Monday, September 5, 2016

Courthouse History

Here is the history as well as some photographs depicting four of the courthouses that have served St. Tammany Parish.

Prior to 1817, a courthouse serving both Washington and St. Tammany Parishes was located near Enon in Washington Parish in an area known as "Washington Fields." Records indicated that some soldiers were stationed there for the War of 1812. 

Click on the images to make them larger. 

An 1820 map showing the first courthouse near Enon, located at the top of the map

According to a publication of the Louisiana State Bar Association entitled "Louisiana’s Historic Courthouses: A Look at the Past and the Present," (Published in 2016) The St. Tammany Parish courthouse sprang from legislation signed by Louisiana's first governor, William Charles Cole Claiborne in 1813. The legislation called upon a local committee to  locate  a  courthouse site  "within three miles of the center of St. Tammany Parish,  which  at  that  time  consisted  of  Washington  Parish,  St.  Tammany  Parish and the portion of Tangipahoa Parish east of the Tangipahoa River."

Following those directions, the group established the first courthouse near the banks of the  Bogue Chitto River near Enon on property owned by Judge Thomas C. Warner, who was the first parish judge in St. Tammany  Parish.

 The historical marker for the first parish courthouse, located 4 miles west of Enon on Hwy. 16, when St. Tammany included Washington Parish.

The Bar Association's Journal went on to explain that four years after establishing the courthouse near Enon, another group was given the assignment of moving the parish seat. "The  Claiborne Company had purchased a portion of the Kleinschmidt Spanish land grant in 1813. In exchange for the commission naming the Town of Claiborne as the parish seat, the Claiborne Company offered some of its land and agreed to build a courthouse and jail for the parish, free of charge."

"Robert Layton told them (the group seeking a parish seat) that he'd build a courthouse if they made Claiborne the parish seat," said retired Judge Steve Ellis, a parish historian. This resulted in the second St. Tammany Parish courthouse being built in the Town of Claiborne  just east and across the river from Covington. It cost around $20,000 to build.


That building, built in 1818, currently stands across the driveway from the Chimes Restaurant near the Bogue Falaya River. The structure was completed and opened for business on April 12, 1819.

CLICK HERE for an article about the above building. 

 However, the bar journal account noted that "within  10  years  of  the  erection of the 1819 Courthouse, the Police Jury determined that the courthouse should be moved  to  Covington,  previously  known as the Town of Wharton."

On June 5, 1837, the Police Jury purchased Lots 12-15 on the corner of Boston
and New Hampshire Streets in Covington for use as a courthouse site, the bar journal stated.

The 1819 Courthouse was eventually sold and used as a private residence and Catholic seminary. In  the  late  1800s,  a  hotel  known  as  the  Claiborne Cottages was built next to the former 1819 Courthouse. Those cottages were destroyed by fire in the early 1900s.  

The parish seat was moved from Claiborne to Covington in 1838. A courthouse was built on the corner of Boston St. and North New Hampshire St. In  1884,  however, the  Police  Jury  voted  to demolish  the  courthouse  located  at  that location. "During the demolition and rebuilding period, Covington Town Hall  was  used  as  a  courtroom.  The  new  courthouse opened two years later in 1886 and was used for 73 years, according to the bar journal account.

 The structure pictured above at that location was built in 1896, with the cornerstone of that building pictured below, as it looks preserved as a monument in front of the old courthouse site at the northeast corner Boston St. and New Hampshire St. 

Here are some additional pictures of that 1896 structure.

St. Tammany Parish School Board in front of the old courthouse around 1906. 

The police jury poses for a group portrait

In 1946 the parish government proposed a large three-story St. Tammany Parish Courthouse, but public reception for the scale and design was not good. 

In 1959 however, the time was right for a new structure, and the old courthouse was torn down. 

"The completion of the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway in 1956 magnified the need for a larger facility to conduct the parish’s business," the Bar Association article went on to say. "In 1959, the parish decided to build a new courthouse, completed in 1960. Within the year it took to complete the new courthouse, court was held in the gymnasium of the Jefferson Avenue  grammar  school.  The new courthouse shown below was opened in 1959 in the same location as the previous courthouse. It featured a jail on the third floor.


