Newport New Hampshire is the classic New England town rightfully proud of it’s courthouses. The Old Courthouse is now a fine eating establishment, but the courthouse built in 1885 still operates as a courthouse, as well as an Opera house, and offices for the county.
This original Sullivan County Courthouse building was built in 1826 in the Federal style. It has two and one-half stories and a gabled roof with chimneys at each end of the roof ridge. The center entry is flanked by half sidelights and the tower is topped with a copper sheathed dome. It sit’s behind the current courthouse.
On June 13, 1827 William Cheney introduced a measure to the New Hampshire Legislature to create a new county to serve the outlying towns of Cheshire County which at that time was centered in Keene and Charlestown. There was much discussion concerning what towns should be included: Fisherfield (Newbury) and New London were on the original list, but removed; Langdon did not want to join, but they were voted in; Lebanon, Enfield and Grafton were proposed for inclusion, but denied. The name originally proposed for the new county was Columbia, but it was changed to Sullivan in honor of the Revolutionary War hero General John Sullivan. There was also a competition between Newport and Claremont to be the shire town, and Newport was chosen because of its more central location and the political influence of Cheney. The townspeople of Newport were confident that they would be chosen as the county seat, because by February 11, 1826 they had built the courthouse pictured here on a lot purchased from Aaron Nettleton, and it was already certified ready for occupancy. Town offices were located on the first floor and the County Court was on the second. The first term of this Court of Common Pleas opened on the first Tuesday of November, 1827. The first case tried was between Josiah Stevens, Jr. and Oliver Gould, Jr.
The Courthouse remained in service from July 5th, 1827 until 1873 when the County and town offices moved to the newly built Town Hall/Sullivan County building on Main Street. During these years this building was used for social gatherings as well as court proceedings. When the County court and town offices were relocated this property was conveyed exclusively to the town, and the Town of Newport gave it to the Union School District for a term of ninety-nine years.
This Town Hall and Courthouse was built in 1873, designed in the Second Empire style by Concord, NH architect Edward Dow and built by the Wallace L. Dow Company of Newport. This larger facility was erected because the original courthouse had become dilapidated and outdated. Claremont made a strong case for the Courthouse to move to that town in a lengthy publication dated in 1872, which was met with a rebuttal by Newport’s leading citizens, and supported by the Court. As a result the Sullivan County Courthouse remained in Newport.
This building burned in Newport’s worst fire on June 27, 1885. Destroyed were most of the contents of the Town Hall, Courtroom and County offices, as well as the offices of the Argus-Champion, owned by Barton & Wheeler. The law library of A. S. Wait, Esq., termed one of the largest and finest in the state, was also lost to the flames. There was, however, time to rescue some items, including county and town records, as well as the piano. This disaster began the serious discussion of equipping the town with “adequate appliances for protection against fire.” Directly after the fire a meeting was held in Claremont to discuss the future interests of Sullivan County. Of great concern was the “injury” to public records, and once again it was recommended that a new courthouse be built in Claremont, apart from any surrounding buildings, made as fire proof as possible, and constructed on land owned by the County and exclusively for County use.
Newport responded with an offer to give the County a deed to the same site and to contribute recovered insurance payments to the rebuilding project. A new Town Hall and Courthouse was immediately rebuilt on the same site in a similar eclectic style by Hira R. Beckwith of Claremont, New Hampshire.
The broad wide street in Newport really allows this courthouse and the attached admin building to be prominent in presentation.