Located at deep harborage on Maine’s Sheepscot River, a saltwater port and center of shipbuilding, fishing, and the lumber trade, and, moreover, the seat of Lincoln County government, Wiscasset thrived in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Even President Thomas Jefferson’s Embargo Act of 1807, which all but ended the town’s shipbuilding enterprises, failed to dim its prospects. In 1809 the national government built Fort Edgecomb to protect the strategic area. Talk of Maine statehood further enhanced the town’s prospects and helped propel planning for a new county courthouse. In 1823 the Town of Wicasset donated land on the west side of the common and appointed Nathaniel Coffin to oversee its construction. Coffin invited proposals for a building measuring 50 by 44 feet and 28 feet high; he selected Maine master builder Tileston Cushing of Bath to erect the structure.
The three-bay courthouse was modeled on Portland’s early county courthouse. Its foundation consists of large cut blocks of granite, its south and west walls in Flemish-bond brick, its north wall in common bond, and the front in pressed brick. The gable end forms a pedimented east side facade, the first floor of which contains a recessed entrance porch in the center bay. The main entrance door has a two-leaf panel door with large lights and arched, semicircular top lights. The three bays of the front facade have five double-hung, 12-over-12 light sash windows with marble sills and splayed lintels. Likewise, the 6-bay, two-story side of the courthouse has double-hung, 12-light sash windows. A molded wood cornice wraps around the building to form the gable-end pediment. Atop the rectangular building rises a clapboard-sided rectangular tower with a balustrade, upon which sits an open octagonal form with Doric columns and an ogee-shaped roof topped with a spire. The interior space of the courthouse is simple but elegant.
While the ornamentation is subdued, the Wiscasset Courthouse, with its graceful proportions and tasteful use of arches, exudes an Adamesque feeling consistent with Wiscasset’s other exemplary Federal architecture. The building was altered in June 1850, when it was extended 18 feet to the west (rear) and the interior courtroom remodeled to be the same finish as that of its counterpart in Portland. Additions in 1949 included an office wing on the northwest corner and a second principal access added to the original building by a corridor from the new office wing.
The Lincoln County Courthouse is Maine’s oldest courthouse in continuous use. Among the esteemed personalities to have walked its halls are Daniel Webster, Benjamin Butler, Thomas B. Reed, and Jeremiah Mason.
Meyers, Denys Peter, comp. Maine Catalog: Historic American Building Survey.Augusta, ME: The Maine State Museum, 1974.
Thompson, Deborah, ed. Maine Forms of American Architecture.Waterville, ME: Colby Museum of Art, 1976.