 4, 1814, several months before an era-defining military attack by British forces later that September. Since local home owners were afraid that the unusually tall colmn was too high and large for the site and might later topple over on their houses, after some consideration during the summer of 1815, the Washington memorial was moved north of the town to "Howard's Woods" on land donated by Col. John Eager Howard to the west of his estate of "Belvidere". Instead the planned memorial for the soldiers and officers in the Battle of North Point with the British Army, southeast of the city on the "Patapsco Neck" and the subsequent Bombardment at Fort McHenry during the recent Battle of Baltimore was designated for the old Courthouse Square, which had always been a gathering place for news, gossip and protests along with mass meetings and assemblies of the citizenry. Built during 1815 to 1822, the east side of the second courthouse faced the new adjoining Battle Monument Square.
Across from the City/County Courthouse was the Battle Monument which replaced the previous first County and Town Courts, later known as the "Courthouse on Stilts" as the 1768 building was temporarily saved from razing when it became necessary to extend Calvert Street further north, so later in 1784, local town builder Leonard Harbaugh erected a new brick/stone foundation under the building resting on arches supporting the building and cut away ground around it enabling the street passage beneath, in the Square at the edge of the cliffs then overlooking the bend of the Jones Falls flowing south to the harbor. This first courthouse in the square, was razed around 1804-1805. It was also here on July 29, 1776, that the recently adopted Declaration of Independence was read to the townfolk.
The second courthouse of Georgian style was constructed on the southwest corner of then North Calvert and East Lexington Streets, opposite the old "Courthouse Square" in which the "Battle Monument" commemorating the British attack on the city during the War of 1812 had since been erected from 1815 to 1822, designed by French architect Maximilian Godefroy, (1765-1838), to commemorate "Defenders' Day" (a city, county, and state official holiday) of the British attack on Baltimore, with the bombardment of Fort McHenry, the stand-off for a day of the opposing American militia in fortifications east of the city on "Loudenschlager's Hill" (now "Hampstead Hill" in western Patterson Park) opposing the advancing British Army, and the earlier Battle of North Point on the "Patapsco Neck" peninsula in the southeastern portion of the County, September 12–14, 1814 during the War of 1812, occasionally known as the "Second War for American Independence". The "rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air" were lines of a poem, titled "The Defence of Fort McHenry" that soon appeared on printed broadsheets and handbills (from the offices of the "Baltimore American") all around town and appeared shortly later in the newspapers, the "Baltimore Patriot". It was written by the noted Frederick and Georgetown lawyer (and poet), Francis Scott Key, (1779–1843) who had witnessed the bombardment of Fort McHenry from their truce ship "Minden" anchored further down river on the Patapsco River (probably off Sparrows Point, Maryland|Sparrows Point]] or the Royal Navy's invasion fleet's landing site at North Point), while trying to negotiate the release from the British, a captured Prince George's County doctor William Beanes, from the county seat, at Upper Marlboro, with his companion, the local U.S. Truce and prisoner-of-war Exchange Agent, John S. Skinner. Later set to music in a few days at a local Baltimore theatre and neighboring tavern on Holliday Street, it became known as the "Star-Spangled Banner", later to become the National Anthem in 1931.
After considerable discussion and agitation for several decades, going back as far as 1835, prompted by a fire of several arsons that year during the economic recession and panic begun with the "Baltimore bank riot" which damaged the downtown second Baltimore County/City Courthouse (at the southwest corner of North Calvert and East Lexington Streets). After more recent debates, and votes, with the adoption by statewide referendum of the new second Maryland Constitution of 1851, it contained the provisions for elevating the City of Baltimore to the status of an "independent city" on the same status of all of the other counties of the state and increasing its representation and number of votes/members in each chamber of the state legislature -- in the House of Delegates and the State Senate in the General Assembly of Maryland. With the positive vote, the City of Baltimore (which had also functioned as the "county seat" of Baltimore County since 1767, an 84 year tenure) was separated and established as an "independent city" (with the status of one of the twenty-three counties of the State of Maryland) as of July 4, 1851. A subsequent seies of votes and referendums by the citizens of the remaining reduced territory of new Baltimore County, voted to move the new county seat to what was then called then "Towsontown", as of February 13, 1854.
