Summit County Courthouse History
The first Summit County Courthouse was built in 1843, three years after the County's organization from 16 townships formerly of Portage, Medina and Stark Counties. The location of the new building created heated debates before Akron was chosen over Cuyahoga Falls.
General Simon Perkins donated the land, and the new Courthouse was built on a hill called "The Gore", located between the rival communities of North and South Akron. Soon after its completion in 1843, John Quincy Adams, former President of the United States, presided over an informal dedication of the new Courthouse. While waiting in Akron for the canal boat which he was traveling to be raised by the canal locks, a group of citizens persuaded President Adams to address the public at the new Courthouse. The President gave a stirring 20 minute speech, which included many rousing ovations. As the Beacon described it, President Adams concluded his speech by shaking hands and "...kissing each lady and all of the babies in attendance."
The first judges to preside in the Courthouse were Circuit Court Judges who were also responsible for other counties. The most famous Circuit Judge to sit in Summit County was Benjamin Wade. Judge Wade eventually went on to become a United States Senator and President Pro-Tempore of the Senate. As President Pro-Tempore of the Senate, Wade played an important role in the unsuccessful impeachment of President Lincoln's successor, Andrew Johnson. A successful impeachment would have made Wade the 18th president of the United States.
Senator Wade's summons to Washington actually began in Summit County. While presiding over a trial in Summit County, Judge Wade received a telegram from the Ohio Legislature announcing his appointment to the Senate. Unfazed by the news, Judge Wade gave no expression and ordered the trial to continue.
In addition to famous American figures, the first Courthouse witnessed some interesting events. In August of 1900, the Courthouse was almost burned to the ground as an angry mob sought Louis Peck, who had been accused of assaulting and raping a six-year old girl. The mob burned City Hall and the jail, killing several people, then broke into the Courthouse looking for Peck. However, a persuasive night watchman convinced the mob to leave, thereby saving the Courthouse. The following day, in the courtroom of the Courthouse, with the Ohio State Militia standing guard, Peck pled guilty. Soon after Peck's guilty plea, the mob leaders were indicted and tried in the same courtroom.
In 1905, the original Courthouse was demolished, and a new one was completed in 1908 at a cost of $337,708.93. Built of locally-quarried buff sandstone, the second and parent Courthouse was designed in the Second Renaissance Revival style of architecture. That design included the use of two male statues and two lions at the entrance. The two seated males, one with a scroll and the other with a sheathed sword, represent law and justice. The lions are symbols of the law's majesty. In order to position the lions without cracking the stone base blocks, large blocks of ice were placed between the the lions and the stone bases. As the ice slowly melted, the lions gently came to a rest on their stone bases. The original design included a long and impressive flight of stairs leading from the street level up to the front doors. Due to the cost of maintenance, the lower half of the steps were removed in 1970.
Largely due to the expansion of the rubber industry, the decade from 1910 to 1920 were boom years for Akron and Summit County, with the County's population tripling during that period. The enlarged populace brought about the need for additional space to house the County's courts and government. In 1922, an Annex of the same design was built to the rear of the new Courthouse at a cost of $350,000, connected by enclosed bridges.
Like its predecessor, the new Courthouse has seen many interesting events and people. Wendell Wilkie was a frequent participant in trials in the Courthouse. Later, in 1940, he was the republican nominee for the Presidency of the United States. A large plaque dedicated to his memory can be found in the Courthouse Atrium.
An example of a dramatic and controversial trial held in the present Courthouse is the rubber strike injunction hearings of 1937. Akron was the focus of national attention when union organizational strikes against the major rubber manufacturers broke into violent clashes between the striking employees and plant security. A number of people were injured and the rubber companies filed a petition for an immediate injunction against the strikers to prevent the violence. In deciding whether to grant the injunction, the Judges of the Court of Common Pleas took the unusual step of hearing the matter en banc, which means that, instead of the usual procedure of one judge hearing the case, all of the judges sat together to decide if the injunction should be granted. In an emotionally-charged atmosphere and community, the judges were concerned with physical and political reprisals. They believed that a decision by all of the judges would be more widely accepted. In a "tense and packed" courtroom, with national labor leaders and company representatives testifying, the judges granted the injunction. The judges strategy was apparently successful. The injunction, along with recognition of the unions, ended the violence.
The injunction hearing and the many other historic event and personalities associated with both the original and present Courthouses, coupled with the fact that the present Courthouse is considered a classic example of the Second Renaissance Revival style of architecture, a style common to public buildings at the turn of the 19th Century, caused the present Courthouse to be added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
The decades from 1960 to 1990 have seen the expansion of both County Government and the Courts, necessitating the need for additional space. This growth has caused many of the County administrative offices to be moved out of the Courthouse into other County-owned buildings, leaving the Courthouse to be occupied almost exclusively by the Divisions of the Court of Common Pleas of Summit County.
In addition, it has brought about a number of renovations of the Courthouse. The largest and most extensive of these renovations was in 1987. The 1987 $7.4 million renovation attempted to restore both the exterior and interior to the 1908 appearance of the Courthouse, as provided for in the Historic Building Preservation Act.
In 2005 a third building was added to the courthouse, just north of the annex. The new building houses the Domestic Relations Court and the Clerk of Courts.
Today, the Summit County Courthouse is a functioning courthouse, with all the drama associated with an urban county's criminal and civil trial dockets. It also is a building that is a monument to an architectural design of dignity and grace, and the symbol that reminds us of our past and invokes a heritage of local, democratic self-government.
Judges 1906 to Present