Jefferson County Courthouse – Port Townsend, Washington

Jefferson County, created in 1852, initially rented premises in Port Townsend for use as a courthouse. In the late 19th century, the ca. 1874 two-story commercial building still standing downtown at 226 Adams Street (and the first masonry building in the city) served in the role. As the city population grew to more than 6,000 by 1889, county commissioners sought a more permanent and distinguished structure, hiring Seattle architect Willis A. Ritchie for the commission. This “new” courthouse was sited high on the bluff overlooking downtown, Port Townsend Bay, and the entrance to Admiralty Inlet. Construction of the Romanesque Revival Style design was approved in 1890, and was completed in 1892.

The elaborately detailed building features round-arched entrances, a variety of window shapes, carved ornament, turrets, a high hipped roof, and a prominent clock tower. Construction materials include smooth-faced bricks in a deep red color, shipped from St. Louis, and almost 800 tons of ashlar sandstone quarried in Alaska. On the interior, corridors feature cedar wainscoting and geometrically patterned quarry tile floors. The counters in the offices were modular units of oak that could be reassembled and all were faced with rose marble. The courtroom retains hand-carved solid oak paneling.

Both the bell and the clock mechanism in the 124-foot tower were built in 1891 by the E. Howard Watch & Clock Company of Boston, Massachusetts. Illumination of the clock was made possible in 1912 when the courthouse received electrical power. The clock operates by 250-pound weights which drop slowly from the tower to the basement, enclosed in a cedar shaft. Only in 1975, after almost 85 years of use, was the clock finally disassembled and refurbished to allow continued operation.

Willis Ritchie (1864-1931), an Ohio native, was a self-taught architect who had developed a thriving practice in Kansas in the 1880s. Work there included commercial buildings and courthouses. When he moved to Seattle in 1889, although he lacked local contacts, his previous experience gave him an advantage in competing for major public work. Ritchie quickly won commissions for several courthouses besides Port Townsend’s, including the King County Courthouse in Seattle (1889-91, destroyed), Whatcom County Courthouse in Bellingham (1889-91, destroyed), Clark County Courthouse in Vancouver (1890-92, destroyed), the Thurston County Courthouse in Olympia (1890-92, altered). Around 1893, he moved his family and practice to Spokane, where he designed his largest and best-known work, the Spokane County Courthouse (1892-96).


“Jefferson County Courthouse (Port Townsend WA),” National Register of Historic Places Inventory – Nomination Form, January 5, 1973.

Ochsner, Jeffrey Karl, ed.  Shaping Seattle Architecture: A Historical Guide to the Architects. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2014.

Jefferson County Courthouse, Port Townsend, Washington. (photo courtesy of Celeste Stokes)
Circa 1895 view of the courthouse. (Washington State Archives #603)
1971 view of the courthouse. (Mary Randlett, UW Special Collections MPH3921)
Interior, court room. (John Deacon,
Interior, main staircase. (John Deacon,