The Old Court House is a reminder of a time when our community came together to erect a monumental building of amazing style and engineering grace. Built to last for the ages, it is the best Greek Revival style courthouse in the nation, and has been proclaimed "the finest thing of its kind in America."
In April 1844, the County Commissioners announced that a $200 premium would be awarded to the person submitting the best design for a new courthouse. At the suggestion of Dayton businessman and scholar, Horace Pease, the building was to be modeled after the Theseum, a Greek temple that stood on the lower slopes of the Acropolis. The winner was Cincinnati architect, Howard Daniels, known mostly for his work in parks and cemetery design.
Construction began in 1847 under the critical eye of John W. Carey, a builder from Miami County, Ohio. The limestone, known as "Dayton marble," was taken from local quarries. The city’s first railroad, a crude affair with wooden rails and ox drawn cars, was built to haul the stone from the quarries to the Miami-Erie Canal, and from the canal to the building site. There, teams of skilled stone carvers fashioned it by hand with long, toothless steel saws.
The structure is built almost entirely of stone and brick, and remains one of the finest handcrafted buildings in the nation. The County Commissioners were so concerned about the threat of fire that they roofed the building with limestone, which still exists underneath the present-day copper roofing. Heavy wrought iron shutters and doors (said to weigh a tone apiece) added to the massiveness of the building. The Old Court House was dedicated on April 16, 1850.
For many years the Old Court House was the center of law and local government for Montgomery County. But it has been much more. It is where we gather to celebrate our triumphs, mourn our tragedies, and come together for community actions. It is where we came to raise the $2 million needed to fund flood prevention plans after the disastrous 1913 flood, and where we gathered on April 7, 1968 to honor the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., slain three days earlier in Memphis, Tennessee.
The Old Court House has also been a favorite campaign stop. On September 17, 1859, future President Abraham Lincoln delivered an address on the steps of the building. Eight other presidents have visited the courthouse, either as presidents or during presidential campaigns. They include Andrew Johnson, James Garfield, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and William Jefferson Clinton.
After a major restoration, the Old Court House was rededicated on May 6, 2005. It will stand for the ages as the heart of the Montgomery County community.