Wayne County Courthouse (1878-Present)

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  • Wayne County Courthouse (1878-Present)
Public Administration
  • Justice / Police order / and Safety
  • Court House
  • Date unknown
Key Persons


    1878 architectural drawing of the proposed Wayne County Courthouse in Wooster, Ohio.

    Public meetings took place in 1878 on February 16th and 18th about building a new county courthouse, and $75,000 was appropriated for the project. John McSweeney and John P. Jeffries served as chairmen for the project. While the new courthouse was under construction, court was held in France's Hall, built in 1870 and west of the courthouse nearer to N. Walnut street. That building was eventually incorporated into the west section of Freedlander's Department Store.

    The cornerstone-laying ceremonies for the present courthouse took place on Oct. 9, 1878. Architect for the project was Thomas Boyd of Pittsburgh, Pa., who enjoyed a regional reputation. Boyd designed the building in a style known as Second Empire, named for the reign of Napoleon III of France. At the time this architectural style was popular in the United States.

    Interestingly, only half of the courthouse as it was originally designed was built. As originally conceived, the bell tower was to stand at the center of a largely symmetrical structure; however, the North Courthouse Annex Building had been constructed only ten years earlier, in 1868, and it remained in excellent condition. Frugal Wayne Countians refused to tear the North Courthouse Annex Building down to accommodate the architect's design and made him work around and incorporate the North Courthouse Annex structure that was already in place into his plans.

    Courthouse proceedings resumed in the new building in June of 1879 when the work was finished. After the courthouse was completed, concerns were voiced that the interior space was not properly divided with respect to its space and rooms. In 1910, the County Commissioners spent $10,000 to alter the interior layout of the building.[1]

    On May 20, 1969, a fire broke out on the third and fourth floors of the courthouse, and though the damage to the building and records was not extensive, the disaster highlighted the age and vulnerability of the building as well as the increasingly crowded conditions due to the growth of the county government. Within days, the editorial board of the Daily Record publicly suggested that it was time for a Proposed New Wayne County Courthouse (1969).

    The courthouse has undergone few renovations that disturb its original 19th century character. The renovation of Courtroom No. 1 in the year 2000 to return it to its original character was indicative of the county’s ongoing commitment to preserving this outstanding structure so that it can continue to play a vital day-to-day role for which it was designed in the life of Wayne County. A major renovation and restoration of the building took place between 2015-2016.

    In 1973 the courthouse area in downtown Wooster, Ohio was added to the National Register of Historic places, as the "Wayne County Courthouse District" (#73001551); in 1978 the boundary of the area was expanded and registered with the National Register of Historic places as "Wooster Public Square Historic District" (Boundary Increase) (#78002213).

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    View the timeline of third court house.

    Courthouse Telamones (Atlases) History

    It has previously been speculated that un-named itinerant Italian stonemasons carved the four exquisite stone telemones, or atlases, that adorn the Wayne County Courthouse in Wooster, Ohio.

    However, there is another theory to present after finding an article in the Wayne County Democrat newspaper about the ongoing construction of the courthouse in 1878. The newspaper story dated December 18, 1878 on page 3 stated:

    Contractor Keyser is pushing the stone cutting of the new Court House right along in the shed in front of the County Buildings, at present working on the columns for second story, and proposes to have all ready for laying the first of March. Two of the four caryatids, or Hercules, are nearly finished. These are double life size figures, cut from Berea stone, to be placed at either side of the doorways, supporting the cornice. They are carved by Mr. Rachlay (RACKLE), formerly of Baden, and Mr. Shildmacher (SCHILDMACHER), of Rhine, Prussia, whose work show them to be artistic sculptors, their skill being much admired by all who have seen the giant figures, which are worth beholding.

    Granted there were a few mistakes in this report: the writer accidentally used the wrong architectural terminology for the sculpted figures by stating they were caryatids instead of telamones. A caryatid refers to a sculpted female figure serving as an architectural support column, while a telamon is commonly the term used for a sculpted male figure support column. Plus, Hercules was not typically the Greek God often referenced for holding the weight of the world on his shoulders, that was Atlas, the last of the Titans.

    Therefore, it might not be surprising that the writer might have also misspelled the names of the artists that carved our wonderful Atlases.

    Finding a copy of the book, Artists in Ohio, 1787-1900: A Biographical Dictionary, compiled and edited by Mary Sayre Haverstock, Jeannette Mahoney Vance, Brian L. Meggitt revealed that there were two artists by the names of George Rackle [Rachle] and Henry Schildmacher working in northern Ohio as during the time our courthouse was being built. On page 701 it is revealed that George Rackle was an esteemed sculptor in his time and had other notable works:

    Rackle [Rachle], George (1837-1909). Carver and sculptor in wood, stone, and composite materials, born in Baden, Germany, and active in Columbus (Franklin) from 1867 to 1871 as a partner in the marble works of Rackle, Zimmerman, and Company. A former pupil of the Munich Academy, he later moved to Cleveland (Cuyahoga), where he executed a number of public and private commissions between 1874 and his retirement in 1900, most notably a Portland cement centaur-and-dolphin fountain erected in Wade Park in 1885 and a pair of nymph-and-dolphin fountains for Woodland Cemetery, commissioned in 1887....

    On page 758 a short biography of Henry Schildmacher is given:

    Schildmacher, Henry. Sculptor, born in Prussia about 1845 and active in Cleveland (Cuyahoga) by 1879. For a year or two, he worked with a sculptor named HOERSTMANN at 676 Superior Street, but in 1900, he was associated with JACOB STEPHAN. Together they designed a group of allegorical figures for the Pan-American Exposition, held in Buffalo the following year. He may have been the same Henry Schildmacher (1847-1913) listed in the records of Calvary Cemetery, Cleveland....

