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Orleans County Courthouse

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1886, Lambert Packard. 247 Main St., City of Newport

The massive courthouse that initiated the cluster of public buildings at the highest point of Main Street owes its genesis, and likely its character, to the arrival of the railroad. A year after the Connecticut and Passumpsic Rivers Railroad puffed into town, the legislature transferred shire status from agricultural Irasburg to Newport and appropriated funds for a courthouse. The architect, builder, and decorator selected were all from St. Johnsbury, down the line. Packard was the de facto personal architect of the progressive, railroad-building Fairbanks family. Reflecting the design of his now-demolished St. Johnsbury Grammar School (1882), Packard's two-story courthouse has a steeply hipped slate roof and a multistage tower above a gabled entrance pavilion. Its powerfully simple dark brick facades, set above a Derby granite base, are organized by stringcourses and rhythmic window patterns. Taller arcaded sets of windows with compound relieving arches emphasize the second floor, and indicate on the sides the location of the high-ceilinged, central courtroom. The sense of massiveness and repeated round-arched motif impart a Romanesque character to the building, though the complexity of the shingled entrance gable and the frame tower that rises from a tapering slated base, as well as the textures of billet-patterned tympana and dentil cornices, are more Queen Anne.

The building was not completed as Packard conceived it. The Seth Thomas clock set assertively in the tower was a gift to the town in 1896. Its incorporation necessitated elevating the top stage of the tower, adding a verticality uncharacteristic of Packard's more solidly proportioned work. A Packard-designed jail behind the courthouse was replaced by the present two-story structure, mail ordered from the Pauly Jail Building Company of St. Louis, Missouri, in 1903. Within the courthouse, interiors of grooved matchboard wainscoting and floral tin ceilings were altered c. 1960. The courthouse remains a powerful civic presence, and it is easy to understand why the Newport Express and Standard (February 2, 1886) asserted, upon its completion, that “never was built anywhere so good a building for so little money.”

After the courthouse, Packard designed the frame Lane and Davis Block (1888) and the brick Lane Opera House (1892) on Main Street, both now demolished. They closely recalled his commercial work in St. Johnsbury. Other significant structures in the vicinity of the courthouse include the fine brick and granite Queen Anne/Romanesque Revival Goodrich Memorial Library (1898, William Storey), the Federal Building (OL4), and the substantial rusticated and towered brick armory (1920) that now serves as the city hall.

Writing Credits

Glenn M. Andres and Curtis B. Johnson


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Glenn M. Andres and Curtis B. Johnson, "Orleans County Courthouse", [Newport, Vermont], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of Vermont

Buildings of Vermont, Glenn M. Andres and Curtis B. Johnson. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2013, 235-236.

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