Here is the printed program for the ceremonies opening the new courthouse on June 1, 1960.

Fourteen years later, due to the parish's rapid growth, a larger courthouse was needed. The police jury held a number of committee meetings to discuss what to do about the growing space problems in the courthouse building.

Moving the courthouse was suggested.

The City of Covington didn't want the courthouse moved out of the city, so efforts were made to convince city officials to "annex" the site chosen down by the interstate.

  The police jury finally decided, despite objections, to build a new courthouse down near Interstate 12. 

The courthouse stayed in Covington, however, after some legal action by city officials noting that the courthouse had to be in the parish seat.

In an April, 1977, article in New Orleans Magazine, the status of the courthouse re-location was summed up as follows: " With all of those political squabbles going on, the sudden growth explosion on the north shore has only contributed to the turmoil. A longstanding friendly political rivalry between Covington and Slidell has been fanned into a burning feud by the influx of people and the resulting competition for money and power. Since representation on the parish police jury is proportionate to the population, the political weight has recently shifted to Slidell, which has used that advantage to challenge the 165-year-old parish seat in Covington.

    The parish seat flap arose out of a related controversy over where to build a much-needed new courthouse and prison facility. The original proposal was to construct the new courthouse complex where U.S. 190 crosses 1-12, just outside the Covington city limits. The plan was contingent upon the Covington City Council's agreement to annex the site in question so the parish seat would remain in Covington. But Covington businessmen raised such a howl about the economic setback they'd suffer by such a move, the city council refused to annex the 1-12 site.

    So the courthouse bond issue, which goes to St. Tammany voters April 16, (1977) will carry a referendum  question about whether the parish seat should be moved out of Covington."

For several years, in an effort to provide more space, there were a couple of courtrooms and judges offices in the building where the Southern Hotel is located today. The parish decided to buy the building and renovate it extensively for offices, a couple of courtrooms. It served as Parish Administrative Offices for several years, beginning in 1982, complete with a police jury meeting room. 

The parish chose to ignore the city's objections and built an office facility on Koop Drive off La. 29 near Interstate 12, moving its main administrative offices and several key departments to that location. 

Twenty years after the initial efforts, new  efforts in 1996 resumed to build a bigger courthouse, but within the boundaries of the City of Covington. The old P&W Salvage facility on Jefferson Avenue was considered.

In the February 25, 2000, edition of the St. Tammany News Mitchell Richard wrote that the clean up of the old P. & W. Industries site in Covington, home of the future St. Tammany Parish Courthouse, was essentially done, according to P&W president Harry Warner. This paved the way for the beginning of construction for the new courthouse.

"The Covington site was the location of P. & W. Industries for over 30 years before the company's move in August of 1998 to its current location on U.S. Highway 59 located near Mandeville. P. & W. Industries is a steel recycling and sales corporation. The site, bounded by North Jefferson and North Theard Streets in downtown Covington, has been in use since 1912.

Bids for the 300,000-square-foot courthouse will open for contractors Wednesday, March 1, 2000, with a projected overall cost of $45 million.

"Richard Lambert, the courthouse's chief architect, was contracted two years ago to draft the plans for the complex, an overdue project designed to supplant the current facility on Boston Street in Covington. 

"The current courthouse is described by some who work there as cramped and no longer suitable for the purpose, particularly after a tornado tore through downtown Covington in October 1997, damaging the structure and hundreds of files and records.

"With no delays in construction the new courthouse will open its doors for business sometime in 2003, Lambert said."

According to the Bar Association article, "The 1960 courthouse was used until the St. Tammany Justice Center opened in 2003, which brought together many of the parish’s offices that were scattered throughout the city."

The new courthouse on the old P&W site.

"The St. Tammany Parish Justice Center, unlike  any  courthouse  in  Louisiana,  is  a 312,000-square-foot structure containing 22,000 cubic yards of concrete and 25,000 St. Joe bricks and housing 12 courtrooms," said the article. Here are some photographs of that building.


See also:

Courthouses of St. Tammany Parish