History of the Courthouse, Macoupin County IL

Macoupin County Courthouse

Listed in the National Register of Historic Sites
[Excerpted from The Story Of Macoupin County 1829-1979, p 1, by Pat Hauter]

Index of the Book History 1829-1979 compiled by Littleton Bradley - contributed by Cindy Leonard - not searchable - can search by browsing.

The Macoupin County Courthouse, located in the county seat, Carlinville, is a 191-foot architectural phenomenon from the nineteenth century. The landmark was completed in 1870 at an approximate cost of $1,380,500. Some aspects of the construction are still shrouded in mystery. In comparison to the building's cost, one notes that the total value of assessed property in the county in 1860 was $5,097,589. Most of the material for the courthouse was hauled to the site on flat cars drawn by oxen. The Chicago & Alton Railroad put in a switch from the main rail, and the spur became known as the "ox railroad."

According to a survey by St. Louis architect Earl Fey, "the courthouse is of a Century Victorian Classic Revival style. As such, it lacks the archaeological precision of the works of professional architects of a little later era, but also avoids their tendency towards sterility. The building may be termed either Italiante or French Second Empire, but it is not always easy to make this distinction, short of a definitve feature which would definitely establish the style."

The structure is contemporary with Mullett's St. Louis Custom House (Old Post Office) in St. Louis, to which it bears a stylistic affinity. The exterior detailing is definitely Roman, in contrast to the Greek Revival prevalent in this area up to the time of the Civil War.

The Monumental Corinthian Order of the corner pilasters and porticoes is rather accurately detailed. General proportions of the main building mass and the relationship of dome to the rest of the building tend to make the structure appear awkwardly tall . . . judged by accepted standards of ancient and Renaissance architecture. This is an instance of nineteenth century striving for originality. The soaring effect of the building thus seems more outstanding when viewed with respect to the low-rising structures surrounding it.

Fey said the building "defies reproduction." Every door in the building is made of iron, each weighing about one ton. Window frames are of iron. Magnesian limestone covers the rectangle building, 181 feet in length and 80 feet wide, crossed in equal distance from the north to the south ends by a transverse rectangle of smaller dimensions. The plan resembles an elongated Swiss cross, or the cross of St. George, of double width.

The building is divided into three floors. The basement is 12 feet high, the main floor 16, and the upper floor, used as a courtroom, is 32 feet high. Supporting the roof of the portico are four Corinthian columns 40 feet in height, 3 feet in diameter at the base, and 3 1/2 feet at the top. Floors of the building are laid with tile. The upper floor is reached by two wide iron stairways at the right and left as one enters the building from the north. At the south end of the main corridor is a stairway leading up to the rear of the courtroom, and also to the fourth floor, just under the dome. To be noted on taking the first step up the southside stairway are the "pelicans" of iron holding up part of the metalwork. The front stairways are ornamented with flowers done in iron and other designs. The balustrade of the main stairway at the north are ornamented with wolf and dog heads done in iron. On the front of each of the double iron doors opening into the courtroom is a lion's head with a large ring in its mouth, a symbol of the majesty of the law.

One has a feeling of grandeur on entering the Circuit Court chamber. The focal point is the raised judge's chair mounted on a track behind the massive vari-colored marble bench, flanked on each side by a pair of massive Corinthian columns, replicas of the outside porticoes. Capping these columns is a massive pediment cresting a portico treatment which, along with the dome above, lends a sense of majestic authority to judicial proceedings in the courtroom. The hand-carved walnut judge's chair is seven feet in height. Lions are carved in each of the huge arm rests. When built in 1869, it was reported to have cost $1500. For a great number of years, the immense chair was stored in one of the alcoves where it gradually disintegrated and almost fell to pieces. The Carlinville Woman's Club had it reupholstered. The old track on which the chair runs also was repaired for use, and the chair was rededicated in a ceremony when Judge F. W. Burton was on the bench in 1925.

Electric lights were installed in the office of the County Superintendent of Schools in January 1927.

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