Princess Anne County Courthouse
Backstory and Context
The Princess Anne County Courthouse was the sixth and final courthouse built for Princess Anne County. Citizens had petitioned the Virginia General Assembly in 1819 to relocate the courthouse from Kempsville to a more convenient location. The General Assembly approved and appointed five (5) men from Norfolk County to select the location. They selected a 5-acre tract of land at a place known as the Crossroads. The county paid $300 for the site from the heirs of Henry Murden. This area eventually was called the Village at Princess Anne Courthouse. 1
The General Assembly appointed five (5) men from Princess Anne County to sell the courthouse property in Kempsville and to contract for the construction of the new courthouse. In August 1820 they contracted with James Keenan to build the courthouse and a jail for $8,900. The Courthouse was reported to be ready for occupancy in December 1822. The Courthouse building was originally shaped like a T with the entrance being at the top bar of the T and the court room being in the leg of the T. The court room was two stories tall with a balcony. The entrance area (top bar of the T) had an open arcade in the two central bays. The county clerk’s office was located in the Courthouse at one end of the top bar of the T.
The courthouse was used by the county justices to conduct the business of the county and to try civil and criminal cases. The courthouse was also the primary public building in the county and the courthouse green or square was the primary location for public activities. Part of the Courthouse property was identified for lease in 1824 to allow for the construction of an ordinary (tavern) and other buildings for the “Convenience and Comfort of visitors.” In the period following the Civil War, county management was vested in a Board of Supervisors and they conducted the county business in the Courthouse building.
In 1888 the court room was transformed by dividing the two-story open space into two separate floors, with the court room being on the upper floor while the lower floor was divided into offices. The Clerk’s offices were moved out of the courthouse in 1896 when a separate building was constructed for that function (it is located just to the southeast of the courthouse). In 1906/07 additions on each side of the leg of the T made the building the rectangular shape that we see today. A one-story porch was built on the front of the Courthouse sometime between 1906 and 1918 and two of the second story window openings were lengthened into doorways. A gable with lunette window was also added to the front façade at this time.
In 1918, the porch had a second story added to it, creating a two-tiered, full-width Tuscan-columnned entry porch. Due to increased case load, additional court buildings were constructed beginning with a Circuit Court court room to the north of the historic Courthouse and connected by an open arcade in 1961. In 1966 the two-story porch was replaced with a full-width portico with five double height Doric columnns and a brick stoop. The Princess Anne County Courthouse ceased to be used for judicial functions with the dedication of the new Virginia Beach Judicial Center in 1993. Today it houses offices for the Emergency Management Office and the Public Utilities Department.