Worcester County Courthouse

Commercial / Massachusetts

After being vacant for a decade, the circa 1845 Worcester County Courthouse in Worcester, Massachusetts is being repurposed into apartments and a museum.


History

Worcester County was formed from a portion of Hampshire, Middlesex, and Suffolk counties on April 2, 1731, with Worcester chosen as its shire town (county seat). The first courthouse was constructed in 1733 and replaced by successive iterations in 1751 and 1802.

Needing a more extensive structure, Ammi B. Young was selected to design a new courthouse, and in 1843, the construction of a Greek Revival style courthouse began. 8 The new building, flanked with six large granite columns, was finished in 1845 at the cost of $100,000. 5 7 An addition to the southwest corner of the courthouse, designed in the Greek Revival and Mid-Victorian style by Stephen C. Earle, was built in 1878.

The continued growth of the county necessitated a major expansion and remodeling of the Worcester County Courthouse in 1898 and 1899. 8 A design competition was held in 1897, with one of the competition’s terms being that the existing granite columns be preserved. Among the entrants were Lucius W. Briggs; Earle & Fisher; Fuller, Delano & Frest; George Clemence; Robert Allen Cook; and Andrews, Jaques & Rantoul.

Andrews, Jaques & Rantoul was selected as the winner of the competition. 8 Their design incorporated the design elements of the circa 1845 courthouse, but it included the removal of the portico and the erection of a new facade along Main Street. The six columns were preserved and flanked by two new identical posts.

A 70,000 square-foot 9 annex on the west side of the courthouse, designed by Stuart W. Briggs and Cornelius W. Buckley in the Mid-Century style, 6 7 and constructed by S. Volpe and Company in 1956. 6

Finding itself pressed for space, the county began contemplating constructing an entirely new courthouse at the dawn of the 21st century. In 2007, court activities moved down Main Street to the new Worcester Trial Courts Building, 9 followed by the law library in 2009.

Closure

After the courthouse was vacated, the annex’s courtrooms were utilized in the production of the movie The Surrogates that starred Bruce Willis. 9

The state attempted to find a buyer for the unique building but was ultimately unsuccessful. 4 On January 19, 2011, it hired Berman Auctions in an attempt to auction the courthouse with the stipulation that the minimum bid set at $100,000 with the bidder demonstrating that it would be able to raise more than $10 million in financing. 9 The auction was unsuccessful.

The city of Worcester purchased the vacant courthouse from the state for one dollar on August 6, 2014. 2 As part of the city’s purchase of the property, the state agreed to provide a $3,000,000 grant for environmental remediation work. A remediation work bid was awarded to Air Quality Experts in September 2015, with site work beginning in October and completed in July 2016. 7 It was determined that the remaining asbestos-containing items could not be abated further, which included window systems and roofing materials, until such time that a property transfer occurred to allow for coordination with any future building improvements.

The city reached an agreement to sell the former courthouse to Brady Sullivan Properties of New Hampshire for $1,200,000 in March 2015. 2 3 The state and city planned to split the proceeds.

The real estate company proposed converting the building into 15 market-rate apartments and 3,000 square feet of retail space. 1 2 3 It indicated there was no plan to seek public funding for the project, instead of seeking historic tax credits for the rehabilitation of the building. 2 3 In December 2016, the company unexpectedly pulled out of the project. 1

Trinity Financial of Boston acquired the courthouse from the city for $1.3 million in June 2017. 1 4 The company proposed converting the complex into 125 residential units and retail space at the cost of $53 million. Approximately half of the residences would be market-rate while others would be considered workforce units.

The proposal, later revised to include 118 mixed-income apartments and a public museum dedicated to cyclist Marshall Walter “Major” Taylor, broke ground in 2019. 10 Trinity financed the $55 million project with conventional financing and a combination of state and federal historic tax credits. The aptly named Courthouse Lofts project is expected to be open to residents in mid-2020.


Gallery


Sources

  1. Murtishi, Alban. “Boston company to buy former Worcester Courthouse and plans to spend $53M to turn it into apartments.” MassLive, 26 Jun. 2017.
  2. “Worcester Agrees to Sell Courthouse for $1.2 Million.” City of Worcester, MA, 19 Mar. 2015.
  3. Kotsopoulos, Nick. “Old Worcester courthouse sold.” Telegram & Gazette, 19 Mar. 2015.
  4. Kotsopoulos, Nick. “Developer has $53M plan for old Worcester courthouse.” Telegram & Gazette, 26 Jun. 2017.
  5. Daniel. “Worcester County Courthouse (1845).” Historic Buildings of Massachusetts, 5 Jan. 2014.
  6. Plaque.
  7. Request for Interest Property Sale and Redevelopment. City of Worcester, MA.
  8. Massachusetts Historical Commission, Office of the Secretary. Institutional District. By J. Kapowich and S. Cceccacci, edited by B. R. Pfeiffer, Worcester Heritage Preservation Society, June 1979.
  9. Eckelbecker, Lisa. “This old courthouse.” Telegram & Gazette, 15 Nov. 2010.
  10. Luttrell, Aviva. “Take a sneak peek inside downtown Worcester’s next big thing: Courthouse Lofts being built now in the old county courthouse.” Masslive, 18 Sept. 2019.