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Washington County Courthouse, Greenville MS

The Washington County Courthouse is a two-and-one-half-story public building in the Richardsonian Romanesque style originally constructed in 1891 and put into service in 1892. It is located on its own block in an urban setting at 900 Washington Avenue in Greenville, Washington County, Mississippi. It has asymmetrical massing and is constructed of rusticated Illinois brown stone. The primary facade faces south and the building consists of hipped, flatroof, and gabled sections. Four additions have been constructed: a one-story addition to the north (rear) facade in 1930, which also remodeled much of the original interior; a two-story addition to the north in 1950, including a second floor to the 1930 addition; a two-story addition in 1965; and, a two-story addition to the northeast comer in 1976. The Confederate Monument on the front courthouse lawn and an arboretum originally laid out soon after the original courthouse construction are contributing resources.

Exterior: The Washington County Courthouse is situated on a public square in Greenville, Washington County, Mississippi. The courthouse square is located at the eastern edge of the historic central business district. The square is bordered by Washington Avenue to the south, Courthouse Alley (formerly Court Street) to the north, Harvey St. to the west, and Edison St. to the east.

Historically, the square has been bordered by sparsely-placed buildings, primarily industrial in nature, and a handful of residential buildings. Two buildings to the north/northeast of the courthouse, the county jail and an educational extension building, are not included in the courthouse square and, therefore, have not been listed as resources here. A county jail has been located north of the courthouse since the construction of the courthouse. Today the courthouse square is surrounded by a number of moderately large free-standing commercial/office buildings.

The original courthouse structure is located in the geographical center of the square, with large lawn areas to the south and west. Four sizeable additions have been made to the original courthouse, dating to 1930, 1950, 1965 and 1976. While the additions approximately tripled the total square footage of the building, the positioning of the additions is such that the original building maintains its independence, especially from the south, southeast, and southwest vantage points. The viewshed from the south presents a large lawn with the Confederate monument (1909) offset from center and the statewide recognized arboretum, which is contemporary with the original courthouse. Parking areas line the north edge and the northwest comer of the building's north facade. These parking areas are accessed by Courthouse Alley, which was historically known as Court Street, and served as the north boundary of the courthouse square.

The original courthouse and its additions are all two-story structures. The roof of the original courthouse is a combination of gabled and hipped sections, covered with clay tiles. The additions have flat roofs and rubber membrane roofing. The walls of the original courthouse are constructed of rusticated brown stone. Its primary facade faces south and a projecting entrance porch consisting of Romanesque arches is located at the southeast comer of the building. A large stone tower, which originally featured a tall belfry, is located near the southwest comer of the building. Two lower, secondary towers with crenellated parapets are located at the southwest and southeast comers. The tower was reduced from its original height in the 1930s, presumably during a renovation project led by architect James M. Spain. The building was constructed at the request of the Washington County Supervisors and, as engraved on the cornerstone, the McDonald Bros. were the architects, John F. Barnes was the builder, and A.L. Thomas was the mason. The window openings are topped by radiating voussoirs and belt courses of den tiled stone separate the stories.

The existing tower is square with an octagonal closed cupola. The cupola contains tall narrow round-arched fenestration that is now infilled with masonry and painted over. At each comer of the cupola is a raised cast-stone pillar topped by a cast-stone urn. The cornice line below the cupola has brick corbelling. Two minor comer towers, at the southwest and southeast comers, are surmounted by crenellations. The projecting porch is surrounded by an arcade of wide round arches supported by short squat columns. All exterior windows on the original courthouse are one-over-one double-hung wood sash. Many of the south facade windows have round arches, while the east and west windows are flat at the lintel. Three gables intersect the hipped roof of the original courthouse and form an attic. These gables contain a mixture of windows, louvered vents and semicircular stone panels. According to pre-1930 photographs, there was a one-story porch on the north facade that has since been removed to accommodate the later additions.

The 1930 renovation saw major interior alterations in addition to the expansion of the building footprint. On the exterior, the most notable change was the removal of the belfry and the crenellated parapets at the gable ends that face south, east and west. This renovation project was undertaken by architect James M. Spain.

The 1950 addition extended the footprint of the building to the north. The new construction was two-stories and added a second floor to the 1930 addition. The north facade of this addition consists of seven bays with a center entrance, which now serves as the primary entrance to the courthouse. The entrance porch, with a flat roof awning and brick columns, is now enclosed to create a vestibule. Brick ramps provide A.D.A. access to this entrance. The window bays contain modern aluminum-frame fixed windows. The first-floor windows have four divided lights and the second-floor windows have two divided lights with vertical muntins. The 1965 addition, located at the southwest corner of the 1950 addition, is two-story with a flat roof and is constructed of a light-hued beige brick. The addition exhibits some Art Deco influence, most notably at the north facade, such as recessed window spandrels with geometric brick patterns and applied concrete tiles with geometric designs, a recessed center window with stepped or corbelled brick on the side edges, and brick columns with corbelled brick caps.

