FINDLAY -- Holley Hance likes to stop and see historic courthouses in the towns he passes through, but Tuesday was the Findlay resident's first real look inside the courthouse closest to home.
After a tour held as part of Findlay's bicentennial celebration, he and his wife, Esther, declared the 1888 Hancock County courthouse beautiful.
"I was impressed with it," Mr. Hance, a retired teacher, said. "I'm glad we have a beautiful courthouse and thankful they keep it spotless and clean."
Mrs. Hance said she couldn't help but think of the now-demolished Seneca County courthouse in Tiffin as she walked across the polished tile floors and gazed at the many stained-glass windows, the carved walnut doors, and the towering 16-foot figure of John Hancock atop the clock tower.
"If they destroyed beauty like this, I'd be upset," she said, adding that she was "totally shocked" by how grand and well cared for the four-story stone courthouse is inside and out.
"The floors were so shiny and the stained-glass windows were beautiful," Mrs. Hance, a Findlay native, said.
Tom Davis, the county's director of risk management, donned a frock coat ("an 1880s sport jacket," as he described it), an Edwardian shirt, western tie, and vest to lead a group of 30 people through the courthouse during the first tour of the day Tuesday.
Mr. Davis is leading tours this week every hour on the hour from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. through Friday, with additional tours from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday. The front entrance of the courthouse, which is permanently closed for security reasons, is to be open Thursday evening during the bicentennial parade that steps off at 7 p.m. and is to pass by the courthouse festooned with buntings and stars-and-stripes banners for the occasion.
Mr. Davis told the group that Hancock County's current courthouse is its third. The first, built in 1833, was a small wood-frame structure at Crawford and Main streets that the county quickly outgrew. It was replaced in 1837 by a brick building on the site of the current courthouse, and, when the discovery of gas and oil caused an economic boom in Findlay in the 1880s, that courthouse was razed and replaced by one more befitting the county's burgeoning success.
"This building is a testament to the boom era," Mr. Davis said.
The county has invested in maintaining its historic courthouse over the years, including a $2.7 million exterior renovation in 1997. County Commissioner Ed Ingold said the building's elevator was replaced this year, and the board recently hired an architect to design what's expected to be about $500,000 in renovations to the third floor where the two common pleas courtrooms and the clerk of courts office are situated.
Ten-year-old Katelyn DuPuy was in awe.
The soon-to-be fifth grader at Wilson Vance Elementary in Findlay asked her grandmother Carol Birchfield to bring her downtown for the courthouse tour. She'd never been inside it before.
"I've always wanted to know what the inside of a courthouse looks like, and I think it's really neat," Katelyn said, adding that she especially liked the courtroom that still has many of its original features, including two fireplaces that once heated the room and an unusual painting of the Lady of Justice, without a blindfold, who stares out from behind the judge's bench.
Mrs. Birchfield enjoyed getting up close to some of the features and rooms she'd never seen before, such as the law library, which was tucked into a portion of the low-ceilinged fourth-floor attic space.
"You drive by and you never imagine what it's like inside," she said. "It's just so beautiful, and to think of when they built it."
Dave Betts of Lima, Ohio, said he likes to do genealogical research that frequently takes him to area courthouses. Paulding County's is one of his favorites.
"My mother's family is from Findlay so I told my wife, 'We should come out here for the tour,' " he said afterward. "It was well worth the trip. It's a beautiful courthouse."
Contact Jennifer Feehan at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6129.