    It is hard to say if the two sculptors worked together on carving all four figures, or if they split the work between them, with one working on one set and one working on the other set. Personally, i think they might have split the work. To me there is a marked difference between the set of Atlases that face Liberty St. and the set that face onto Market St. The figures on Liberty St. seem smaller and the base uncomplicated, while the set of Atlases on Market St. look bigger and the base more intricately adorned with flourishes. If I had to put money on who sculpted which set of Atlases, my money would go on Schildmacher for the Liberty St. figures and Rackle for the Market St. telamones. Furthermore, I had once heard the Ladies of Justice / Police order / and Safety sitting near the top of the courthouse were carved out wood which leads me to speculate that George Rackle also carved those fine figures as he was known to work in that medium too. Of course that's just my humble opinion and maybe someday an art expert will come to town and be able to tell us more someday.

    You might be wondering how much weight are those Atlases holding up? The Wayne County Democrat newspaper dated November 6, 1878 on page 3 gives us the answer:

    The biggest block of stone yet received, and the largest that will be laid in the Court House, came last Wednesday from the Berea quarry, being eighteen feet long, five wide and two thick, weighing nearly fourteen tons. Sam Betson's six-horse team hauled it from the depot on two wagons lashed together, but when opposite the American Hotel a wheel broke down and stopped further advance until next afternoon, affording all a sight of the big stones in the middle of the street. Another of the same size is to be received. They form the cornice over the Atlas figures above the east and south doorways, twenty-one feet above the pavement, and will be put in place in about a month.

    Wayne County may hold one of the few remaining artistic sculptors of George Rackle as his renowned Cleveland area fountains no longer exist. Next time you are in downtown Wooster, take a moment to appreciate the fine telamon sculptors that adorn the Wayne County Courthouse.

    Courthouse Clock Tower History

    The building's tower section houses both the clock and the bell. The clock was made August 13, 1879 by A. S. Hotchkiss of the Seth Thomas Clock Company and marked clock no.172.

    The County Commissioners have contracted with the Seth Thomas Clock Company, of New York City, for one of their fine clocks, to be placed in the tower of the new Court House, and delivered and put in position August 1st, at a cost of $1,900. It is the best manufacture of this celebrated firm, which has the highest reputation for such work of any in the country. Mr. G.P. Titus, the gentlemanly agent, gave us full details, but we can only state at this time that there are four dials, each six feet in diameter, visible from all parts of town, and the bell 2,000 pounds weight, ringing out the hour strokes so as to be heard five miles.

    —Author Unknown, 

    The 2,015-pound bell was cast by the Meneely-Kimberly Foundry in Troy, NY and shipped to Wooster on August 9, 1879. The bell is 47 inches in diameter and 35 inches high. The pitch of the bell is A-flat.

    The clock was originally operated by weights, one set for the time and the other for striking the hour. The weights, which had to be rewound weekly, traveled from the dial room to the first floor, a distance of five floors or about 100 feet. At the basement level there was a container of sand so that if the cables broke, the weights would drop into the sand and not be damaged. The weights were removed December 19, 1941, and the clock's works were converted to electric power with one motor for the time and a second for the striking.

    In July 1960, after running continuously for 81 years, the clock was stopped for three days during which it underwent a major cleaning and overhaul. By 1974 the striking hammer had been hitting the bell in the same spot for 95 years. A consultant recommended that the bell be turned 180 degrees and that the striking hammer be bored and a magnesium-bronze plug be inserted to strike the bell rather than the original cast steel hammer face. As a consequence, the bell now has a fuller tone and its resonance has been improved.

    Since 1889 the clock has had seven keepers. During the first half of the 20th century three generations of the Long family were among those taking care of the clock. The longest-serving caretaker of the clock is George J. Riehl of Wooster who has maintained the timepiece since 1952. All those who have taken care of the clock have etched their names and dates on the door frame of the clock works.

    In September, 1989, the courthouse’s tower began being illuminated at night by large yellow low-sodium spotlights placed on the roofs of surrounding buildings. The lighting plan was conceived by Main Street Wooster, Inc. and implemented with the assistance of the General Electric Company. The result is that the courthouse can now be seen at night on the Wayne County landscape from a great distance, looking like a large candle towering over the city’s other lights which spread out into the countryside.[2]

    Quick Facts

    • 1878 - The third court house was built. Cornerstone-laying ceremonies held October 9.
    • 1879 - Court returned to the site in June.
    • 1910 - County commissioners spent $10,000 to alter the interior layout.
    • 1941 - December 19, clock's works converted to electric power.
    • 1949 - Approx. Fire.
    • 1969 - May 20, Fire. Offices reopened two days later. Total repair bill came to $99,500.
    • 1973 - Registered on the National Register of Historic Places as the Wayne County Courthouse District (#73001551).
    • 1976 - Registered as a Category:Wayne County Historical Landmark by the Wayne County Historical Society of Ohio.
    • 1978 - Boundary of the historic places district is expanded as Wooster Public Square Historic District (Boundary Increase) (#78002213).
    • 2015 - Restoration and preservation of the external structure and ornaments of the building.
    1. The Wayne County Courthouse, Courthouse Annex, and Amster Building: A Brief History and Self-Guided Tour
    2. Wayne County Law Library Courthouse History