Skip Navigation
Regional News
The St. Lawrence County Courthouse's grand staircase. Photo: Mark Kurtz
The St. Lawrence County Courthouse's grand staircase. Photo: Mark Kurtz

In pictures, the history of the St. Lawrence County Courthouse

The county courthouse is the hub of a county's government, but most of us only visit for the county clerk, DMV, or (if we're unlucky) a trip to court or the county jail.

Most of the county courthouses in New York were built in the 1800s, with updates and even rebuilds since then. Some courthouse buildings are mundane, others - like St. Lawrence County's, in Canton - are magnificent.

Share this


Explore this

Reported by

Mark Kurtz
Photojournalist

The St. Lawrence County Courthouse, built in 1893. Photo: Mark Kurtz
The St. Lawrence County Courthouse, built in 1893. Photo: Mark Kurtz
The courthouse building, on Court Street (of course), has seen several changes over the years – including one in location. The first courthouse in St Lawrence County was actually in Ogdensburg, which was the county seat until 1828. It was housed in one of the old stone buildings of the Oswegatchie Fort and used as the courthouse, county clerk and jail.

When the county seat moved to the more centrally located Canton, resident David Judson donated land on the corner of what's now Court and Judson Streets for a new county courthouse. The courthouse opened in 1830, and also housed the jail and county clerk's office. It was destroyed by fire in 1893.

The afternoon light filtering into the grand staircase of the St Lawrence County Courthouse. Photo: Mark Kurtz
The afternoon light filtering into the grand staircase of the St Lawrence County Courthouse. Photo: Mark Kurtz
One consequence of that fire was a bit of county infighting as residents in Gouverneur, Norwood, Potsdam, and particularly Ogdensburg each looked to get the county seat moved to their respective towns. In the end, the Board of Supervisors decided to rebuild in Canton…with only a one-vote majority. The county board then commissioned the courthouse that stands today, with J.P. Johnson of Ogdensburg as the architect and Evans & Ackerman of Binghamton as contractors. They began building the new courthouse in April, 1894, and finished about a year later.

Fireproofing was a significant consideration when designing and building the new Romanesque-style courthouse. The builders used five-foot-thick granite as the foundation and gray Gouverneur granite in the walls, with Norwood black limestone used for the windows, corners and coping.

The St. Lawrence County supervisors' seal in stained glass. Photo: Mark Kurtz
The St. Lawrence County supervisors' seal in stained glass. Photo: Mark Kurtz
In 1923, the county hired architect D. P. Williams of Ogdensburg to plan the county clerk's office to the left of the courthouse. Contractors Munn & Shea of Montreal, who also built Hepburn Hall and Gunnison Chapel at St. Lawrence University, expanded the right end of the building and redesigned the tower.

But that building was gutted by fire in 1925. Insurance covered the cost of rebuilding the courthouse inside the still standing stone walls with no change in the exterior appearance. Not surprisingly, fireproofing was again of great concern and the only wood in this reconstruction was the balustrade in the stairwell. The walls are covered with glazed tiles and the floor is made of quarry stone tile. The building is trimmed with red Potsdam sandstone.

Sometime in the late 1980s - early '90s, Richard Ashley, head of county grounds and maintenance, presented to the county two stained glass pieces that he had made. The two pieces – a county seal and a supervisors' seal, occupy prominent places inside the courthouse.

St Lawrence county has seen its needs expand beyond what this original courthouse can accommodate. Several additional buildings exist in Canton and throughout the county to address all the demands of a 21st century New York county.

The St. Lawrence County Seal in stained glass. Photo: Mark Kurtz

The grand staircase. Photo: Mark Kurtz

County, town and village historians are a wealth of knowledge and if they don't know something specifically, they know how to get it. Thanks to Fred Rollins of the Potsdam Public Museum, Sue Longshore, Collections Manager at the St. Lawrence County Historical Society, Linda Casserly, Historian, village of Canton, JeanMarie Martello, Archives manager at the St Lawrence County Historical Association, and Mimi Van Deusen, Potsdam Public Museum Director and Potsdam Village Historian.

Visitor comments

on:

NCPR is supported by:

This is a Visitor-Supported website.