Reminisce: Auglaize County's halls of justice
May 2—WAPAKONETA — It was the product of 17 months of construction, a roughly 60-foot by 120-foot project bordered by Mechanic, Willipie, Pearl and Perry Streets. In the nearly 129 years since then, however, that Berea sandstone structure known as the Auglaize County Courthouse has become a staple of downtown Wapakoneta and a treasured symbol of Auglaize County, which is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year.
Despite its long history, the current courthouse is not the first building to have borne that name. According to the Auglaize County website, a previous courthouse was built in 1851 on South Blackhoof Street, three years after the county was established. That project carried with it a price tag of $11,499. However, it soon became clear that a new facility was needed in Wapakoneta, as that building was considered "cramped and somewhat unsafe," according to National Archives records. After Auglaize County commissioners submitted a request to the Ohio Legislature to issue bonds to cover construction costs, lawmakers in Columbus agreed, passing the necessary legislation on Feb. 2, 1893.
The county then looked to Julius Kremer of the Columbus-based architectural firm Kremer and Hart to design the new building. This same firm would go on to design the historic Hartman Building in downtown Columbus, built in 1898, and it also played a part in designing the first phase of what would become the Columbus Masonic Temple, now the Columbus Athanaeum, which opened in 1899, according to the Hartman Condominium Association's website.
Construction was awarded to E.M. Campfield & Co. of Finday for $102,536. Starting July 2, 1893, 85 men began work on the new courthouse, each working for a daily wage of $1.50, according to the county website. Once construction was completed in early December 1894, the county ended up with a total investment of $259,481, covering everything from the sandstone for the structure to the tile to the fixtures, furnishings, electric power house and boiler heating system.
An April 20, 1973 application to the U.S. Department of the Interior to include the courthouse in the National Register of Historic Places included this in its description of the building: "The second floor is constructed of smooth stone, and the corners are plastered. The windows on the second floor are arched, and a keystone is set in the wall just above each window. ... The roof is in an excellent state of repair. A tower is located in the center of the roof, and is octagonal in shape. Each side of the tower is supported by two columns. Above the columns is a clock face for each geographical direction, and the tower is topped with a metal dome. Originally, the dome was a base for a statue of [Lady] Justice, but the statue was removed sometime during the twentieth century."
That copper statue is now on prominent display on the main floor of the courthouse.
While the courthouse served the county well for decades, time and wear slowly continued to show on the building, leading to an $8.6 million renovation in 2011, funded through money stored in a permanent improvement fund along with grant funding. The goal was not only to repair the structure but also to make it more effective and secure, reducing the entryways in use to one, which included a metal detector, as well as energy efficiency improvements, electrical upgrades and reconfigured office space.
"Ever since I was a little boy, I've heard that we've needed to renovate that courthouse," then-county commissioner Don Regula told The Lima News in a July 1, 2012 article. "We wanted to make a useful 21st-century building out of it."
The renovation also included refinishing the stained glass windows and adding two new floors to the building.
"It surprised me when they said they were going to put in a third and fourth floor," Wapakoneta resident John Smith told The Lima News at the courthouse's rededication on Sept. 16, 2012.
Today, the courthouse holds not only the municipal and common pleas courtrooms but also the domestic relations court, the clerk of courts office, the county prosecutor's office and the county law library.
"Our magnificent courthouse is the embodiment of the strength, beauty and longevity of our county," Auglaize County 175th Anniversary Committee member Rachel Barber said in a statement.
See past Reminisce stories at limaohio.com/tag/reminisce
Reach Craig Kelly at 567-242-0391 or on Twitter @cmkelly419.