This Greek Revival courthouse was built in 1827 and expanded over the 19th century. It was site of the controversial Sacco-Vanzetti trial in 1921. The house currently houses the Norfolk County Superior Court.
The original portion of the courthouse was built in 1827 by
a noted Boston carver and builder, Solomon Willard. At this time the house was
a rectangular, Greek Revival edifice of granite, with nearly-identical tetra
style pedimented porticos at either end. In 1863 the building was enlarged, and
also topped with a dome. This dome was later replaced with the current one
(1890’s), and the interior of the building was given a decorative treatment
with Greek motifs. Since the famous
Sacco Vanzetti trial, the Norfolk County Courthouse remained the same, without any significant changes, both in the exterior and in the interior.
In May 1920, one highly charged trial took place in this
building, the case of two Italian immigrants Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo
Vanzetti , both Italians who were convicted of murdering a guard and a
paymaster during the armed robbery of a shoe factory in Braintree.
The arrest of Sacco and Vanzetti had coincided with the
period of the most intense political repression in American history, the
Red Scare 1919-20. The police trap they had fallen into had been
set for a comrade of theirs, suspected primarily because he was a foreign-born
radical. While neither Sacco nor Vanzetti had any previous criminal record,
they were long recognized by the authorities and their communities as anarchist
militants who had been extensively involved in labor strikes, political
agitation, and antiwar propaganda.
On May 31, 1921, they were brought to trial before Judge
Webster Thayer of the Massachusetts Superior Court, and on July 14 both were
found guilty by verdict of the jury. Socialists and radicals protested the
men’s innocence. Many people felt that the trial had been less than fair and
that the defendants had been convicted for their radical, anarchist beliefs
rather than for the crime for which they had been tried. Although the arguments
brought against them were mostly disproven in court, the fact that the two men
were known radicals (and that their trial took place during the height of the
Red Scare) prejudiced the judge and jury against them. On April 9, 1927, Sacco
and Vanzetti's final appeal was rejected, and the two were sentenced to death.