The Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail

The Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail
The Allegheny Courthouse and Jail, both designated as National Historic Landmarks.

The Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail, located on Grant Street, are two of the oldest standing buildings in the city of Pittsburgh. Designed by Boston architect Henry Hobson Richardson, construction of the complex began in 1883 and was completed in 1888 at a cost of over two million dollars.

The Allegheny County Courthouse courtyard.
The open air courtyard and fountain.

The Romanesque design features large blocks of rusticated granite, with entranceways and windows topped with wide arches, giving the building a dignified appearance. The courthouse is built around an open-air courtyard surrounded by four floors on three sides, and five floors in front. A 249-foot tower, over twenty storys in height, rises from the front of the building.

The grand staircase.    The grand staircase.
The Grand Staircase on the lower levels of the Courthouse building.

The interior design is quite impressive, especially the first two floors, which include wide marble staircases and large ornate frescos adorning the walls and ceilings. The courtrooms and offices also include finely decorated woodwork and other artistic adornments.

The Allegheny County Courthouse
The old Allegheny County Jail, now converted into additional office space.

The jail, first opened in 1886, is connected to the courthouse by an elevated, enclosed stone walkway known as the "Bridge of Sighs." It was modeled after an ancient Venician structure of the same name. The building was used as a correctional facility for 109 years. It was replaced in 1995 by a modern structure located on Second Avenue. The old jail building, designated a historic landmark in 1972, now houses the Family Division of the Court of Common Pleas.

The inside of the old Allegheny County Jail.
The inside of the old jail in 1998.

The current courthouse building, designated a historic landmark in 1973, is actually the third rendition of the Allegheny County Courthouse. The first courthouse, built in 1794, was a wooden structure located near Market Square. The second courthouse, built between 1836 and 1841 on Grant's Hill and designed by architect John Chislett, was located at the same location as the present courthouse. This second structure was constructed in a Greek Revival style with polished sandstone and a domed cupola that housed a rotunda. The building was severely damaged during a fire in 1882 and razed soon afterwards.

The second Allegheny County
Courthouse, opened in 1841.
The second Courthouse, which stood from 1836 to 1882.

When first completed in 1888, the present-day five-story Allegheny County Courthouse was the tallest structure in the City of Pittsburgh, a skyscraper in modern terminology. The 249-foot courthouse tower stood for twenty-five years as the highest peak in town until 1903, when the 24-story Farmers Bank Building was erected. Today, the tower is dwarfed by the City's modern steel-framed skyscrapers, such as the 54-story One Mellon Center. The two buildings create an interesting contrast in urban architecture from the late-1800s and the late-1900s.

The five-story Allegheny County Courthouse
is dwarfed by the 54-story Mellon Center.
The County Courthouse and One Mellon Center.

More Photos of the Courthouse and Jail

The Allegheny County Courthouse

The Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail

The Allegheny County Courthouse    The Allegheny County Courthouse in 1888.

The Allegheny County Jail and the Bridge of Sighs.

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