The Wayne County Courthouse shows both the growth of metropolitan Detroit in the 19th century, and the area's recent interest in historic preservation. Just before the turn of the century, the Board of Supervisors of booming Wayne County decided the court system needed a new, larger home. Construction began in 1897 at a site that occupied a full block in the middle of downtown Detroit, the county seat. Designed in the classical revival style that dominated American civic architecture at the time, the $1.6 million Courthouse was later described as the "most sumptuous building in Michigan." Granite covered the exterior of the first two floors, while the rest of the building was covered in sandstone. At the base of the four-tiered tower stood two sculptures of four horse chariots, each formed by shaping copper over a steel frame. The interior was similarly elaborate and included marble, mahogany and oak, and mosaics. The Courthouse served as the center of Wayne County government for the first half of 20th century, holding most of its offices, court sessions, and public hearings. It was here that in 1906 roads commissioner Henry Ford reported to work; twenty years later, Clarence Darrow used one of its courtrooms to defend a play charged with obscenity. After the 1950s, however, most government functions moved to a new building several blocks away. Poorly considered alterations and neglect caused its condition to deteriorate to the point that, in the 1970s, the county considered demolishing it. In the 1980s, however, a private partnership agreed to restore the building and lease it back to the county; this work cost $17 million and was paid for in part through a historic preservation tax credit. The renovated Wayne County Courthouse reopened in late 1987 and is now a model for preservation in Detroit.
The Wayne County Courthouse is located two blocks north of Jefferson Avenue at the eastern termination of Michigan Avenue. Found within Cadillac Square, the Courthouse is at 600 Randolph Street, and is open to the public.
Wayne County Courthouse, circa 1905
Photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress, LC-D4-18754
Interior of Wayne County Courthouse
Previous Site | Detroit Map | Detroit Itinerary Home | Next Site