Guide to the Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail, Building Specifications and Construction Documents, 1883-1976 AIS.2016.06

ULS Archives & Special Collections

Summary Information

Repository
ULS Archives & Special Collections
Title
Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail, Building Specification and Construction Documents
Creator
Myers, Elijah E., 1832-1909
Creator
Ord, John, 1871-1910
Creator
Richardson, H. H. (Henry Hobson), 1838-1886
Collection Number
AIS.2016.06
Date
1883-1976
Extent
0.21 linear feet
Abstract
Collection includes photocopies of specifications, design descriptions, and inventories of architectural drawings for the proposed Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail, submitted to the Allegheny County Commissioners in 1883 by the following architects: Henry Hobson Richardson of Boston, Elijah E. Myers of Detroit, and John Ord of Philadelphia. Also included are photocopies of the legal proceedings of an injunction ordering the Allegheny County Commissioners not to enter into a contract for the construction of the new county buildings.

Preferred Citation

Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail, Building Specification and Construction Documents, 1883-1976, AIS.2016.06, Archives & Special Collections, University of Pittsburgh Library System

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History

The Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail Complex, located at 436 Grant Street in Downtown Pittsburgh, is widely recognized as an outstanding example of Romanesque Revival architecture in the United States and is included by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) on its list of “America’s Favorite Architecture.” The Courthouse and Jail complex was designed by Henry Hobson Richardson of Boston in 1883 and constructed from 1884 through 1888. On May 7, 1882, the second Allegheny County Courthouse was destroyed by fire. Following the fire, the County Commissioners, along with Charles Davis, County Engineer, began making plans for the construction of a new building. In 1883, the Commissioners invited 100 architects to participate in a competition to design a new courthouse to replace the one destroyed by fire on the same site the previous year. The finalists, William W. Boyington (1818-1898), Elijah E. Meyers (1832-1909), John Ord (1871-1910), and Henry Hobson Richardson (1838-1886), were offered $2,500 each to prepare studies. Boyington was one of Chicago's first architects. Meyers, based in Detroit, was a successful designer of several state capitals, courthouses, and churches in the mid-West. Ord, who lived in Philadelphia, was part of the architecture team responsible for Philadelphia City Hall. However, it was Richardson's design that was selected by the commissioners in 1884.

Construction of the Jail began first. Although Richardson witnessed the completion of the jail, he died April 27, 1886, two years before the courthouse was completed. He chose three men who worked in his office to continue his practice: George Foster Shepley (1858-1903), Charles Hercules Rutan (1851-1914), and Charles Allerton Coolidge (1858-1936). They changed the name of the firm to Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, and completed the Pittsburgh project. Another person who played an important role in the project was Orlando Whitney Norcross (1839-1920), the leading partner in Norcross Brothers, general contractors located in Massachusetts. Richardson relied on Norcross for his knowledge of materials and construction techniques. Allegheny County awarded the construction contract to Norcross Brothers on September 1, 1884, and they completed the project according to Richardson's plans. The courthouse was dedicated on September 24, 1888.

In the late 20th century, as interest in historic preservation was on the rise, the Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail complex increasingly became the subject of research by architectural and local historians. Through the years, the competition and related drawings have been exhibited and several books and tour pamphlets have been written about the buildings.

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Scope and Content Notes

Collection includes thirteen folders of photocopies of printed specifications, design descriptions, and inventories of architectural drawings for the proposed Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail, submitted to the Allegheny County Commissioners in 1883 by the following architects: Henry Hobson Richardson of Boston, Elijah E. Myers of Detroit, and John Ord of Philadelphia. The inventories and list of prints document materials that were part of an exhibit planning process in 1976. The exhibit focused on the work of H. H. Richardson, but also included some of his competitors. Also included are photocopies of the legal proceedings of an injunction ordering the Allegheny County Commissioners not to enter into a contract for the construction of the new county buildings.

