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Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail
U.S. National Register of Historic Places
U.S. National Historic Landmark
Allegheny County Courthouse, in 2004
Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Coordinates: 40°26′18.56″N 79°59′46.17″W / 40.4384889°N 79.9961583°W / 40.4384889; -79.9961583Coordinates: 40°26′18.56″N 79°59′46.17″W / 40.4384889°N 79.9961583°W / 40.4384889; -79.9961583
Built/Founded: 1884
Architect: Henry Hobson Richardson
Architectural style(s): Other, Romanesque
Governing body: Local
Added to NRHP: March 7, 1973 [1]
Designated NHL: May 11, 1976[2]
NRHP Reference#: 73001586
Second Courthouse, Pittsburgh, in 1857. This courthouse was ruined by fire in 1882.

The Allegheny County Courthouse is a government building of Allegheny County located in the county seat, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Previous Courthouses

Pittsburgh's original courthouse, first occupied in 1794, was a wooden structure located next to the market place. Land for a new courthouse was purchased in April, 1834. This was a tract of land on the corner of Fourth and Grant Streets, on Grant's Hill. Construction took place between 1836 and 1840. This court house was built with polished gray sandstone, quarried at Coal Hill (present-day Mount Washington), opposite Ferry Street. The building was designed by John Chislett. The Greek Revival design included a domed cupola housing a rotunda 60 feet (18 m) in diameter and 80 feet (24 m) high. The building was completed in 1841. Due to corrosion caused by coal smoke, the building deteriorated: the dressed surface of the facade dropped off, some of the cornices near the roof began to fall, and the building had a scaly appearance. Even in its deteriorated state, it was a handsome structure. On May 7, 1882, a fire broke out and ruined the building. Subsequently, it was demolished. The third, and present, courthouse was erected on the same spot.[3]

The Current Allegheny County Courthouse

Following the destruction of the second courthouse, Allegheny County Commissioners decided to hold a competition to design a replacement. The winner of the competition was Boston architect H.H. Richardson and construction of the buildings was begun by the Norcross Brothers, Richardson's construction firm of choice, in 1884. The excavation and foundation of the site was contracted to Booth and Flinn. The jail portion of the complex was completed in 1886, the year of Richardson's death and the entire court house was finished in 1886 by Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, Richardson's successor firm. The total cost of the project up to that time was over two and a quarter million dollars.

The design of the main building, which Richardson considered to be his finest, was innovative in that the building is built around an interior courtyard, thus allowing natural light and fresh air to reach most of the building. The courtyard is surrounded by four stories in three sides. A tower rises five stories from the courtyard's open side. As was usually the case with Richardson's buildings, the roof is steep with dormers placed at all the corners.

The prison is connected to the main building by the "Bridge of Sighs." The entire complex was built of large rusticated blocks of granite, with the entrance ways and windows topped with wide arches. This gives the building a heavy, stable and dignified appearance.

In the 1900s the street level in front of the building was lowered as part of a general re-grading of Pittsburgh. Richardson had anticipated this and courses of finished masonry had been buried underground, now to be revealed. Unfortunately this left the ceremonial entrance a full story above the street. A grand stairway was built, but removed during street widening in the 1930s- the low arched doorways were extended downwards to street level, with the result that the visitor is not greeted by the grand entrance hall Richardson planned, but by the low corridors which were once the basement. The design of the Allegheny County Courthouse has influenced buildings in many cities across America, such as Minneapolis City Hall and the Altgeld Hall on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In 1974, the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.In 2007, the American Institute of Architects asked Harris Interactive to survey 2,000 people, who were shown 247 photographs of buildings and other structures in different categories chosen by 2,500 architects. The Allegheny County Courthouse was ranked 35th overall on the list and above every other courthouse in the nation except the U.S. Supreme Court.


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. Retrieved 2006-03-15.  
  2. ^ "Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved 2008-07-01.  
  3. ^ "A century and a half of Pittsburg and her people," Boucher, John Newton; The Lewis Publishing Company, 1908, prgs. 371, 372
  • "Pittsburgh, The Story of an American City," 5th edition, Stefan Lorant, Esselmont Books, LLC., Pittsburgh, PA, 1999.
  • Kvaran, Einar Einarsson, Pilgrimage to H.H. Richardson, unpublished manuscript
  • Ochsner, Jeffrey Karl, H.H. Richardson:Complete Architectural Works, MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1984
  • Van Rensselaer, Mariana Griswold, Henry Hobson Richardson and His Works, Dover Publications, NY, 1969, a reprint of the 1888 edition
Preceded by
Trinity Church, Pittsburgh
Tallest Building in Pittsburgh
Succeeded by
Farmers Bank Building


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