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Montgomery County - Our Court History

Montgomery County was created on September 6, 1776, when Dr. Thomas Sprigg Wootton, a member of the Maryland Constitutional Convention, introduced a bill, which was ultimately passed, to divide Frederick into three counties---Frederick, Montgomery, and Washington.1  In the same year, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention named commissioners who were responsible for purchasing the necessary land and erecting a courthouse in the county. Until construction was finished, the commissioners chose to hold legal proceedings at Leonard Davis' Tavern between 1777 and 1779.  The court then moved to Thomas Owen Williams’ house, which was eventually remodeled to accommodate the demand of the court.  The court was held in this converted house between late 1779 and early 1783.

First Courthouse in Rockville

In 1785, having realized that the original building commission was unable to build a courthouse, the General Assembly appointed a new commission to complete the project, who promptly acquired a suitable plot of land. Montgomery County Courthouse of 1840 There are no records regarding the purchase of this plot of land except documentation indicating that Francis Kidwell, a carpenter, built the courthouse on the purchased land.  The courthouse was of sufficient size to accommodate not only the court, but also other officers of the county until 1810 when it became necessary to construct a separate building to house the Clerk of the Court and the court’s records. 

Second Courthouse in Rockville

By 1835 the demand for a new courthouse resulted in a petition to the General Assembly asking for an authorization to levy up to $10,000 for this purpose. This petition was granted, as was another the following year, which permitted the Levy Court to borrow up to the full sum allowed in advance of the collections of the levy.  A new courthouse was constructed in 1840, just west of the current Red Brick Courthouse.  No description of the building, its cost, the architect, or builder was recorded.  However, it had two one-story wings based on the only known picture of the structure.  Proceedings and Acts of the General Assembly from 1872 revealed an authorization to Montgomery County “to raise the two wings of the Court House {of said county, in Rockville,} to the square of the main building, and to finish the same suitable to be occupied as rooms for the County Commissioners, the Grand Jury or such other purposes as the public interest may require ....” (Chapter 76).  This courthouse was used from 1840 to 1891.

 

Third Courthouse in Rockville: Red Brick Courthouse

By the late 1800's, facing the demand for a new courthouse, the General Assembly granted permission to demolish the old courthouse and the building occupied by the county school commissioners in order to build a new fireproof courthouse which would also accommodate the school commissioners.   For this purpose a bond issue of $50,000 was authorized, as well as an expenditure of any proceeds derived from the materials of the two old buildings. Red Brick Courthouse The contractor was to be the lowest bidder and he was to agree to have the building ready for occupancy by October 1, 1891. This third courthouse in Rockville is still standing and forms an annex to the fourth courthouse. Frank E. Davis was the architect and Thomas P. Johns the contractor. It is a three-story red brick building surmounted by a tower.

The courthouse changed with the times, in use, as well as appearance.  In 1899, steam heat replaced the inefficient Smead heating system. Gas lighting was converted to electricity in 1913. By the 1920's, Montgomery County experienced an increase in its population, the issuance of building permits, and new suburban development.  Montgomery County’s first police officers were installed in a ceremony at the Red Brick Courthouse, and Rockville's fire engine was parked at the courthouse.

The Red Brick Courthouse housed smaller offices and lesser courts. In the 1960's, the Council allocated funds to demolish the Red Brick Courthouse, but citizens protested. When the Montgomery County Circuit Court opened in 1982, the old courthouse closed with an uncertain future.  Peerless Rockville, a nonprofit historic preservation group, worked with Montgomery County to document the history of the courthouse. When the county began renovations in 1990, Peerless formed "Friends of the Red Brick Courthouse" and raised the funds necessary to restore the original courtroom to its 1891 appearance. Work was completed in 1995. The courthouse returned to use with a Circuit Court trial on January 18, 1996. On February 15, 1996, the courtroom was rededicated for its original use.

