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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.

The Old County Courthouse and Museum, erected in 1749

The Old County Courthouse and Museum, erected in 1749

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 House.”  

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.[1] 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 nation. 

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.

[1] £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.]

Lawrence H. Officer and Samuel H. Williamson, "Five Ways to Compute the Relative Value of a UK Pound Amount, 1270 to Present," MeasuringWorth, 2017.

Hurd, Duane Hamilton. History of Plymouth County, Massachusetts: With Biographical Sketches of Many of Its Pioneers and Prominent Men, Part 1. J. W. Lewis & Company, 1884 - Plymouth County (Mass.) - 1199 pages.  Accessed via Google Books: History of Plymouth County.

Briggs, Rose T. The Court Houses Of Plymouth. Pilgrim Hall Museum. Accessed June 02, 2017. Pilgrim Society Note, Series One, Number 17, May 1966

1749 Court House and Museum. Destination Plymouth County, Massachusetts. Accessed June 02, 2017.

The Six Oldest Courthouses in New England. New England Historical Society. Accessed June 02, 2017.

Brooks, Rebecca Beatrice. Plymouth Historic Sites. History of Massachusetts Blog. May 08, 2017. Accessed June 02, 2017.

"Courthouse of 'Ye Saincts'." American Bar Association, vol. 53, 727-728. Published August 1967. Accessed via Google Books:

Knox, Robert. Perfect setting for studying the past. Boston. July 14, 2011. Accessed June 02, 2017.