The two-story office annex, constructed in 1976, is attached at the east side of the 1950 addition. The facades of this addition are brick veneer and are dominated by a series of tall narrow arched window bays that are recessed and separated by narrow brick pilasters, creating an arcade effect. The pilasters have brick corbelling at the top and brick buttresses at the base. The window bays contain modern aluminum fixed windows with metal paneled spandrels at the base and between the two floors. There are no entrance bays on this addition.

Interior: Historically, the door at the south porch served as the primary entrance but, due to security concerns, the north doors are the primary entrance today. The south door is a single-leaf glazed door with sidelights. The door opens to a vestibule, separated from the lobby by a glazed wall with a single-leaf door. The grand lobby has terrazzo floors featuring geometric patterns, marble block walls, elaborate pilasters with gold leaf caps, half-round plaster friezes along the upper walls and ceiling, and a grand staircase along the west wall. The finishes in this area date to the 1930 remodel. The main lobby area also features a tray ceiling with a recessed circle and chandelier at the center. At the south end of the lobby is an open stairwell with heavy square newel posts with spherical caps, marble treads, a landing at the halfway point, and a decorative iron balustrade with flared iron balusters. The lobby opens to a corridor at the north end, which is further accented by marble wainscote and door casings and terrazzo floors. A near-seamless transition leads one from the lobby and 1930s-era corridor into the 1950s-era corridor.

Offices with 1990s finishes open off the lobby to the east. Double-leaf wood doors with frosted panels in the west wall open to the Chancery Courtroom. The Chancery Courtroom has terrazzo floors and a plaster crown molding. Plaster column capitals with floral motifremain visible above wood paneling boxing the columns. The historic details most likely date to the 1930 remodel, while the paneled walls are a later addition.

At the top of the lobby stairs is the second-floor entrance into the main courtroom and a short corridor that leads to offices at each end. The courtroom occupies most of the second floor of the original 1891 building. The ceiling and walls are plaster with a plaster crown molding, believed to date the original 1890s construction. The raised dais and bench are located on the north wall set off with wood paneling. Single-leaf doors that flank the bench open to the judge's chambers and jury room. The jury box is set in the northwest comer of the room. Wood paneling details the jury box and extends as a wainscote on the north and south walls. Spectators sit in benches separated by a center aisle. The courtroom's balcony remains but has been enclosed for storage. The wood panel rails of the balcony remain visible.

A large unfinished attic space is set over the entry vestibule, stairway and second floor hall. The windows on the upper south-facing gable of the south elevation open into the attic space. The tower is accessed through the attic. The space houses some mechanical units and also provides space for some record storage.

The primary entrance to the courthouse, now located on the north facade of the 1950 addition, opens into the corridor with county offices opening to the east and west. The corridor has terrazzo floors, plaster walls and marble wainscoting, approximately four feet high, which matches the marble used in the 1930s-era lobby.

An open stairwell is located at the north end of the corridor of the corridor and has terrazzo treads and polished metal handrails and balusters. The second floor corridor, constructed in the 1950s addition, similar in scale and appearance to the first floor corridor, runs north and south, with the entrance to the main courtroom on the southern end.

Several original single-light-over-one-panel wood doors with original hardware and transoms remain along the corridor. A smaller auxiliary courtroom is accessed from the east side of the second-floor corridor and was recently renovated with new carpet, furniture and fixtures.

The 1976 addition is accessed through a first floor hallway on the east wall of the 1950 corridor. The interior of this addition has a very modem appearance with vinyl composition tile floors, gypsum board walls, and acoustical tile ceilings. This addition is comprised of a U-shaped hallway that is lined at the east end by a large open office with smaller auxiliary offices at the comers. Smaller offices, most with wood doors and plate-glass windows, line the remainder of the corridors in this addition.

Although the interior of the original courthouse underwent renovations in the 1930s, the alterations from that period have gained significance due to their superior craftsmanship and their high level of integrity. The 1950 and 1965 additions have also retained many original finishes such as marble wainscoting, wood doors, and terrazzo flooring. The interior of the 1976 addition has a modem appearance; however, this addition is removed from the primary hallway in a way that does not detract from the integrity of the central corridor.

Confederate Monument: A Confederate monument (1909) is located on the south lawn of the courthouse. The monument consists of a single standing figure, approximately five and one-half feet tall, perched atop a twenty-foot tall square pedestal that tapers toward the top. The figure is of a male soldier wearing a brimmed hat, holding a rifle and leaning on a stump. The pedestal is divided into three segments. The top segment is inscribed with the image of the Confederate battleflag; the middle segment is unadorned; and the bottom segment features inscriptions on each side, consisting of quotes by historical figures and memorial sentiments to the Confederacy. The pedestal base consists of three square steps.

Arboretum: An arboretum was established in the same year that the original courthouse was completed and is located on the lawn of the courthouse square. The arboretum contains a collection of trees that are indigenous to Mississippi and the Southeast, such as varieties of oak, magnolia, poplar, maple, and pine. A brick and glass display case on-site contains the history of the arboretum and a map that identifies the type and location of the trees.

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