Perched atop a hill in Barnstable Village, the old town center of the historic Cape Cod town, the Barnstable County Courthouse sits proudly as a well-preserved example of the Greek Revival architectural style in a civic building. The building was constructed in 1831 from plans by renowned architect Alexander Parris, who designed the iconic Quincy Market in Boston just years earlier in the same style. Due to its highly visible location along the Old King’s Highway and public function, the courthouse was likely instrumental in popularizing the Greek Revival style on the Cape. The building was constructed of Quincy granite with a portico and fluted Doric columns made of wood fashioned to look like stone (which fooled me from the street). The building has been expanded five times between 1879 and 1971, with each addition made cognizant of the architectural significance of the building. At the front of the building, two bronze statues of Mercy Otis Warren and James Otis, Jr frame the building. The Barnstable Superior Court is located in the building today.
When the Windham County courts were transferred from Westminster in 1787, they were housed in the village known as Newfane on the Hill. Four decades later, influential residents convinced their townsmen to shift the village down to their land in a flat part of town, a location better suited for waterpower and commerce and ease of travel in the winter months. The first two buildings constructed were the courthouse and jail on a common. The village center grew rapidly as people moved old buildings down the hill and remodeled them or built anew, establishing a particularly unified townscape. This courthouse building is very stately for such a small town and packs an architectural punch. The two-story building is capped with a belfry and was designed in the Federal style with fan motifs over the windows and door. In the 1850s, nearby Brattleboro tried to usurp Newfane’s county seat status, so they in turn expanded the courthouse, raising the ceiling on the upper floor and adding the monumental Doric portico and pediment to give the building a decidedly Greek Revival appearance.
Located on the Bristol Town Green, facing the main commercial area and harbor, the old Bristol County Courthouse is a well-preserved example of a building for civic use in town, at the height of its growth. It is believed that the courthouse is the work of architect Russell Warren, who lived in a home he designed just blocks away. This Federal-style stone building is faced with brick and subsequently stuccoed, giving it the unique composition it has today. The focus of the symmetrical facade is the large central arched window with granite quoins, and Y-tracery that echos Gothic design. As part of the 1836 state Bicentennial, the stucco facing was added over the original brick facing, and the exterior was painted a Gothic Revival sand color with darker trim, replicated in a 1976 restoration. From 1819, the courthouse served as one of the five state houses used in rotation by the Rhode Island General Assembly (in 1854, the General Assembly decided to meet only in Providence or Newport). In 1853, it reverted to courthouse use, a function which ceased in the early 1980s. The Bristol County Sheriff maintained offices there until 1997, when the building was purchased from the state for $1 by the Bristol Statehouse Foundation. The nonprofit foundation has worked to restore and maintain the building. Today, the building is used for education, community programs, meetings, and events.