Hauntings, Fires and Other Weird Facts About the Hamilton County Courthouse as It Celebrates Its 100th Anniversary

The courthouse celebrates its centennial on Oct. 18 and the Hamilton County Law Library posted 100 cool facts to count it down

click to enlarge Hamilton County Courthouse - Photo: Public Domain
Photo: Public Domain
Hamilton County Courthouse

The current Hamilton County Courthouse — located at 1000 Main St. downtown — was dedicated on Oct. 18, 1919. Future president Warren G. Harding, then a senator, gave the opening address. 

The present iteration of the county's hall of justice is its sixth — three others have burned to the ground, including the fourth courthouse during the infamous Courthouse Riots of 1884.

The Hamilton County Courthouse is celebrating its centennial on Oct. 18, starting with an homage to Harding's original speech at 11:30 a.m. on the steps of the building, given by Dr. Warren G. Harding III and Gov. Mike DeWine. There will be entertainment by The River Rats and the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office Pipe and Drum Corps. A luncheon begins a noon.

Leading up to the courthouse centennial, the Hamilton County Law Library compiled 100 fun facts about the building. Here are some of our favorites. Read the full list, posted by Vanessa Seeger, outreach librarian at the Hamilton County Law Library, here.

  • The first Courthouse in Hamilton County was a log cabin erected in 1790 on what is now Government Square. It had no jail or other place of incarceration so a public whipping post was installed and this was used as the primary means of punishment.
  • After the third Courthouse was destroyed in a fire that spread from a pork-house, the Courts where temporarily housed in a pork-packing facility while a new structure was built.
  • Courthouses across the country have long been considered to be haunted and Hamilton County is no different. The fifth Courthouse was so spooky that most citizens were afraid to pass it at night for fear of seeing the ghost of Andy Deller, an employee of the Clerk’s office who had been killed in a buggy accident. It was rumored that Andy would tap on the window as you passed by the Courthouse and then go sit at his desk with his head in his hands. It was also widely rumored that when the night watchmen entered the Law Library, the old librarian, Maurice Myers, would put cold hands on you and entreat you to put the books back on the shelves when you finished with them. It is worth noting that stories of ghosts and hauntings followed the court into our current building and many of the night security guards refuse to enter the Law Library on their own for fear of running into something spectral. They swear you can hear someone riffling through books and banging on pipes.
  • The Hamilton County Courthouse is a perfect rectangle: 295 feet north and south, 262 feet east and west.
  • The dedication was originally scheduled for October 4, 1919 but was postponed because Cincinnati would be playing the Chicago White Sox in the World Series. This game brought us the famous Black Sox scandal, where several members of the White Sox team allegedly conspired with gamblers and threw the game. Read more here.
  • The first "guests" of the (1919 courthouse) jail were state officials who were in town for a Reds game who could not get hotel rooms. It was October 1919 and Judge C.W. Hoffman jokingly told them they could stay in the Juvenile dormitory since it wasn't open yet and they took him up on it.
  • The Courthouse was constructed of steal, New Hampshire granite and Bedford limestone and entirely fireproofed to withstand disturbances. The plans for the Courthouse did not call for fire escapes. It was believed that fire escapes would prove an easy avenue for inmates to escape. The commissioners instead insisted that every aspect of the building be fireproof, with metal window frames and doors. Even the furniture was to be fireproof.
  • The contents of the time capsule inside the cornerstone (laid by William Howard Taft on Oct. 1, 1915) are as follows: A memorial from the Building Trades Council, A memorial from the Cincinnati Bar Association, a piece of Rookwood Pottery, financial reports of the city and county, rosters of all principle organizations in the county, a complete set of photographs of all public buildings and streets in the city, a copy of each Cincinnati newspaper, the sixth annual report of the Chamber of Commerce, a copy of the Ohio Revised Statutes and a Bible. You can read the full contents of the time capsule here.
  • There is a locked vault located on the fourth floor of the Courthouse. No one has the combination and no one is entirely sure what it was used for. Current speculation from the Sheriff’s office contends that it was once an evidence locker but it could also have housed weaponry for the defense of the Courthouse in the event of another riot.
  • The office of the County Coroner was located in the basement of the Courthouse, complete with full morgue. The body refrigeration units are still located in the basement of the Courthouse, though they are now unused.
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