1839 Courthouse Square

1839 Courthouse Square – Berrien Springs, Michigan

The courthouse that sits in this small town has a long historical line of information about the settling of this area of the state that is still available for research in the Berrien County Historical Association archives.

The building, which had gone from being a courthouse to being a dance hall, the first campus for nearby Andrew’s University, a community center, militia drill hall, church, and finally, low income apartments is now totally restored to the grandeur that was once common for this facility.  The square contains Michigan’s oldest courthouse as part of the Midwest’s most complete surviving mid-nineteenth century county government complex.  Inside the building today is the home of a county museum and archives and serves as headquarters for the Berrien County Historical Association.  The original buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places’

The Greek Revival building has the large columns, triangular pediment and white paint on the building to resemble the Greek temples and their white marble columns.

The building appears very much like it did in 1839 but it has been furnished with reproduction furnishings.   The large table in the hallway is original to the courthouse square and possibly served as a jury table.

There were buildings added to the Courthouse Square in the 1850′s and 1870′s such as the sheriff’s house and attached jail.  A one-story building next to the sheriff’s house was built to house county records and today it is the rear portion of the county records building with a two-story addition added in 1873.

The jail was unique in that it was a “jail within a jail” since the cells on both floors were arranged in a circle in the center of the building.  If a prisoner did get out of the jail he was still contained within the building,.  A pump and a bathtub were located in the center of the circle created by the cells for the use of the prisoners.  This central circle was open through both floors.

When the jail no longer was large enough another was built enclosing a circular block of cells within a square two-story brick building.  The sixteen first-floor cells were pie shaped and had thick limestone walls and floors with strong iron bars and solid iron doors for confining the male prisoners.  The second floor held eight larger cells intended for women, boys, and “less desperate characters.”  They were topped by a skylight and ventilator, the building center core extended through both floors.

Although the jail is no longer there, there is a concrete section covering the circular foundation of the first-floor cells and two cells have been rebuilt to their original dimensions to allow visitors to experience the constraints of being imprisoned there.

The Sheriff’s House was built in 1869-70.  This Italianate brick house was built for the sheriff and his family in exchange for the sheriff assuming responsibility for administering the courthouse square and the wife serving a the matron of the jail.

The office of the sheriff now recreates the room’s appearance during the 1870′s.  Other rooms are on display and are used as the Museum Store.  These rooms were the parlor and dining room. Bedrooms were located upstairs and the spaces are now museum offices.  The rear wing had the kitchen which is now used for collections and archival storage.

There are other buildings in the area that the Historical Society is planning to restore in time.

Currently there is also the Murdock Loghouse which was built in 1830.  The house was moved to the 1839 Courthouse Square in 1974 and restored to its early period.  The log house is furnished with reproductions that can be handled by school children and viewed up close by visitors during special events.

Location: 313 N. Cass St., Berrien springs, MI 49103

Phone: 269-471-1202

Email: info@berrienhistory.org

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