Red Brick Courthouse:More information about the history of the Red Brick Courthouse

Fourth Courthouse in Rockville

Fourth Montgomery County CourthouseIn 1929 a bond issue was authorized for a new building and for the purchase of additional land next to the old courthouse in order to meet the growing demand of the county government, which had again outgrown its available space.  With the help of supplementary funds authorized by the General Assembly, the courthouse was built in 1931 at a cost exceeding $500,000.  It was designed by Delos H. Smith and Thomas R. Edwards of Washington and built by the J. J. McDevitt Company of Charlotte, North Carolina.  It is constructed of Indiana limestone in the classic tradition with the use of columns, cornice and the regular repetition of piers or pilasters. 

Fifth Courthouse: The Judicial Center (Montgomery County Circuit Court)

Montgomery County Circuit Court

Currently, the Montgomery County Circuit Court is located in the County Government complex in Rockville bounded by Jefferson Street to the south, Maryland Avenue to the west, and Monroe Street to the east.  The Judicial Center building, completed in 1980, is comprised of nine stories above grade and two levels of below grade parking.  The Executive Office Building (EOB) is located southeast of the Current Montgomery Circuit Court and is connected at the Terrace level and under-ground parking levels. The Montgomery County Circuit Court houses courtrooms on the upper four levels, with Court Administration, Family Division Services, the Clerk of Court, Register of Wills, State’s Attorney, and Sheriff occupying the Terrace level through the fifth floor.  Due to the severe space limitations, however, the Court expanded out of the current building and currently conducts its daily operations in two additional buildings, including part of the District Court building and the Red Brick Courthouse.

Future of the Circuit Court: Montgomery County Circuit Court Annex Project

Increased case filings spurred by significant population growth mandated jurisdiction changes, advances in courtroom technology, as well as additional services provided to the court’s clients, particularly in divorce cases, are the primary reasons for increases in staff and the associated need for a new Montgomery County Circuit Court Annex. 

The analysis of the future facility needs of the Montgomery County Circuit Court has been ongoing since late 1995, for almost 15 years.  Between 1998 and 2003, at least 3 separate studies to examine the court’s current and future judicial needs and associated planning efforts were conducted. These studies resulted in an updated Facilities Master Plan for the Circuit Court.  The second study performed in 2000 forecasts that the court would need 31 judges by FY2020 and proposed 3 alternative solutions to meet those future needs.  The County Council approved a preferred solution on May 13, 2002 as the best alternative for expanding facilities on the basis of cost, operational issues, ease of construction, and timeliness.  The preferred option envisioned a two-phase Annex located to the south of the existing Montgomery County Circuit Court.   In late 2002, the 2000 Facilities Master Plan was reexamined and updated by feedback from the court and an in-depth analysis of court staffing needs, and conceptual designs were prepared for the design of the two-phase Annex project.  In 2003, the third needs analysis study was conducted to project the court’s judicial and spatial needs through FY2025.  Accordingly, the Master Plan was revised with new target dates for Phases I (2015) and II (2025) in January 2004.  It was not until FY2009 that funding through the Capital Improvements Program (CIP) became available and was provided to the Circuit Court by the Montgomery County Council to begin design and construction on its new Montgomery County Circuit Court Annex. Currently, agreement has been reached on the preliminary spatial configuration of the proposed Annex consisting of 10 new courtrooms, 7 of which will be finished by the end of the Annex construction in May, 2014.  The Circuit Court is very hopeful that this Annex construction will help to not only address current space constraints felt by court personnel, but also improve the quality of the services provided to its clients. 

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1 The information in this section was drawn from the following sources:
Morris L. Radoff. The County Courthouses and Records of Maryland. Part One: The Courthouses. Publication No. 12. Annapolis, MD: The Hall of Records Commission, 1960.
Fisher, P. G., and McGuckian, E. S. 1991. The Red Brick Courthouse: A Centennial History of Montgomery County, Maryland’s Third Courthouse. Friends of the Red Brick Courthouse.
Bar Association of Montgomery County, Maryland. Centennial Pictorial: 100 Years of Legal Tradition, 1894-1994. Centennial Editorial Review Board, Bar Association of Montgomery County, Maryland, 1994.
Montgomery County, Our History and Government
 
Montgomery County Circuit Court
50 Maryland Avenue, Rockville, Maryland 20850
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