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

ULS Archives & Special Collections, December 2016

University of Pittsburgh Library System
Archives & Special Collections
Website: library.pitt.edu/archives-special-collections
412-648-3232 (ASC) | 412-648-8190 (Hillman)
Contact Us: www.library.pitt.edu/ask-archivist

Access Restrictions

No restrictions.

Copyright

The University of Pittsburgh holds the property rights to the material in this collection, but the copyright may still be held by the original creator/author. Researchers are therefore advised to follow the regulations set forth in the U.S. Copyright Code when publishing, quoting, or reproducing material from this collection without the consent of the creator/author or that go beyond what is allowed by fair use.

Custodial History

The photocopies contained in this collection were made by Mr. James D. Van Trump and Mr. Charles C. Arensburg of the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation. Mr. Van Trump was the author of Majesty of the Law The Court Houses of Allegheny County, 1988 and numerous other books and articles on the architecture in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.

Acquisition Information

Gift of Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation on December 12, 2016.

Existence and Location of Originals

The location of orginal building specification documents by Richardson and Myers are unknown. An original volume of Ord's Description of Designs is available at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (Main Branch).

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Related Materials

Related Material

H.H. Richardson’s Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail. Available at the Archives Service Center--call #:NA4473.P6 H2

Majesty of the law : the court houses of Allegheny County by James D. Van Trump. Available at the Archives Service Center--call #: NA4473 P5V35 1988

Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail walking tour by Albert M. Tannler. Available at the Archives Service Center--call #:NA4473.P5 T366 2007

Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail Architectural Records, 1883-1948, AIS.1980.20, Archives & Special Collections, University of Pittsburgh Library System

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Controlled Access Headings

Personal Name(s)

  • Myers, Elijah E., 1832-1909
  • Ord, John, 1871-1910
  • Richardson, H. H. (Henry Hobson), 1838-1886

Subject(s)

  • Architecture
  • Architecture -- Competitions
  • Architecture -- Pennsylvania
  • Architecture -- Pennsylvania -- Allegheny County
  • County government -- Pennsylvania -- Allegheny County
  • Courthouses -- Pennsylvania
  • Government
  • Jails -- Pennsylvania -- Allegheny County
  • Prisons -- Pennsylvania
  • Prisons -- Pennsylvania -- Allegheny County

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Previous Citation

Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail, Building Specification and Construction Documents, 1883-1976, AIS.2016.06, Archives Service Center, University of Pittsburgh

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Collection Inventory

  BoxFolder
H. H. Richardson, Specifications for the Court House, c1883 11

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  Folder
H. H. Richardson, Specifications for the Jail, 1883 2

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  Folder
H. H. Richardson, Specifications of Heating and Ventilating, Laundry and Kitchen Apparatus, Hydraulic Elevators, Pneumatic Tubing, c1883 3

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  Folder
H. H. Richardson, Addenda to Specifications, c1883 4

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  Folder
E. E. Myers, Specifications of Workmanship and Materials required in the erection and completion of the New Court House at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania... & Description of the Workmanship and Materials required in the erection and completion of the New County Jail for the County of Alleghenny [sic], State of Pennsylvania..., c1883 5

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  Folder
John Ord, Description of Designs Submitted to the Board of Commissioners of Allegheny County, Pa., for the proposed New Court House and Jail, 1883 6

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  Folder
Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, Western District. W. H. Brown, et al. vs. Robert E. Mercer, et al [Commissioners of Allegheny County], re: an injunction from entering into a contract for the erection of the court house and jail, 1885 7

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  Folder
Richardson Exhibit--Inventory of Drawings by Boyington, 1976 8

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  Folder
Richardson Exhibit--Inventory of Drawings by Myers, 1976 9

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  Folder
Richardson Exhibit--Inventory of Drawings by Ord, 1976 10

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  Folder
Richardson Exhibit--Inventory of Drawings by Richardson, 1976 11

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  Folder
Richardson Exhibit--Inventory of Drawing by Trouble & Hardwin, 1976 12

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  Folder
Richardson Exhibit--List of Prints for Exhibit, 1976 13

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