History of the Court House

History of the Leon County Florida Courthouse


From the December 7, 1990, dedication program for the current courthouse
Leon County was created by the Legislative Council of the Territory of Florida at its first meeting in the City of Tallahassee. The Act, signed by Governor Duval on December 28, 1824, set up Leon County with the boundaries "comprehended within the line corresponding on the west by the Ochlockonee River, or the eastern boundary of Gadsden County, on the north by the boundary line of the state of Georgia, on the east by the river Suwannee, and on the south by the Gulf of Mexico." The original boundaries of Leon County have been modified by the creation of Jefferson County to the east in 1827, of Wakulla County to the south in 1828, and by minor changes in the western boundary in 1933.

By Act in 1822 of the Legislative Council, each county was to be governed by a county court. Originally the court enjoyed administrative functions only; after 1823, the court was vested with administrative and judicial responsibilities. The Leon County Court, consisting of a presiding judge, associate judge, justice of the peace and clerk of the court, held its first session in March of 1825. This court set about the organization of county work, gave orders for the collection of taxes, the holding of elections, the building and maintenance of roads and bridges, the establishment of ferries, and the care of the county's indigent. From 1824-1837, the county court offices were housed in various locations. The Leon Academy, Jackson Masonic Hall and offices of the City Council were among those locations rented for the court and county government.

The minutes book of the Leon County Court, covering proceedings from March 14, 1825, to September 19, 1833, reveals that on March 22, 1832, the court authorized a commission "to receive proposals, and contract for the building of a Court House on the Court House Square in Tallahassee." The commission was also authorized to make brick for the building on land belonging to the county. A contract was subsequently awarded to John W. Levinus to make bricks on the lot where the Mayo Building now stands. The first courthouse was built during 1832-1833 on Park Avenue where the Federal Courthouse is now located. This courthouse was destroyed by fire on May 19, 1879. [Shown in next photo.]

Photo courtesy State Archives of Florida

On June 23, 1879, the County Commission voted to issue bonds for the building of a new courthouse. Washington Square (the site of the present building) was transferred by the city to the commission for the new building. Construction began in 1880 and the new courthouse was completed in 1882. During the 1910s, historical photographs indicate that the courthouse was expanded and modified several times. [Note by County Coordinator: This building was in the Victorian style called "Second Empire", shown in the two photos below.]

In 1924, major improvements were undertaken on the building, two wings of two rooms each were built on each front corner of the building. The Tallahassee Democrat and Weekly Record of February 22, 1924, reports concerning the improvements: "The interior will be somewhat rearranged and includes new modern plumbing of adequate convenience together with a restroom for ladies. The latter feature is one which nowadays is always incorporated in plans for public buildings and one which has long been needed in the court house here." [Next photo is of the 1924 courthouse after the cupola was removed, and interior and exterior renovations made.]

Photo courtesy State Archives of Florida

The Leon County Court House was again enlarged and remodeled in 1942. [Shown in 1948 photo below.]


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