On the 28 June, 1902, Sir Cavendish Boyle laid the cornerstone for the new courthouse in Placentia. Replacing the first Placentia Court House erected in 1774, the architectural design of this wooden building reflects another time. The mansard roof and beautifully curved brackets work in accordance with the evenly spaced windows. Together, these help to frame the noble clock, a feature that distinguishes this noteworthy aspect of the Placentia area landscape. At one time, the clock was a tower. The government of the day later removed the tower, leaving a flat roof. However, it is still possible to see where the upper portion had once existed.
Without question, the current Courthouse emerges from a rich past. During the 1780s, the local authorities permitted the Catholic populace to use the old courthouse as a house of worship. In the summer of 1786, Prince William Henry (later William IV) visited Placentia, acting as magistrate. Britain was officially a Protestant country by this time and thus, he forbade this particular use of the building.
As the decades wore on, the old courthouse remained in continual use, with no repairs or improvements being made. Consequently, the building became dilapidated and in fact, it was listed among the four outpost courthouses in the worst condition. Given this situation, the Grand Jury repeatedly urged the Government to either repair the building or replace it with a new one.
Accordingly, in 1902, under the guidance of Magistrate William O’Reilly, the Government finally took down the old courthouse. In its place, the government erected a new building, one likely designed by architect William H. Churchill. He had been responsible for erecting other courthouses Newfoundland. Although somewhat smaller in size, the courthouse bears a striking similarity to others such as the Bonavista Court House of 1897-99.
Officials laid the cornerstone of the new building in 1902 and it was subsequently completed later the same year (see Under the Clock by Honourable G. Barnable). During its use as a courthouse in the twentieth century, the building had several purposes, such as the Postal Telegraph and Customs Offices, the Gaoler’s residence, the Constable’s residence, the Court Room, Gaol and Magistrate’s offices.
However, with recent changes, the Placentia Courthouse is no longer being used for judicial purposes. It closed as a court centre on the 31 January, 2009 and is currently a circuit court of Harbour Grace. In addition, the space is being used by Eastern health.
Regardless of its use, the courthouse holds an unmistakable place in the landscape of the Placentia area, encapsulating a wealth of history.
Time Period Represented: Early 20th century