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Old Washington County Courthouse and Jail

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1886 jail, 1889 courthouse, Edward V. Koch and Co. 320 S. 5th Ave.
  • Jail (Photograph by Paul J. Jakubovich, courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society)

A seven-stage tower soars above the three-story courthouse designed by Koch of Milwaukee in Richardsonian Romanesque with German Renaissance touches. Rising above a typical Richardsonian arched entrance, each stage of the tower is distinguished by different heights and by differently shaped voids: rectangles, narrow arches, and slits. At the sixth stage, pinnacles with steeply pitched pyramidal roofs at each corner frame an inset wooden balcony. At the top, the pyramidal roof rises in two stages, the second forming a belvedere. Koch created a complex silhouette by composing the courthouse in rectangular blocks of varying heights. Shorter blocks with pent roofs flank the tower, whereas on the building’s sides, shallow pavilions extend through the eave line like squat towers. Koch applied ornamentation sparingly. A large terra-cotta relief of Justice marks the original courtroom at the second story of the north elevation, and a sun motif embellishes window spandrels. Outstanding interior features include an ornate iron staircase with delicate spindle balustrades along wooden stairs and stained glass in the arched courtroom windows. Supplanted by a newer courthouse, the building today provides offices for county agencies.

South of the courthouse and atop the same high knoll, Koch designed the former Washington County Jail, an eclectic two-story, cream brick building. The pavilion rising above the hipped roof suggests a fortified Gothic tower. This tower contrasts with the delicate horseshoe arch with lattice spandrels, which frames the small wooden porch covering the double-door entrance. The building, now a museum, originally housed not only the jail cells but also the sheriff’s residence, typical for Wisconsin’s county jails until the mid-twentieth century.

Writing Credits

Marsha Weisiger et al.


What's Nearby


Marsha Weisiger et al., "Old Washington County Courthouse and Jail", [West Bend, Wisconsin], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Buildings of Wisconsin

Buildings of Wisconsin, Marsha Weisiger and contributors. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2017, 255-256.

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