Baltimore County Circuit Courthouses
Baltimore County Courthouse
Courthouse from northeast
|Location||Washington Ave. between Pennsylvania and Chesapeake Aves., 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 additions) houses many of the offices of the county government, both of the executive branch (county executive and departments/agencies/boards/commissions, etc.) and the legislative branch (County Council), while the "County Courts Building" ("new" courthouse) of 1970 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.
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 with a variety of flowers and shrubs and small trees, with winding paths and benches. The east facade is Greek Revival 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 1854-1855, 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 1854 replaced the earlier City/County Courthouse shared by both Baltimore Town (and later City) and County, the second one being constructed on the site in 1805, in downtown Baltimore at the northwestern corner facing East Lexington Street and North Calvert Street, to the west and adjoining the central Battle Monument Square (also site of the earlier first courthouse of 1768 in then called "Courthouse Square", one year after the county seat was moved from Old Joppa near the Gunpowder River to the 38-year old new Baltimore Town).
Across from the City/County Courthouse was the Battle Monument which replaced the old previous "Courthouse on stilts" from This was constructed in 1815-1827, 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 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. 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 all around town and appeared shortly later in the newspapers, the "Baltimore Patriot". It was written by the noted Frederick and Georgetown lawyer Francis Scott Key, (1779-1843) who had witnessed the bombardment from a truce ship anchored further down river on the Patapsco River, while trying to free from the British, a captured Prince George's County doctor, William Beanes, with his companion, U.S. Truce and prisoner-of-war Exchange Agent, John 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.
After considerable discussion and agitation for several decades, going back as far as 1835, prompted by a fire that year at the downtown Baltimore courthouse. 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 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 years 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 vote by the citizens of the remaining reduced territory of Baltimore County, voted to move the new county seat to what was then called then "Towsontown", named for General Nathan Towson (1784-1854), veteran of the War of 1812, on February 13, 1854.
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 then "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 had presented it to the county with the right-of-way to it from the tunrpike, and was finally resolved from the nearby turnpike company in December 1856. On the succeeding May 15th, 1857, the new courthouse and the jail 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