Filed Under Architecture

Cuyahoga County Courthouse

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.

Images

Cuyahoga County Courthouse from Lake View Park, 1911 This idyllic postcard scene accentuates the parklike setting for the then-new county courthouse. Lake View Park, backed up to the natural lake bluff overlooking Lake Erie, but several tracks of two railroad lines (and, later, two massive stadiums in succession) severed it from the actual lakefront, and today the park is a parking lot. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: 1911
Second Cuyahoga County Courthouse This structure, built in 1828, served as the county courthouse until 1858. It was located on the north side of Public Square. Creator: Public Domain
Third Cuyahoga County Courthouse This building, once located on the northwest corner of Public Square, served as courthouse from its completion in 1858 until 1875. Source: Public Domain
Fourth Cuyahoga County Courthouse, 1901 This building, once located on Seneca Street (W. 3rd) just west of Public Square, served the county courts from 1875 until the completion of the next courthouse as part of the Group Plan. Source: Cleveland Public Library Photograph Collection Date: 1901
Courthouse under Construction, 1908 This scene shows the Cuyahoga County Courthouse construction underway. Source: Cleveland Public Library Photograph Collection Date: 1908
Alexander Hamilton Statue, 2009 Bronze statues, including this one of Hamilton and another of Thomas Jefferson, line the entrance to the courthouse. Creator: OZinOH on Flickr, CC BY-SA Date: May 23, 2009
Interior View, 2015 The coffered, barrel-vaulted ceiling creates an enveloping interior space. Creator: Friscocali on Flickr, CC BY-SA Date: July 31, 2015
Marble Stairway, 1927 The stained-glass window in this photo represents Law and Justice. Source: Cleveland Public Library Photograph Collection Date: 1927
Front Elevation, 2016 The Cuyahoga County Courthouse as it appears today from Ontario Street at Lakeside Avenue. Creator: Tim Evanson on Flickr, CC BY-SA Date: May 30, 2016

Location

1 Lakeside Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44113

Metadata

Chris Roy, “Cuyahoga County Courthouse,” Cleveland Historical, accessed February 6, 2023, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/791.