Old Passaic County Courthouse
2014 photo of W entrance & S side of Old Passaic County Courthouse [CH] (Radcliffe-Trenor & Bovino)
Old Passaic County CH (yellow arrow) on ca. 2010 aerial photo in NRHP nomination figure (Radcliffe-Trenor & Bovino 2014)
Plan of Old Passaic Co. CH first floor with NRHP-significant interior spaces marked (Radcliffe-Trenor & Bovino 2014)
Old Passaic County CH (right) on vintage linen postcard; Annex on left (Radcliffe-Trenor & Bovino 2014)
Carved decoration above main entrance to Old Passaic Co. CH in 2014 photo (Radcliffe-Trenor & Bovino)
Interior rotunda dome, looking up from 2nd floor of Old Passaic Co. CH (Radcliffe-Trenor & Bovino 2014)
Backstory and Context
Passaic County bought 20 lots of land for a new courthouse in 1891 that was once part of the Colt Hill Estate. The estate once held the mansion of the Governor of the Society for Useful Manufactures (S.U.M.), the industrial organization that founded Paterson in the late eighteenth century. A competition for the architectural design for the courthouse was announced in 1896, with the winner to receive the contract and runners up getting cash prizes. A professor at Columbia College in New York City chose the winner and 11 runners up. The county commission disagreed and chose a different design from among the rejected designs, by Samuel Burrage Reed. Some of the losing architects sued but the county won in U.S. District Court.
The entrances to what is now called the "Old Passaic County Court House" face west and east and feature prominent porticoes, fluted columns topped by Corinthian capitals, and decorative carved pediments. The main (west) entrance pediment sports five figures and a central cartouche inscribed "1837" supported by two of the figures. The exterior, copper-clad dome is said to resemble the dome of a Roman temple built in 1502, the Tempietto of San Pietro in Montorio, by Italian architect Donato Brumante. The 16-section cupola and the dome have been painted over in dark brown paint. A statue crowns the upper mini cupola, of the Goddess of Liberty, holding a torch in one hand and a sword by one side. The limestone building on a granite base has three stories and a basement. The first floor central hallway passes under the rotunda, which is open to the second and third floors. The main two-story ceremonial courtrooms are on the second floor, on the east and west. A connecting corridor from the basement dates to 1936 and leads north to the basement of the U.S. Customs House and Post Office/ Court House Annex. A former minor entrance into the north wing portico has been replaced by a modern window. The original roof was copper, with nine ventilated skylights which have been removed; the current roof is of porous terracotta block over a rubber membrane.
Two bronze statues decorate the grounds of the Old Court House. One honors a Peterson native and local politician, James Fleming Stewart, who served as a local representative to the U.S. House of Representatives from 1895 to 1903. Stewart died at age 52, just a few weeks after the Court House opened. The statue was the work of local artist Gaetano Federici and was erected in 1906. Federici also created the other statue, of William Hughes, a Peterson native who worked in the local silk mills before becoming a lawyer and judge. Hughes served multiple terms as a U.S. Congressman and then as a U.S. Senator from 1913 to 1918, where he was a leader in the labor movement. The Hughes statue was erected in 1927. The weathered, oxidized statues on granite bases were restored several years ago.
Architect Elsworth M. Lee oversaw minor alterations to the Old Court House interior in 1930. A new building was constructed next door (to the south) for the Passaic County Court House in 1968; the Old Court House is connected to the new building. The two grand staircases in the Old Court House rotunda were demolished in the 1960s. The historic front entrance was closed for nearly three decades before the entrance was reopened. The portion of Hamilton Street directly in front of the Old Court House was closed and became part of the building's plaza after 2010. The stained glass inner dome was refurbished. Preservation of the Old Court House is the perview of Passaic County's Department of Cultural and Historic Affairs (DCHA), since the county owns the building.
Passaic County New Jersey. Passaic County Court House and the Court House Annex Named to National Register of Historic Places , News. Accessed March 19th 2021. https://www.passaiccountynj.org/news_detail_T19_R48.php.
Passaic County New Jersey. County Directory, County Directory 2020. January 1st 2020. Accessed March 19th 2021. https://www.passaiccountynj.org/about_us/county_directory.php.
Radcliffe-Trenor, Annabelle. Bovino, Leaha. NRHP Nomination of Passaic County Courthouse & US Custom House & Post Office Historic District. National Register. Washington, DC. National Park Service, 2014.
Ruffel, Kelly C. Project Fact Sheet: Restoration of Historic Monuments Located in Front of the Passaic County Court House in Paterson NJ, Cultural & Historic Affairs, Passaic County NJ. January 1st 2018. Accessed March 19th 2021. https://www.passaiccountynj.org/Departments/Procurement/Project%20Fact%20Sheet%20and%20Photographs.pdf.