Eaton County Courthouse

W. Lawrence Ave. at Cochran and Bostwick Sts., Charlotte, Michigan

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East (Front) Face

Photo taken by Nathan Holth in July 2010

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Description 

Late 19th century public building. / Second Renaissance Revival. Brick and stone. 2 1/2 stories above elevated basement; rectangular with projections on three sides; Approximately 70' x 85' plus projections. Hip roof; three-stage square cupola with octagonal dome, statue of Justice on top; 2 second story porticoes on the south and east sides; rotunda and colored glass skylight. Elaborate interior trim; ceramic tiled floors in public areas; heavy iron or steel safe door with pilaster strip on each side of opening and pediment; raised panel in the frieze of safe door is painted with a landscape scene. -- Historic American Buildings Survey

Information About The County Courthouse 

From Michigan Historic Sites Online

Property Type courthouse
Historic Use GOVERNMENT/courthouse
Current Use GOVERNMENT/courthouse
Style Renaissance
Architect/Builder
D. W. Gibbs and Company
MILES, CRAMER AND HORN

Narrative Description
The Eaton County Courthouse is centered on the square that is bounded by Charlotte's central business district and older residential neighborhoods. The building faces south toward Lawrence Avenue. The Eaton County Courthouse is a Renaissance Revival brick building trimmed in stone. The courthouse is a rectangular two-story-plus-raised-basement, hip-roof Renaissance Revival building with porticos and a two-section galvanized iron tower atop the building's center point. The building's length exclusive of steps is 104 feet, and its width is 97 feet. The courthouse stands on footings and below-ground foundation walls of uncoursed rubble fieldstone. The thirty-eight foot tower retains a bell from the Meneeley foundry of West Troy (now Lansingburgh), New York and an E. Howard Watch & Clock Company tower clock. The above-ground basement walls are faced in light brown, rock-face, coursed ashlar sandstone over brick. The courtroom occupies entire west side of the second floor.

Statement of Significance
The Eaton County Courthouse Complex is historically significant as the center of Eaton County government for nearly one hundred years. Built in 1883-85, the Eaton County Courthouse is one of Michigan's best preserved late nineteenth-century courthouse buildings, having been left to the county historical commission without additions or major interior renovations. The building is an important example of the work of Ohio architect David W. Gibbs whose firm, D. W. Gibbs & Co., designed at least seven other Michigan and Ohio courthouses. Severely damaged by fire in 1894, it was rebuilt similar to the original and served as the official center of government for Eaton County until 1976 when a new county office complex was completed. The building is now managed by the Eaton County Historical Commission and operated as a museum.

Marker Name Eaton County

Marker Text
EATON COUNTY Named for John H. Eaton, Secretary of War under Andrew Jackson, Eaton County was set off in 1829. Bellevue, where the county's first settlement took place in 1833, was platted by Isaac E. Crary and John D. Pierce, fathers of Michigan's public school system. Most of the early settlers were Yankees. The county was organized in 1837. Charlotte, which was built on a prairie near the center of the county, became the county seat. Maple sugar soon was a famous county product. NOTE: Marker replaced.

Period of Significance 1885-1976
Significant Date(s) 1894
1883, 1885
Registry Type(s) 01/20/1994 Marker erected
04/02/1971 National Register listed
04/16/1958 State Register listed
Site ID# P22952

Information About The Courthouse Square Complex

From Michigan Historic Sites Online

Property Type courthouse, jail
Historic Use GOVERNMENT/courthouse
Current Use RECREATION AND CULTURE/museum
Style Renaissance Second Empire
Architect/Builder David W. Gibbs

