Cuyahoga County was established in 1807—eleven years after “Cleaveland” became a city and four years after Ohio became a state. For the next century, multiple structures provided judicial services for the county. Initially, court was held in various taverns and inns around town. The first actual courthouse was completed in 1813. It contained jail cells, a living room for the sheriff, and a 2nd floor courtroom. Three other facilities—all located on or near Public Square—were built and deployed throughout the 1800s.
The current building on Lakeside Avenue near Cleveland City Hall was completed in 1911 at a cost of more than $4 million. Designed by the architectural firm of Lehman & Schmitt, with Charles Morris (an École des Beaux-Arts alumnus) as chief designer, the building is constructed of Milford pink granite from Massachusetts. It is one of seven buildings composing the Group Plan—a landmark 1903 initiative to redefine downtown Cleveland with open park space and grand, dignified buildings. The Group Plan structures are representative of the Beaux-Arts school, which emphasizes symmetry; arched and pedimented windows and doors; largely flat roofs; and myriad statuary.
The Courthouse is a prominent salute both to the Beaux-Arts tradition and to some of history’s most important figures. Posted at the entrance are bronze statues of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. Above the front cornice are representatives of the four kinds of law: Moses (moral law), Byzantine Emperor Justinian (civil law), King Alfred the Great (common law), and Pope Gregory IX (canon law). Various other statuary includes Simon de Montfort (founder of the English House of Commons), English King Edward I (who gave the English people the right to determine taxation), and US Chief Justice John Marshal.
Directly above the front entry doors are three large arched windows between fluted Ionic columns. These south-facing windows allow copious amounts of daylight into the courtroom—a convenience, an aesthetic bonus and even a metaphor. The frieze of the cornice includes the inscription “Cuyahoga County Courthouse.” The rear (northward) elevation facing Lake Erie is composed similarly but with the inscription “Liberty is Obedience to Law.”
The interior, created under the direction of noted Cleveland architect Charles Schweinfurth, features a grand three-story central court with vaulted ceilings, marble Ionic columns, and a balustraded (railing supported by spindles or stair sticks) mezzanine. An elegant curving marble staircase rises past a large stained-glass window representing Law & Justice.
Along with the Mall district, the Cuyahoga County Courthouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.