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History of the Courthouse

In 1867, the Washington County Board of Supervisors decided to consolidate the county seat into one central courthouse. The location for the new courthouse was under heavy debate, with various Washington County towns lobbying to have the privilege of being the county seat. The Board chose Salem in December 1868 after a great lobbying effort by the new town supervisor, James Gibson. He was able to raise one third of the total cost of construction. The building cost $30,000 to construct and only took six months to complete.


The Board chose Marcus F. Cummings of Troy, New York to be the project’s architect. He chose to move the building site to its current location to allot enough space for the courthouse and jail complex. The existing jail and courthouse was on Main Street in Salem, NY.
The current structure was completed in 1869. By January 1, 1872, the surrogate’s office and all of its records were moved to the courthouse and on February 15th, 1875, a 713 pound bell from the Meneely foundry in Troy was installed in the cupola of the courthouse.
“The courthouse continued to be used until 1993, when the county seat was officially moved to Fort Edward, and all county offices were consolidated there in one new complex. The jail was used until May 2003, when the new $16.8 million facility opened in Fort Edward.”
Final quote and other information from Historic Structure Report of the Old Washington county Courthouse & Jail. Prepared by  John G. Waite Associates, Architects PLLC for The Historic Salem Courthouse Preservation Association, Inc. in 2004.


The Historic Courthouse Preservation Project

In 2001, Washington County was going to vacate the Old Washington County Courthouse in Salem. William “Bill”cropped-dscn01-300x300 Eberle, a retired attorney, spearheaded a group of citizens to take action and make the courthouse a community center. Concerned citizens met with John G. Waite, a renowned preservation architect, who made a presentation about other restoration projects and arranged for the group to visit recently restored buildings. The group held meetings on a regular basis and Bill put in motion the chartering of a not-for-profit with the Education Department of New York State.

In January 2002, the Historic Salem Courthouse Preservation Association, Inc. (HSCPA) officially became a corporation and elected the first Board of Directors. They selected Bill to be the first president of HSCPA.

One of the corporation’s missions, to facilitate the transfer of the courthouse to a Salem entity, was carried out while HSCPA negotiated with county officials. By the end of 2003, the town, village and HSCPA finalized a partnership by signing a Memorandum of Agreement. The Town of Salem became the owner of the property on January 1, 2004. The HSCPA took charge of management.  To date, the courthouse has received no funding from Salem taxpayers and it will remain that way.

HSCPA has been awarded many grants to underwrite the expense of restoring the courthouse. These include grants from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, NYS Council on the Arts, Preservation League of NYS, as well as an Environmental Protection fund grant awarded by the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.  Over the past eighteen years, one million dollars has been put into the restoration of the building. We still have a long way to go and are actively fundraising to accomplish this goal. We have committed to fully restoring the building by 2030.