Historic courthouse

Historic Sussex County Courthouse

The complete renovation and adaptive re-use of the Historic Sussex County Courthouse and largest capital project undertaken to-date by the Facilities Management Division, has finally come to an end. Interior renovations of this site have been completed and the building is at last being re-occupied as the purpose it was intended for. The beautifully designed courtroom will be in full operation beginning October 1, 2008.

The original Sussex County Courthouse was first built in 1765 as arranged by the Board of Chosen Freeholders at that time. The original building was constructed so that it would face a center green. The land for this building and green were located on land that was donated by Jonathan Hampton for the sole purpose of providing a location for a County court facility. As local history is recorded, the original two story building was constructed of local field stone. The first building served the residents of Sussex County until January 28, 1847 when it was consumed by fire. Only the stone walls remained after the fire. One month later, the Board of Chosen Freeholders decided to rebuild the structure. The contract for building the new Courthouse was awarded and construction was completed in just over a year, opening on May 1, 1848. In December, 1910, a second fire occurred in the building resulting in extensive damage to the courtroom, attic and cupola. In February of that year, repairs were once again made to the structure. The charred beams from that second fire remain in the building today.

During the 1980's, the interior of the building was gutted and remodeled. At this time, the building was still the site of the only "county" courthouse in Sussex County. The exterior of the structure was restored shortly thereafter. Once the stucco finish was removed from the building, there was interest from the citizens of the county to leave the stucco finish off the structure to make the building appear as it did with the field stone finish. The Board of Chosen Freeholders at the time were approached to make a decision as to whether they would actually put the stucco back on the structure or leave it with the stone finish. After much debate, it was determined the building must be restored to its stucco finish since it had been registered on the New Jersey Register of Historic Places on May 5, 1979 and the National Register of Historic Places on July 23, 1979.

During the late 1980's the courthouse was absolutely "busting at the seams" and was no longer serving the demands for court operations for Sussex County. At that time, the Board of Chosen Freeholders made plans to build a new judicial facility. Construction was undertaken for the new facility and all court operations and the Sussex County Sheriff's Office found new homes farther up the street. This left the Old Courthouse empty for many years until plans were eventually made and approved by the County's Capital Projects Committee and Board of Chosen Freeholders to begin the large task of rehabilitating the exterior and completing the "adaptive re-use" of the interior. This work was made possible with the assistance of Senator Robert E. Littell. Senator Littell was instrumental in securing grant funds to get this project up and running.

The exterior fa├žade of the structure was completed in 2003 when a dedication ceremony was held to celebrate part of the 250th Anniversary of the incorporation of the County of Sussex. A time capsule was "planted" on the front porch of the building. The capsule contains items from different municipalities of Sussex County, civic groups, businesses and commemorates several different occasions held during this anniversary year celebration.

Renovations to the interior of the building for the "adaptive re-use project" were underway shortly thereafter. Direct supervision of this major project was accomplished by Facilities Management Division Director Joseph Biuso and Facilities Management Division Construction Inspector Carl Sylvester.

Ribbon CuttingOnce the renovations were completed, the maintenance and custodial staff of the Facilities Management Division went to work to put the "final touches" on the building including thorough cleaning, planting of flowers and shrubbery and new lawn. The Facilities Management Division also worked diligently at getting the building ready for the dedication ceremony that was held on September 12, 2008. Now that the building is ready, Sussex County Surrogate Nancy Fitzgibbons and her staff occupy the main floor. The basement level will house Grand Jury operations and Civil Court operations will occupy the 2nd floor.

One additional project remains to get this building to where we envision seeing it. This project, pending the design by the Newton Historic Preservation Commission, will rehabilitate the small green beside the Courthouse. This area will hopefully include a small "park like" setting for employees and visitors to spend time. Plans are also underway for the placement of a Historic Marker to be located within this space to officially commemorate this Sussex County historical "gem".

The Facilities Management Division is extremely proud of this accomplishment and wish to thank everyone involved in the process of giving this building back to the residents and employees of the County of Sussex. It is with great pride that we reflect on all the efforts that went into the planning and accomplishment of this project.

Submitted by
Cheryl Thom, Assistant Director
Facilities Management Division