Hillsboro is well-known for its rich heritage and many historic landmarks. Some of those landmarks are conspicuous, widely recognized, and beloved. Others are hiding in plain sight. Did you know the cornerstone from the 1891 expansion of the Washington County Courthouse sits, half-buried, in the planting beds at the northwest corner of 2nd Avenue and Main Street? Carved in it are the names of the county judge at the time, Rodolph Crandall, and the county commissioners (abbreviated as “Com’s”) whose names are now below the soil.
The original Washington County Courthouse was a log cabin donated by David Hill who also sold a chunk of his pioneer donation land claim to the County in order to establish the town of Hillsboro. The cabin was replaced by a two-story, wood-frame building in 1852 and that structure was, in turn, supplanted by a brick courthouse in 1873. The brick building, at the center of the Courthouse Square and facing Main Street, exhibited the Italianate architectural style which was highly fashionable at the time.
Eventually, the County began to feel the squeeze as governmental functions were outgrowing the space. Portland architect Delos D. Neer designed an expansion to be added to the front of the courthouse and it was built in 1891. As well as more office and court space, the addition featured a new entrance and five-story clock tower. Sadly, funds were never raised to install a timekeeping mechanism but numbers and hands were painted on the four clock faces.
Over the ensuing decades, Washington County’s population and legal and administrative activity continued to increase. The courthouse was further expanded toward Lincoln Street in 1912 and then, in 1928, the present, Neo-Classical courthouse was built on the same site. The project required the old courthouse to come down and, on that fateful day, quite a crowd of Hillsboroites gathered to say goodbye to the community landmark. Presumably, the 1891 cornerstone has been resting at its present, soil-bound spot since it was moved on demolition day. The new building, designed by Orlo R. W. Hossack, incorporated the 1912 annex and moved the courthouse’s main entrance to face 2nd Avenue. Hillsboro residents today continue to appreciate this beautiful, brick structure’s terra cotta details including Ionic columns, lions’ heads along the cornice, and various other ornamentation.