The Old County Courthouse located on the Town Square in Plymouth, Massachusetts is the oldest standing courthouse in the state. It is believed that the building may even be the oldest wooden courthouse in the entire nation. The courthouse was the center of judicial activity for the county for seventy years, during which time the country transformed from a British colony to its own revolutionary, fiercely independent nation. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.
In 1685, sixty-five years after
the Pilgrims landed on the shores of the new settlement, Plymouth was
established as a county and the Town of Plymouth became the county seat. Government matters were handled in the colony’s
“Country House” until 1749, when the new courthouse was constructed. There were rooms in the Country House
dedicated to judicial tasks and therefore, when one finds a historical notation
to the “Court House” prior to 1749, the reference is typically for the prior “Country
The Town of Plymouth contributed
one thousand pounds (£1000) towards the construction of the new court house,
provided that the county would allow the town to use it for its own purposes as
well, including town meetings.
A judge in the Interior Courts of Common Pleas designed the building. His name was Peter Oliver, and he was the
brother of a tax collector who was hanged in effigy by the Sons of Liberty. Oliver’s
structure was a two-story wood frame building.
It is situated on the same site where Plymouth’s first courthouse (the “Country
House” mentioned above, erected in 1620) was located. There is even a theory that the current
structure was built using materials from the original building.
Criminal and civil cases were
tried in the Old County Courthouse during its heyday. Brilliant, revolutionary lawyers would have
argued at the bar of this courthouse. It
is a place of great historical significance in the growth of the new
Seventy years later, in 1820, the
county government decided to build a new courthouse (a grander brick Federalist-style structure).
The existing building was sold to the Town of Plymouth for $2,000 and continued
to be used for town offices for over one hundred years. It was closed in the 1950s and sat abandoned
for nearly two decades. In the 1960s, it
was in danger of being destroyed as part of an urban renewal project. A local historian led a group of Plymouth
residents and lobbied to save the courthouse from demolition. The old courthouse underwent some renovations
and was opened to the public as a free museum in 1970.
The museum houses many interesting
artifacts related to the town’s history, including a fire engine from
1828. There are also gifts on display
from Plymouth’s sister city, Shichigaham, Japan.
 £1000 in
1749 is roughly $145,600 in 2017, according to [Lawrence H. Officer and Samuel H. Williamson,
Five Ways to Compute the Relative Value of a UK Pound Amount, 1270 to
Present, MeasuringWorth, 2017.]