CHESTER — Nearly 200 years after Meigs County’s first courthouse was constructed, the building remains standing, not only as Ohio’s oldest courthouse, but the oldest standing courthouse in the Northwest Territory.
With extensive renovation work completed in the late 1990s, the courthouse has been open to the public since 2001, serving as a museum, as well as a site for genealogical research.
Walking through the two story courthouse, visitors can see where some of Meigs County’s earliest trials were held, as well as where the county conducted business from November 1823 until July 1841 when the county seat was moved to Pomeroy.
According to information available at the Chester Courthouse, Middleport was the first county seat, but “buildings of justice” were never built there.
In 1821, Levi Steadman donated 30 acres of land in Chester where the historic courthouse was constructed.
Steadman, one of the first elected commissioners of the county along with William Alexander and Elijuah Runner, met at Steadman’s residence until the courthouse was completed in 1823.
Minutes of the early commissioner meetings show the specifics of the size and building materials for the courthouse, as well as that the courthouse, jail and jailer’s house be built on the highest ground in the village, explaining why the courthouse rests atop the hill overlooking the Chester Commons. The stone and brick work was to be completed by Abel Chase for a total price of $2,156.
Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 by the Return Jonathan Meigs DAR Chapter, the building would undergo extensive restoration in the mid to late 1990s behind the efforts of Mary Powell, Dale Colburn and Patricia Holter, among others. Around $300,000 in work was done to the structure which at the time the restoration began was “terribly deteriorated with holes in the roof and plaster off the lower half of the walls.”
Now, the courthouse has been restored with many of the original specifications stated by the first commissioners. The original beams for the room still remain visible on the second story, allowing visitors to see the craftsmanship of the historic structure.
Work continues to take place in the courthouse and the neighboring academy, with new doors specially crafted for the building put in place earlier this week at the academy.