“New courthouse now open” was the Nov. 7, 2017 headline in The Delaware Gazette. To my knowledge, talking about a new courthouse for Delaware County started back as early as the year 2000. Office holders got serious about the need to have a whole new courthouse, because of the enormous growth spurt going on in the county. I remember the forming of the “2020 Committee.” Back then, they projected that by the year 2020, it would be necessary to have a much larger courthouse with an additional judge or two. I see the cost of the new one was $39.2 million. In the first discussions of the cost, it was to have been $50 million. In the year 2000, that was an unheard of amount of money to spend, especially since the new Rutherford B. Hayes Building was just being built. It’s good to see that the new courthouse was built for around $10 million less!
In August of 1954, I walked in the front door of the old courthouse for the first time. I had just been hired as a new, additional employee in the Recorder’s Office. Back then, almost every county office was housed in that one building. The Recorder’s Office, along with the Treasurer’s, the Auditor’s, the Probate Court, the Clerk of Courts, and the Common Pleas Court, were all housed on the first two floors. That’s when there were windows that opened in every office. These tall windows had screens to put in, to allow for fresh air to come through. They needed the fresh air because there were a lot of people smoking in the courthouse then. Almost every desk and counter top had space for ash trays for the convenience of smokers. The Recorder at that time smoked a cigar all day, every day. There were also windows in the basement offices that housed the Board of Education, the Board of Elections, the Engineer’s office, and the Commissioners, who had one room down there where they met every Monday. You could always tell which one belonged to the Commissioners, because there was always a spittoon sitting outside their hall door.
The old courthouse never had a parking garage, nor did they have any handicapped, or limited parking. The only reserved spot was beside the back door. It was for the Recorder at that time, who had polio and was confined to a wheelchair. There wasn’t an elevator in the building until he was elected and one had to be built. That is also when anyone who wanted to come inside, could walk up the front steps and right in the front door. The permanent locking of the front door of the old courthouse became necessary. On the last day it was open, Ed Flahive and his wife, Jean, came in my office and said they wanted to be the last ones to go out through the door. So at 4:30, they left the building, and it was forever locked behind them. The decision to lock the front door was because of the increase in domestic violence cases that were being heard in the court room up on second floor. The county employees and public had to be protected from the persons who may have wanted to bring a gun or knife into the court room. From then on, everyone had to walk around the courthouse to the back door and go through the metal detector that was installed at the basement level.
A lot of changes have taken place in the area just north of the corner of Central Avenue and N. Sandusky Street. It’s good to know that the old courthouse will stand, and be housed by offices. A lot of homes had to be torn down on Franklin, Union and Sandusky streets. The first houses torn down were facing N. Franklin Street. This made room for a parking lot for the old courthouse. That was followed by the homes that were replaced by the Hayes building. These were homes facing both Sandusky and on both sides of Union Street. Then came the Elks and the Leffler house being torn down to make room for this new courthouse. Just last week, the offices of the Probation Department moved out of the double house on Court Street, and also out of a smaller house on Sandusky Street. They are now, also housed in the new Courthouse. The parking garage that is built into the new courthouse will be used only by the employees of said building.
As I write this, I am reminded of my first day working in the old courthouse. I was only 17 years old, and fortunate to get to work in the Recorder’s office as a Deputy Recorder for 12 years, which eventually led to my being elected to be the Recorder in 1989. If my memory serves me correctly, on my first day employed by the county, Major Sampson was the Auditor, Claude Williamson was the Treasurer, Judge Barrett was the probate judge, Mr. Elliot was the engineer, Don James was Recorder, Judge Whitney (not Duncan) was the Common Pleas Judge, and the Clerk of Courts was soon to be Ruth Scott. The Sheriff was Harley Wornstaff with both his home and his office being behind the courthouse in the old jail. I am also aware, and am sorry to say, I believe I may be the only person still living who was working that day in the old courthouse in 1954.
Kay E. Conklin is a retired Delaware County recorder who served four terms. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a degree in sociology and anthropology.