|Address:||111 East High Street|
|Architectural Style:||Greek Revival|
|Original Owner:||Knox County|
The Knox County Courthouse was individually nominated to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.
Knox County was formed on March 1, 1808 from Fairfield County. Sometime between that time and 1809, a courthouse was constructed on the southwest corner of the Public Square, near the center of the intersection of Main and High Streets. This first courthouse was a simple log structure with clapboard siding standing at a single story, with a footprint of 15 x 18 feet. Although it had a sizable fireplace, located at one end of the building, the chimney was made of nothing more substantial than mud. The earthen floor and grease-paper windows also attested to the harsh conditions faced by the early settlers of the county.
This courthouse was only used for a few years before a more substantial building was constructed of brick on the northeast corner of the Public Square. The second courthouse was ready for occupancy in April of 1812, and was situated in such a way that it faced both Main and High Streets, with a set of double doors for each entrance. This new building rose two stories high, perfectly square in size, with a pyramidal roof that was topped by a small cupola, which was nothing more than a small square box to house a bell. At the time of construction, the Public Square was approximately ten feet higher than it is today. To make the ground more level, the earth along Main Street was graded sometime in 1828 by a gentleman of the name Norton. During the process, Norton came too close to the courthouse, compromising the foundation to such an extent that the entire building came crumbling down before the supporting stone wall, as contracted to James McGibney on October 28, 1828, was even began.
Plans were immediately set in motion for a third courthouse, which was constructed between 1828 and 1829, this time on the northwest corner of the Public Square. This two-story brick building had a large portico that faced Main Street, supported by tall, white fluted columns and raised a couple of steps to the entrance. A small cupola topped the roof of the building. The embankment on which it stood was so severe that the ground reached to the base of the 2nd story in the rear of the building. This allowed natural light to penetrate the full basement, occupied by various stores and shops, from both the east and the south. The courtroom was located on the 1st floor, flanked by a couple of offices, while the 2nd story was reserved exclusively for office space. Many thought that this third courthouse was very poorly constructed, which proved to be true on April 9, 1854. On this date, a severe storm raged through Mount Vernon, destroying the courthouse. The high winds ripped off the roof and its heavy timbers. Rafters and shingles were strewn across the Public Square several hundred feet, and the brick chimney collapsed, crashing through the floors down to the basement. What remained was nothing more than a partial shell of a building.
Construction of the fourth and final courthouse began in 1855, and was completed by 1856 at a cost of nearly $40,000. No longer residing on the Public Square, its new location and solid construction led many citizens, remembering courthouses past, to comment that they finally had a courthouse that "appears solid and substantial as if it might withstand the storms of centuries." nearly 160 years after that fateful day in April, it seems that they were right.
This current courthouse was designed by architect Daniel Clark, who favored the Greek Revival style, as many public buildings of this time were designed throughout the United States. It rests on a heavy stone foundation, and rises two very tall stories. The main entrance, facing East High Street, is composed of two large, fluted stone Doric columns, flanked by two brick pilasters on either side with square stone capitals. The large pediment is supported by a series of stone triglyphs with brick metopes in between, and the central ocular window is divided into quarters and is surrounded by foliated scroll. Between each set of pilasters is a single window, one for each story. The 1st-story windows possess pediment hoodmolds supported by small brackets. The large cupola, placed directly above the entrance and the second rendition of the building's roofline, stands two stories in height. Because of its height and the building's position near the top of a rise, its four clock faces are visible from a long distance. The base of the cupola consists of a fanlight with heavy stone lintel on all four sides. At the very top of the rounded copper cap, detailed by two lancet-like embellishments, is a small, square finial.
The interior of this building contains a staircase with two flights of stairs located on the east side of the 1st floor. Original floor coverings have been replaced with asphalt tile, but some of the original mosaic tile remains in the west doorway.