“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Berrien Springs in Berrien County, Michigan — The American Midwest (Great Lakes)

Berrien County Courthouse

Michigan's Oldest County Courthouse


—Michigan Legal Milestone —

Berrien County Courthouse Marker image. Click for full size.
By Duane Hall, October 28, 2013
1. Berrien County Courthouse Marker
Inscription. The county courthouse is an iconic symbol of the American legal system. Its importance in Michigan is established in the Michigan Constitution of 1835, which authorized county courts and the laws that followed, requiring counties to provide suitable courthouses. The legal precedents that continue to guide Michigan judges arose out of cases that were decided in the state's earliest local courthouses.

This courthouse, erected in Berrien Springs in 1839, is Michigan's oldest existing county courthouse and is architecturally representative of the type of building used by Michigan's earliest judges and lawyers. Architect Gilbert B. Avery designed the Greek Revival-style courthouse. Local builder James Lewis began construction in 1838 and finished in time for the April 1839 court term. The courthouse consisted of the courtroom on the main floor and offices for county officials on the lower level.

The courthouse also served as a community gathering-place. Political party meetings and conventions, musicals and theatrical performances, civic meetings, religious services, weddings, and funerals all took place here. During the Civil War, county residents held fund-raising rallies for soldiers' families on the courthouse grounds.

Structural problems led to a major renovation in 1863. The building was raised three
Berrien County Courthouse image. Click for full size.
By Duane Hall, October 28, 2013
2. Berrien County Courthouse
feet and a brick lower floor installed, along with a second-floor balcony, boxes under columns, and two new interior staircases.

An 1894 election moved the county seat of government from Berrien Springs to St. Joseph. The county thereafter sold the courthouse, and between 1894 and 1966, the building served as a dance hall, militia drill hall, the first home of Emmanuel Missionary College (now Andrews University), and as a church.

The Berrien County Historical Association acquired the courthouse in 1967 and began a seven-year restoration of the building. The state of Michigan re-designated it an active courthouse for ceremonial purposes in 1974 and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Erected 2013 by State Bar of Michigan, the Berrien County Bar Association, and the Berrien County Historical Association. (Marker Number 38.)
Location. 41° 56.894′ N, 86° 20.468′ W. Marker is in Berrien Springs, Michigan, in Berrien County. Marker can be reached from the intersection of North Cass Street (State Highway 139) and West Union Street, on the right when traveling south. Touch for map. Marker is located at The History Center at Courthouse Square. Marker is at or near this postal address: 313 N. Cass Street, Berrien Springs MI 49103, United States of America.
Other nearby markers.
Berrien County Courthouse Marker image. Click for full size.
By Duane Hall, October 28, 2013
3. Berrien County Courthouse Marker
Near the northeast corner of the courthouse
At least 8 other markers are within 8 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Berrien Springs Courthouse (a few steps from this marker); 1870 Berrien County Jail (within shouting distance of this marker); Andrews University (approx. 1.1 miles away); Union Church and Cemetery (approx. 3.8 miles away); Morris Chapel Church (approx. 5.6 miles away); Johnson Cemetery (approx. 7.2 miles away); Sumnerville Mounds / Sumnerville Cemetery (approx. 7.4 miles away); The Hogue House (approx. 7.9 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Berrien Springs.
More about this marker. The Michigan Legal Milestone program of the State Bar of Michigan recognizes significant legal cases and personalities in the state's history, and places bronze plaques at featured sites to document the historical significance.
Also see . . .  The History Center at Courthouse Square. (Submitted on November 2, 2013.)
Categories. Notable Buildings
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. This page originally submitted on November 2, 2013, by Duane Hall of Abilene, Texas. This page has been viewed 371 times since then and 17 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3. submitted on November 2, 2013, by Duane Hall of Abilene, Texas.
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