Must-See RVA! — Henrico County Courthouse

Must-See RVA! — Henrico County Courthouse

A look into the history of Richmond places that are still part of our landscape.

September 2019
September 2019

2125 East Main Street
Built, 1896
Architect, Carl Ruehrmund
September 2019

One of three.

[HPR] — covered in ivy in the 1920s
[HPR] — covered in ivy in the 1920s

The Henrico County Courthouse of 1896, which still stands on Main Street, Richmond, is the third court building erected on the site. In 1752, the Henrico Court moved to the new town of Richmond from Varina; the land on which the courthouse was erected was donated by the Cocke family, who retained conditional rights to the property.

[IEAHS] — from a mid-19th century print, showing original courthouse in back
[IEAHS] — from a mid-19th century print, showing original courthouse in back

The County Court continued to meet within the bounds of the City of Richmond until 1975, when it was moved to new facilities on Parham Road in western Henrico.

September 2019 — detail of east tower roof
September 2019 — detail of east tower roof

The first courthouse at this site was a simple brick building which is said to have served as the model for the still-standing Albemarle County courthouse of 1764. It was from the steps of this original building that the Declaration of Independence was first publically proclaimed in Richmond on August 5, 1776; the Virginia Gazette reported that most of the town’s 1000 citizens were present at the event, and that they reacted to the reading with “universal shouts of joy.”

September 2019
September 2019

Five years later British soldiers invaded Virginia’s new capital and in the process destroyed many of the Henrico court records, including most of those dating prior to 1677, The courthouse itself, however, managed to escape serious damage.

September 2019
September 2019

In 1824 the first courthouse was much in need of repairs, and a committee decided to rebuild rather than repair it. Samuel Sublette was engaged to design the building, and by November, 1825, it was ready for use.

September 2019
September 2019

This brick structure, which measured 70 by 46 feet, was distinguished by its pedimented portico, three-piece front windows, and flanking doors surmounted by elliptical fanlights.

September 2019 — detail of windows and parapet facing Twenty-Second Street
September 2019 — detail of windows and parapet facing Twenty-Second Street

In the 19th century, the governmental activities of County and City were more closely intertwined than they are today. Prior to the Civil War, all deeds to property in the City of Richmond were recorded in the Henrico clerk’s office, and all inhabitants of the City obtained their marriage licenses from the County clerk.

September 2019 — granite entryway facing Twenty-Second Street
September 2019 — granite entryway facing Twenty-Second Street

In the 1840s the courthouse was moved from its original location in the middle of what is now 22nd street, in order to open that street to traffic. The 1824 building underwent extensive damage during the great Evacuation Fire of 1865, but was subsequently repaired, and served the County until the present 3 ½ story red brick and granite structure replaced it in 1896.

September 2019 — doorway & window, west side of building
September 2019 — doorway & window, west side of building

The building, with its recessed front entry and highly-articulated facades, is a late and rather freely-interpreted example of the Romanesque Revival. A distinctive local landmark, it is one of the few examples of the style remaining in the Richmond area, and it will hopefully be preserved. [IEAHS]

(Find A Grave) — architect Carl August Ruehrmund & family
(Find A Grave) — architect Carl August Ruehrmund & family

The 1896 courthouse was designed by Carl Ruehrmund, a German-born architect who studied architecture at the Royal Academy in Berlin before immigrating to America in 1881. In 1882 he was living in Richmond and working with Albert Lybrock, another famous Richmond architect, on additions to the Customs House. According to Robert Winthrop, he “may well be Richmond’s most important little known architect” who would design “an impressive number of buildings, including houses, commercial structures, churches and public buildings” throughout his long career. (Architecture Richmond)

September 2019
September 2019

Today, the building is conjoined with a house at 2117 East Main Street, and the entire structure is owned by a real estate investment company, Zimmerman Inc. Aside from two mannequins displayed in the first-floor window facing the intersection of Main and Twenty-Second it appears little used, but in otherwise good condition for its age.

Surprisingly, this building is not on the Richmond Historic Registry, which seems a shame.

(Henrico County Courthouse is part of the Atlas RVA! Project)


Print Sources

  • [HPR] Historic Photos of Richmond.Emily J. & John S. Salmon. 2007.
  • [IEAHS] Inventory of Early Architecture and Historic Sites, County of Henrico. Jeffrey Marshall O’Dell.1976, 1978.

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