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The Courthouses of Early Virginia

An Architectural History
Carl R. Lounsbury

BUY Cloth · 430 pp. · 7 × 10 · ISBN 9780813923017 · $69.50 · Feb 2005

Abbott Lowell Cummings Prize, Vernacular Architecture Forum (2006)

Court day in early Virginia transformed crossroads towns into forums for citizens of all social classes to transact a variety of business, from legal cases heard before the county magistrates to horse races, ballgames, and the sale and barter of produce, clothing, food, and drink. As marketplace, playing field, social center, and administrative and judicial county seat, the courthouse grounds gave rise to an array of public and private buildings. The Courthouses of Early Virginia is the first comprehensive history of the public buildings that formed the nucleus of this space and the important private buildings that grew up around them.

Carl R. Lounsbury surveys the architectural history of these buildings, from their undifferentiated forms in 1650 to 1800, when they had developed into specialized structures that reflected the growth of a wealthy agricultural society built on slave labor. After setting the context of legal and social affairs that conditioned the design, construction, and function of county government buildings, he examines the example of Yorktown. He then proceeds with a thematic exploration of issues including the rise of courthouses of greater civic aspiration and aesthetic ambition, the public building process, attitudes toward punishment and prisons, and the role of taverns and clerk's offices in the legal process. He concludes with a discussion of the evolution of the courthouse grounds into the broader civic squares that characterized many Virginia cities and towns by the early nineteenth century.

With abundant drawings, photographs, and maps and a checklist of important public buildings in early Virginia, Lounsbury's study will fascinate and delight architectural historians, architects, students, and Virginians involved in law and government.

Colonial Williamsburg Studies in Chesapeake History and Culture


[Lounsbury's] study is a definitive one that historians will count a primary vreference for years to come.

Richmond Times Dispatch

The Courthouses of Early Virginia is an invaluable contribution to architectural, social, and political history and adds much in the way of architectural and archaeological discovery to the early period of the Virginia 'courthouse square.' Dr. Lounsbury goes far beyond the survey with detailed investigation of the origins of the court system in Virginia, the evolution of the courthouse plan and the prison system, and the clerks' offices and taverns that support that system. His extensive knowledge and research of not only Virginia but also North Carolina and Maryland examples adds valuable comparative data, as does his references to English municipal buildings and Virginia Anglican churches.

K. Edward Lay,, author of, Professor Emeritus of Architecture, University of Virginia, author of The Architecture of Jefferson Country

About the Author(s): 

Carl R. Lounsbury, Architectural Historian at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, is the author of An Illustrated Glossary of Early Southern Architecture and Landscape (Virginia), among other books.

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