Narrative Description
The Eaton County Courthouse Complex stands on a rectangular courthouse square in downtown Charlotte. The courthouse square is bounded on the south and east by Charlotte's central business district and on the north and west by older residential neighborhoods. The former Eaton County courthouse is centered on the square and faces south toward Lawrence Avenue. Completed in 1885, the Eaton County Courthouse is a Renaissance Revival brick building trimmed in stone. The courthouse square also contains the former Eaton County Sherrif's Residence located at the northwest corner of the property facing west on Bostwick. This two-and-one-half-story, Second Empire, brick building originally had a two-story county jail attached to the rear exterior of the structure. Demolished in 1961, this structure was replaced by a modern two-story structure, which was itself removed in 1990. The courthouse square also contains two Civil War cannons dedicated as monuments as well as a noncontributing modern war memorial and brick boiler house located between the courthouse and sheriff's residence. A parking lot occupies the northeast corner of the square. Large, old trees, including several magnificent white oaks, front the grounds along Lawrence and Bostwick.

Statement of Significance
The Eaton County Courthouse Complex is historically significant as the center of Eaton County government for nearly one hundred years. The former Eaton County Courthouse is one of Michigan's best preserved late nineteenth-century courthouse building, having been vacated and left to the county historical commission without additions or major interior renovations such as most other courthouses of that era have suffered. The Renaissance Revival courthouse served as the county government center form its completion in 1885 until 1976 when a larger facility was completed to the north of town. The building is an important example of the work of David W. Gibbs, a prominent Toledo, Ohio, architect whose firm, D. W. Gibbs & Company, designed at least seven other Michigan and Ohio courthouses, including the one in Ionia, as well as the still-standing Wyoming State Capitol building. The sheriff's residence, despite the loss of the old Eaton County Jail to which it was once attached, remains important as one of the oldest surviving examples of the sheriff's residences which were once a standard component of most county governmental complexes in Michigan but are now virtually nonexistent. It is also a fine example of Second Empire design as county seat towns such as Charlotte generally display.

Marker Name Eaton County/Eaton County Courthouse Square

Marker Text
EATON COUNTY Eaton County was organized in 1837 and named for President Andrew Jackson's war secretary, John H. Eaton. Pioneers had come to Bellevue, the first county seat, in 1833. The county was settled chiefly by New Englanders who founded communities in Charlotte, Delta Mills, Eaton Rapids, Grand Ledge, Olivet and Vermontville. In 1840 Charlotte became the county seat. Five years later a modest Greek Revival courthouse was erected on the courthouse square, the site of county government from 1845 to 1976. (That building is now located in Bennett Park.) A second courthouse was built here in 1883-85, and a third was erected north of the city in 1976. Eaton is the only county in Michigan with three extant county courthouses. Eaton County native Frank Fitzgerald, and former residents Austin Blair, Luren Dickinson and John Swainson served as Michigan governors.
EATON COUNTY COURTHOUSE SQUARE The Eaton County Courthouse Square is a rare Michigan example of an intact nineteenth-century government complex. The showpiece of the square, the stately Renaissance Revival courthouse built in 1883-85, was designed by D. W. Gibbs & Company of Toledo, Ohio. The interior features several elaborate marbleized slate fireplaces, stained glass and native butternut and walnut trim. A cast zinc statue of Justice crowns the building and towers above the city. On July 4, 1894, fire destroyed much of the courthouse. The structure was rebuilt almost exactly to the original plans. The 1873 Second Empire sheriff's residence, built with an attached jail, is one of only a few of its age remaining in the state. The courthouse square is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Period of Significance 1885-1976
Significant Date(s) 1883-1885
Registry Type(s) 01/04/1994 Marker erected
08/02/1993 National Register listed
Site ID# P25453

National Register information 

Status
Posted to the National Register of Historic Places on April 2, 1971
Reference number
71000389
Area of significance
Architecture
Level of significance
Local
Evaluation criteria
C - Design/Construction
Property type
Building
Historic function
Courthouse
Current function
Courthouse
Period of significance
1875-1899
Significant years
1883; 1885

Update Log 

  • July 11, 2010: Essay added by Nathan Holth
  • July 11, 2010: Essay added by Nathan Holth
  • July 11, 2010: New photos from Nathan Holth
  • July 9, 2010: New Street View added by Nathan Holth

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