This is the first of several caches I’ve placed around Saint John, highlighting historically significant locations in the city. Other caches in the series include:
Saint John is a city steeped in history. Commonly referred to as ‘the Loyalist City’ as well as ‘Canada’s Most Irish City,’ Saint John is Canada's oldest incorporated city (1785). Saint John is home to this country's oldest museum and farmers market. Saint John also established Canada's first police force. This city has been welcoming people from Eastern Europe, England and Ireland for centuries, with each group of immigrants leaving their unique imprint on Saint John culture, architecture and language.
Despite being some distance away, the perspective from the cache location, facing west, offers a great vantage point to view an important building from the city’s history - The County Court House & Spiral Staircase.
The original Saint John County Court House was built in 1797 and was located where Market Square currently sits at the foot of King Street. The top floor was used for the court which shared it’s facilities with the city, while the bottom level was used as a farmer's market. Because Saint John was faced with a need to serve justice to a growing population, Common Council appointed a building committee to seek design submissions for a new building. The New Court House was designed to provide space for the county and provincial courts, as well as for Common Council, the city courts and administrative offices. Submission from local architect John Cunningham was granted in May of 1824, and the stonemason was a fellow Scot named Robert Barbour. Construction began in 1825, and was completed in 1829 at a cost of about $43,000.00. The Court House was fully finished and occupied in 1830. Unlike other county courthouses in the Province, the Saint John County Court House is the only pre-1900 courthouse entirely constructed from stone. The front wall is composed of massive sandstone blocks imported from England, where they are called freestone by the quarrymen. By contrast, the stone at the rear of the building is chiefly of local origin, presumably much of it having been saved during excavation of the foundation.
The focal point of the building is an impressive free standing spiral staircase. It is the only spiral staircase known to exist in Canada that was built of stone in the 19th century. The stone staircase spirals up three storeys without a central support. Each of the 49 steps in the staircase was cut from a solid block of stone It is said that one hundred tons of stone were quarried in Scotland and brought to Saint John to build the stairway. The staircase has a finely wrought iron railing with a geometric sequence of overlapping ovals following a neo-classical English tradition of the 18th Century.
Despite being one of the few buildings that survived the Great Fire of 1877, it did suffer damage from another major fire in February of 1919 leaving only the walls and the spiral staircase. Luckily, the historic building was saved as pressure from local groups, including the Board of Trade and the New Brunswick Historical Society, amongst others, prevented demolition of the building with the intention of the erection of a civic centre on the site. In 1924, another Saint John architect Garnet Wilson was involved with the rebuilding with James Sproul eventually became the general contractor. The building was completed at a cost of $78,951.86.
The Saint John County Courthouse is open to the public year round from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. each workday. Admission is free and tours may be provided from May until September
The building is currently designated as a National Historic Site.
Congrats to SVFT on being FTF!