The Duval County Courthouse

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  • | 12:00 p.m. June 18, 2012
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This week we all have the opportunity to see and take our first steps in the courthouse of the future. The opening of a new courthouse has occurred in Duval County four times before the occasion this week. At each new opening, citizens of the county were blessed to experience the benefits of needed progress and modernization. This is true once again with the opening of the new Duval County Courthouse.

The first courthouse constructed in Duval County was built of wood during the 1840s where Forsyth Street and Market Street intersect. During the Civil War, the courthouse was burned to the ground.

Approximately 20 years later, a second courthouse was erected and this time built out of brick. Along with thousands of other buildings in the area, the second courthouse was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1901. After the Great Fire, one of the first buildings reconstructed in Downtown Jacksonville was the Courthouse.

Our third courthouse, built in 1902, had a stone exterior. The architect, Rutledge Holmes, drew plans to include up to seven additional floors in the design, but the original building was never expanded. In 1914, to create extra space, the city decided to build an annex. Then came the lovely building to which we are bidding farewell.

My law partner, Carl Dawson, graduated from the University of Florida Law School in 1951. He returned to Jacksonville and tried numerous civil jury cases in the 1902 courthouse. That courthouse did not have air conditioning and in the middle of trial judges sometimes advised the lawyers to remove their jackets.

After a few years, Mr. Dawson heard the city was constructing a new courthouse on Bay Street, with air conditioning.

At its time of dedication in 1958, the courthouse on Bay Street was an architecturally modern design. One of the many stories surrounding the building of the Bay Street courthouse is that during construction, March 19, 1957, a construction elevator fell, killing seven workers and injuring 12. A few years after the construction, a monument was erected in September of 1961 in remembrance of those whose lives were lost. The monument stands today on the west side of the old courthouse.

On or about 1958, the 1902 Courthouse Annex was renovated into an office building. The renovated building housed a bank on the first floor and law offices on the remaining floors. The law firm Marks Gray occupied the fourth floor and my partner had his office on the third floor. The facade and columns of the old courthouse annex still exist today and stand in between the Tax Assessor’s Office and the Tax Collector’s Office, commonly known as the Yates Building.

The Bay Street courthouse served the citizens of Duval County for 54 years. However, since the turn of the century, the courthouse had become overly crowded, resulting in a desperate need for additional space. When the Bay Street courthouse was constructed in 1958, the county had a population of roughly 450,000 people. In 2000, the population had nearly doubled to 750,000. Then Mayor John Delaney proposed the Better Jacksonville Plan, which included plans for construction of a new courthouse.

Circuit Judges Mallory Cooper and Lance Day, along with several others, have poured a tremendous number of hours into the new project, and we greatly appreciate all of their efforts. On June 18, 2012, the fifth courthouse of Duval County will open its doors for operation.

Today, some citizens in Duval County believe the courthouse to be too large and grandiose for the area. What will be said by citizens about this new courthouse 50 years from today? Seventy-five years? If time is any indication, Duval County will be talking about constructing another courthouse sometime around 2070.

I am currently collecting photographs, drawings and any other information about the history of the Duval County courthouses. If you have any information or stories you would like to share, please contact me at [email protected].



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