Lkboehm's Blog

Urban History Blog

Courthouse Squares September 6, 2014

Not every American city is the product of careful urban planning. Typically cities founded by English colonists evolved organically, without much prior planning as to physical design. But in the West, cities were often the product of intense real estate speculation, and began as designs executed on paper before roads were laid and timber was erected for homes, commercial, and municipal buildings.

In the West, many cities centered around a courthouse square, which showcased the municipality’s political importance within the state or county. The solid and architecturally detailed courthouses, located in the center of the city’s commercial and civic life, provided a physical reminder of the democratic ideals of the nation. Courthouse squares featured monuments celebrating regional history, as well as providing central spaces for public speeches and demonstrations. They could also be the sites of riots, or the location of lynchings.

Indiana, which features many courthouse squares, has launched an intriguing study of the phenomenon. See


The pictures here are of the fabulous courthouse square in Portland, Oregon.



One Response to “Courthouse Squares”

  1. jmartel701 Says:

    Lisa, the Kansas State Capitol building in Topeka really captures what you are saying here about a statement made from architecture and planning. It is set way back on the plot, so when you approach the building you get the sense that you are entering a different realm – one of democracy and debate about public issues. It is also gorgeous, whereas the rest of Topeka has an old western feel and has seen better days. Quite an interesting place…


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