A Look Back In History – The Pre-1974 Stephenson County Courthouse

Freeport, Illinois — While we are always a city of people who looks to the future, we are also a city of people who love, appreciate and often deeply miss our past. Freeport has such a rich history it’s a tale every generation of people should know. One of those landmark pieces of history is undoubtedly the former Stephenson County Courthouse.

The present courthouse as we all know it today was built in 1975, replacing a historic courthouse built on the site in 1870. As history goes, Elijah E. Myers, who went on to design three state capitols, designed the 1870 courthouse in the Second Empire style; the building, which featured a mansard roof and a projecting entrance pavilion, was Myers’ only Second Empire work.[2] 

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The 1870 courthouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, but it was demolished later that year as insufficient for the county’s needs; despite its demolition, it remains listed on the National Register.[1] [3] 

The present courthouse was completed the following year, though by 2008, it was also reported to have insufficient space for the county’s needs.[4]

1974 freeport old courthosue 1

Stephenson county takes its name from Colonel Benjamin Stephenson, who served as a colonel in the War of 1812 in the Illinois Militia. In 1813 he was appointed adjutant general of the territory. In 1814 Stephenson was elected delegate to Congress, where he served until 1816.

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As in many other counties across the country, the Stephenson County Courthouse is the site for important memorials and monuments. The Civil War Soldiers Monument on the southwest corner was dedicated in 1871.

1974 freeport old courthosue demolition
1974 Courthouse Demolition
Here are a couple headlines of the day from 1974.

Saturday, March 9, 1974

Both George Koehler, County Board chairman, and Dr. Phillip Hardinger, chairman of the County Board public building committee, said Friday that the relocation of county and judicial offices from the old courthouse would be accomplished as quickly as possible. “The way it looks now, everything will be out by March 19,” said Sheriff Don Scofield, who by statute is courthouse custodian.

Lying ahead is the matter of a demolition permit for the old courthouse. The general contractor for the new courthouse, Cheeseman Construction Co., of Freeport, obtained both demolition and construction permits Tuesday afternoon from the city engineer’s office, but the permits were rescinded Thursday night by Mayor Mark McLeRoy.

John Garrity, legal counsel for the County Public Building Commission, could not be reached Friday for comment on the status of a demolition permit. The Building Commission has been directed by the County Board to erect the new courthouse. State’s Attorney William Sisler said he will be spending the weekend researching the actions taken to this point by the city in attempting to block demolition of the century old courthouse.

Mayor Mark McLeRoy announced the names of the members to serve on the Freeport Landmark Commission which will hold a public hearing next Friday night at 7:30 on designating the Stephenson County Courthouse as a landmark, in an attempt to save it from demolition.

The members of the commission are Jack Goddard, chairman, The Rev. Robert Huff, vice chairman, Mrs. Betty Credicott, secretary, and Richard Lumby and John James Sr. as members.

Monday, April 15, 1974 Courthouse Demolition –

A Circuit Court judge from Winnebago County this morning denied a petition for a temporary injunction to halt demolition or the vacant Stephenson County Courthouse. The injunction for a 100-day hold had been sought by the Landmark Association of Stephenson County in a final effort to save the century-old building

Wednesday. April 17, 1974 Courthouse Wrecking By DUNCAN BIRDSELL

Journal-Standard City Editor “I think it’s coming down a lot faster than it went up.” This was the summation of the leathery faced man leaning against the building across Galena Avenue from the courthouse as the clam shell bucket on the sky piercing crane tore another hunk away from the top side. The wreckers went to work in earnest Tuesday afternoon on the doomed Stephenson County Courthouse in a sun-splashed setting before scores of onlookers at the courthouse square.


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Here are some additional photos provided by Sam Veer.

Stephenson County Court House, Freeport, Il. The Soldiers’ Monument is an American Civil War…

Posted by Sam Veer on Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Other links you may find of interest:


  1. National Park Service (2010-07-09). “National Register Information System”. National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
  2. Schultz, D.S. (December 1973). “National Register of Historic Places Inventory – Nomination Form: Stephenson County Courthouse”National Archives and Records Administration. Retrieved June 19,2016.
  3. Levan, Jean (April 17, 1974). “The 109 Year Old Stephenson County Courthouse – It’s Doomed”Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved June 19,2016.
  4. Crowther, Katie (June 4, 2008). “Stephenson County Courthouse Reaches Maximum Capacity”WREX. Retrieved June 19, 2016.

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