A Brief History
In 1846, the district of Tuality in the Oregon Territory became Tuality County. In 1849, the name was changed to Washington County. Boundary lines were drawn and redrawn until finally in 1855 the shape of Washington County became close to what it is today. In 1853, the first county government was constituted with five members; three Judges, a Sheriff and a Treasurer.
The first courthouse in the county was a simple log cabin situated on a 40-acre plot of land near what is now NW 253rd Avenue. The land was sold to the local government by David Hill, for whom the city of Hillsboro was later named.
The second courthouse was built in 1852 on a plot of land donated by Isaiah and Winifred Kelsey. This courthouse, a two-story cedar structure, was located at N. 1st and Main, where the current courthouse stands.
Washington County Courthouse circa 1873
In 1873, a new brick County Courthouse was built to replace the old cedar building, which had burned down. The small white structure behind the courthouse served as the county jail. This structure replaced the original jail building, a one room log cabin. The original jail building still exists. It was moved to the Washington County Fairgrounds in 1953, and has since been restored and relocated to the Washington County Historical Museum. The old log jail was used from 1853 to 1870.
The Old Log Jail
In the early 1890's, the courthouse was remodeled, and a clock tower and extension added. Although the clocks in the tower have hour and minute hands, research indicates that the local government didn't have the money to add clockworks, and some pictures of the courthouse show the clock face without hour and minute hands. The condition of the visible parts of the jail building behind the courthouse shows the building possibly was no longer being used as a jail.
Washington County Courthouse, early 1890's
Group picture, early 1890's
The wooden jail north of the courthouse was then remodeled into an annex in 1912. In 1928, the courthouse was remodeled, giving it its present neo-classical appearance and the main entrance was moved to face 2nd Street on the east instead of south facing Main Street.
After 1912 Remodel
A new building was added to the side of the annex to serve as the jail in the 1970's, and the annex was converted into more courtrooms and staff offices.
The jail saw use until recently when the new jail and Law Enforcement Center was built in the early 2000's. The old jail now serves as a temporary holding area and dispatch for the Washington County Sheriffs' Department.
Built in the 1970's, the Justice Services Building houses state of the art courtrooms, staff, calendaring, accounting offices and the District Attorney’s office.
In its 150 years of service to Washington County, the courthouse has changed its location and face several times, but still serves as the symbol of justice for the citizens of Washington County.
This Far-Off Sunset Land - A Pictorial History of Washington County, Oregon - Carolyn M. Buan Copyright 1999 by Washington County Historical Society.
Our thanks to the Washington County Historical Society and Museum for providing research assistance and original photographs. Please visit their website and their facility. The Museum is located at:
17677 NW Springville Rd Portland, OR 97229
To learn more about Washington County and Hillsboro, please consult the Oregon State Archives
The background image was taken from a mural which is hanging on the wall of the hallway connecting the Courthouse and the Justice Services Building, and is used by permission. A digitized graphic of the mural is available here.