Named for the Towson family of early colonial settlers, brothers William and Thomas Towson, who had moved to the area from Pennsylvania in the early 1750s. Their homestead was located near the current "traffic circle" at Joppa, York and Dulaney Valley Roads, and had begun farming at Sater's Hill, just to the northeast. Later, Thomas' son Ezekiel built a log tavern where the modern-day Towson Tavern and the old Towson Theatre building for movies (and currently Recher Theatre for rock music concerts). Ezekiel's tavern soon became a regular stopping place for travelers and farmers heading north out of the city or south with their crops towards Baltimore, beginning the small cross-roads community's place as a commercial place for doing business. Several hundred yards to the northwest at the current 617 York Road, is the wood-frame house of Solomon Schmuck (now a bridal boutique store), which is said by local historians to be Towson's oldest house. He married Catharine Towson, (1767–1834), one of hostelier Ezekiel's 12 children, (and granddaughter to Thomas), so uniting the Schmuck and Towson families. Ezekiel became an important leader in the County and in the local response to the American Revolution. Her carved tombstone, the last upright stone remaining in a small family plot, surrounded by several other unmarked relatives' graves, including the connected Shealey family, was recently surrounded in 2014 by the construction of the "Towson Square" shopping and entertainment development of four acres, costing $85 million dollars, facing East Joppa Road. In addition, a later member of the family attained a nationally-known military career who was General Nathan Towson, (1784–1854), veteran of the War of 1812, whose reputation made the small town famous in the early 19th century.
The cornerstone of the new County Courthouse was laid with elaborate ceremonies and a procession, on October 19, 1854, in front of a "numerous assemblage" in what was still then known as "Towsontown". Coleman Yellott, (1821–1870), a local respected attorney delivered the official address and "oratory" for the occasion saying:
"The ceremony which you had assembled to witness, has now been performed. The Corner Stone of the building has been laid; and soon the edifice itself will rise towards the Heavens, attracting, by the beauty of its proportions and the simple grandeur of its walls, the admiring gaze of every traveler along yonder highway. May it stand for ages, in sunshine and in storm, firm and unshaken as the hill in which its foundations are planted; and may it ever be pointed to as a temple of Justice!"
Designed by noted local city architects of Dixon, Bilbirnie & Dixon and the famous firm of Baldwin & Pennington, (composed of Ephraim Francis Baldwin (1896–1916), and Josias Pennington (1854–1929). The building was completed in 1855 by the builder, William H. Allen, but the first session of the Court was held here on Monday, January 5, 1857 after a long battle about the land title for the site from Dr. Grafton M. Bosley who owned a large portion of the western side of the town, who had presented it to the county with a "right-of-way" to it from the Baltimore and York Turnpike, and was finally resolved from the nearby turnpike company in December 1856. On the succeeding May 15, 1857, the new courthouse and the jail (two blocks south) were declared finished and formally handed over to the county commissioners. Six years later, the building was the object of an arson attack. According to a blurb in "The New York Daily Times", on Saturday, August 14, 1861, the building was "fired by incendiary". The account goes on to say that the fire was contained to the records office and the rest of the building escaped damage. The building was enlarged in 1910, again in 1925, and a third time in 1958. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.
County Courts Building
The "Baltimore County Courts Building" is located on Bosley Avenue in Towson, Maryland and faces the same public square, west of the original historic "Baltimore County Courthouse" (which faces east with the older, traditional square - towards Washington Avenue). Sometimes referred to as the "New Courthouse", it was designed of modernist architecture and constructed about 1970 with matching white stone panels. It houses the 17 judges of the Circuit Court of Maryland for Baltimore County, the Offices of the Baltimore County State's Attorney, juvenile and equity masters, four retired judges and nearly 100 support personnel. Courthouses, judges bailiffs and staff for the District Courts of Maryland with lower level legal matters, are in several "district courthouses" in various sections of the County, to the east and the west.
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2009-03-13.
- "Property Name: Baltimore County Courthouse". Maryland Historical Trust. Retrieved 2008-05-14.
- Turnbull, J. Grayson (1854-10-19). "Address Upon the Occasion of the Laying of the Corner-Stone of the Court House of Baltimore County". Towson, Maryland: J. Grayson Turbull, II archivist.
- "Burning of tho Baltimore County CourtHouse". the New York Times. 1861-08-25. Retrieved 2008-05-14.
- "Welcome to the Judiciary". Baltimore County. Archived from the original on 14 May 2008. Retrieved 2008-05-14.
- Baltimore County Courthouse, Baltimore County, including photo from 1989, at Maryland Historical Trust
- Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) No. MD-338, "Baltimore County Courthouse, Washington Avenue, Towson, Baltimore County, MD", 1 photo, supplemental material