The founding of the third oldest county in Massachusetts, Hampshire County, is being observed this year. Officials are using the 350th anniversary to promote an effort to fund major repairs to the county's best known landmark. WAMC's Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports.
State and local officials marked Hampshire County Day Monday with a ceremony on the steps of the Old Hampshire County Courthouse in downtown Northampton. The courthouse, built in 1886 is in desperate need of major repairs according to Todd Ford, executive director of the Hampshire Council of Governments.
Repairs are needed to the original slate roof, which leaks. Structural walls need stabilizing, and the stairs to the main entrance have to be fixed.
Ford says the capital campaign will include the sale of reprints of some of the more intriguing documents in the courthouse archives including the records of a witch trial and very early maps of the region. Local artists have donated works for an auction.
But, most of the money will likely have to come from public sources. Each municipality in Hampshire County, which participates in the Community Preservation Act, is being asked to make a per-capita contribution. Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz said it's a request he's willing to consider.
State legislators will also be asked to appropriate funds for the repairs. State Senator Michael Knapik of Westfield, a member of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, says the legislature might consider a bond bill to pay for courthouse repairs and renovations statewide.
The old Hampshrie County Courthouse was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.
Local historian, Kerry Buckley said among the famous lawyers who practiced their profession within its walls were Calvin Coolidge, Daniel Webster and Franklin Pierce.
Trials are no longer held in the old courthouse. The courtrooms are in an annex that was built in 1975. But the old building still houses a law library, the court mediation service and the offices of the Hampshire Council of Governments.