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The Old Fitchburg Courthouse






The Old Fitchburg Courthouse

Across from Monument Park, in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, stands an uncommonly magnificent piece of historical architecture. Local residents know the place well, but to an outsider the purpose of the old structure may not be immediately discernible. The gray stonework, high peaked roofs, and ornate carvings, do not convey the typical tone of an old courthouse, which is what it was constructed as back in 1871. Unfortunately, while the city of Fitchburg continues with the clamor of daily life just outside its doors, the old courthouse sits silent and disused, replaced long ago by present court just across the street.

Though a small portion of the ground level was in use as a law library through late 2013, the upper floors were shuttered at the closing of the last trial to take place here, in the late 1970's. The rooms and chambers above the first floor have since turned into a kind of giant time-capsule, all things left in place from when the last court had adjourned over thirty years ago. The upper-most floors still contain the simple wooden chairs and tables, where jurors would await being called to serve. In the courtroom itself, the state and national flags remain standing, dust covered, high above the judges podium. The air here is still and heavy, doubly so in the hot summer months. Sunlight reflects off the windshields of cars passing below, and dances upon the ceiling. These random flashes are the only bit of movement in the otherwise motionless surroundings.

On each side of the room can be found the jury stand, next to which the bailiff desk, dry-rotting with age. Just beyond lie the deliberation rooms, where a jury would come to a verdict around a circular table. Within the drawers and cubbyholes of these tables can be found scrawled messages from ages past. Pen, pencil, and etched messages convey simple dates such as “Nov 14, 1913” to short memos stating things such as “WF Black of Worchester won $5.00 March 22nd, 1928”.

Today the old Ficthburg Courthouse is mostly a thing of local interest, however it did have its moment in the Hollywood spotlight. The 1961 film “By Love Possessed “ featured the courthouse prominently in the opening sequence, though its role in the movie was that of a gentleman’s club. Even though the film is obscure today, it was a noteworthy event during its time. Directed John Sturgess (The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape) it was based upon a very popular novel by the same name. Many locals still remember the week in which the film was being shot, primarily due to the fact that production closed down several major roadways. Still others recall being paid as extras, to fill the background of scenes filmed around the city.


 

In the attic jurors waited until called to hear a trial. On our visit it was well over 100 degrees in this room, 
one can only imagine how jurors must have felt in this room wearing period clothing, well before the advent of air conditioning.


After the last court case was held here, the city simply shut these massive wooden doors for 30+ years, turning the room into a giant time capsule.



 





Water had begun to erode the roof through the years of disuse.
A deliberation room. Jurors discussed cases around a circular table.


In front of each juror was found a drawer, for them to store notes pertaining to the case. 
These drawers came to be covered in notes and messages throughout the century, as seen in the following few images...
 
 





 

 

 We went back to the old courthouse after dark, to photograph it by glow of the streetlights.


 
 
 




 
 
 
The following screen-captures from the opening of "By Love Possessed", 
provided by E. Baird of Crush Media