Predating George Washington himself, the 1724 Courthouse is not only one of the initial examples of early American architecture, it is also the oldest continuously used courthouse in the United States.
The structure was deliberately chosen to be near the Chester Market Square and be easily accessible to transportation, whether highway or river.
Its functions included court events, town meetings and school classes, which were held in the upper floors when court was not in session.
It’s believed that David Lloyd, who was then Chief Justice, was involved in the design of the building, which is similar to the Philadelphia State House.
Both the Chester building and the Philadelphia structure have a rectangular shape with two chimneys at either end. What differentiated the Chester courthouse is that it is made of sandstone quarried from Ridley Creek rather than brick and that it had two separate, but equal, doors on the Delaware River side. One was for men; the other was for women.
The bell, which was cast in 1729, rang loudly to gather the Chester residents to hear the Declaration of Independence read on July 8, 1776.
The courtroom is on the first floor. The windows were placed 13 feet above ground so that the proceedings could not be seen by anyone outside. The bay window for the judges was added in 1744 . Two to three years later, the hexagonal bay, which was one of the earliest in the country, was added.
The second story housed the grand jury room and a petite jury room. Heat, which wasn’t available on the first floor, was provided on the second via two fireplaces.
In the 1920’s, the courthouse was also the headquarters of the Delaware County Historical Society. The museum and library were located on the second floor and it was open every day for visitors.
At the courthouse’s 200th anniversary, Gov. William C. Sproul addressed the magnificence of the moment.
“The number of structures devoted to public uses in the entire land which have attained their second centenary are few, indeed, and I know of none which has served such varied purposes and which survives so well preserved, as this fine, old, truly colonial building, representative of the pioneers of Pennsylvania,” he said.
In 1851, the county seat was moved to Media and the building was sold to the city of Chester for $2,601 and was used for municipal purposes. Eventually, Gov. Sproul, who was also a member of the state’s first historical commission, spent $50,000 of his own money to restore it.
The courthouse is still used for annual Law Day proceedings and offices are on the second floor. The building is also one of the stops for the Delaware County Historical Society’s Passport to History program.
In addition, tours for groups of 10 or more can be arranged by calling the Delaware County Historical Society Museum, Library & Research Center at 610-359-0826.
The view of the 1724 courthouse from the Avenue of the States.
A view inside the 1724 courthouse from the judge's seat.
Take a look at the interior of the 1724 courthouse from one of its two entrances.
Here is where the public sat to watch the proceedings in the 1724 courthouse.