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The Jefferson County, West Virginia Historic Courthouse – Pic of the Week

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The Jefferson County, West Virginia Courthouse.
The Jefferson County, West Virginia Courthouse.
[Photo by Robert Brammer.]
The Jefferson County Courthouse in Charles TownWest Virginia was the second courthouse constructed in Charles Town, replacing a more modest structure that dated back to 1803. Built in 1836 on land donated by George Washington’s brother, Charles Washington, the courthouse is still in use today. Charles Town was the site of a trial that altered the course of our nation’s history. In 1859, abolitionist John Brown’s attempt to bring about the end of slavery through an armed insurrection came to a quick end when he and his men were captured in an engine house in Harpers Ferry by a group of Marines led by none other than Robert E. Lee.

Brown was transported to Charles Town, where he was tried for murder, inciting slaves to rebel, and treason. Despite a spirited defense, Brown and several of his co-conspirators were convicted and sentenced to death. Brown was executed only a few blocks from the courthouse. John Wilkes Booth, the actor who would later assassinate President Lincoln, attended the execution. Many of the records from the trial, which were held by the Jefferson County Clerk, have been digitized.

During the Civil War , the county seat of Jefferson County was moved to Shepherdstown, WV,  and another courthouse was constructed that has since become a part of Shepherd University. During the war, the courthouse in Charles Town was damaged in battle and even used as a stable. As the end of the war drew near, its metal roof was stripped off and melted down for bullets. The county seat was returned to Charles Town in 1872, and the courthouse was repaired and enlarged, adding a clock to the belltower. The trial of John Brown was not the only trial at this courthouse which captured the nation’s attention. In 1922, a change of venue made Jefferson County the site for the trials of several union leaders who were prosecuted for their roles in the Battle of Blair Mountain. Today, the courthouse is still in use, and a portion of the courtroom where John Brown was tried is now used as a hearing room for the Jefferson County Commission.

Thanks to Judge David Sanders for his brief history of the Jefferson County Courthouse.

Comments (3)

  1. hi my name is cat a about 7 years ago i ended up getting rerouted to charles town and we stayed for a bit as an author of sorts i often would sit on the courthouse yard on the weekends writing to make a very long story short i noticed that you have a balcony on the front of the court house right above the two front doors there was a rope that hung over it and there was a trap door or hatch on the floor i often wandered if that was a gallow of old but as i was researching i learned that it was not the original court house as i first thought and that there was a few hangings but the the pictures i seen was actually a platform of sorts and the article said it was a few blocks away so my question is what is the history of the rope and the trap door you can see the rope from acroos the street n the trap door if you stand at the double wooden doors n look up you will see it thank you for your time

    • Hi Cat,
      I do not know the answer to this, but the Jefferson County Museum would probably know. You can find their website linked below.

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