The greatest need of Perry County, when it was created from the Ste. Genevieve District in 1821 was a courthouse. Although there were a few small areas where groups of people lived, there were no towns in the county where a courthouse could be built.
Bernard Layton gave the county 51 acres of his 640-acre Spanish Land Grant for that purpose. The land was to be laid out in lots and sold to raise money to build the first Perry County Courthouse.
In the meantime, the Perry County Court met four times a year in the home of Bede Moore, a two-story log building about one and a half miles north of Perryville to conduct county business.
In 1825, a contract was made for the first courthouse. Funding for the $1,486.25 project came from the sale of 55 lots from the property deeded to the county by Layton.
It was 1826 before the first courthouse was ready to use on the square. No pictures or sketches of the white two-storied frame building with green shutters and a Spanish brown roof with cupola sitting on top have survived. Thomas Hayden contracted to build this courthouse on the northeast corner of the square and completed it in 1826.
By 1859 the first courthouse had been outgrown and, in that year, the second Courthouse was built just west of the first one. This building was in the center of the north side of the square and was a two-storied Federal style brick building built for $8,000. John R. Layton superintended the construction and it was completed in 1861. This building continued in use until after the turn of the century when grand jury reports indicated the condition of the building was beyond repair.
In 1903 county residents presented a petition calling for an election and supported a proposition for a $30,000 bond issue to finance a new courthouse. From several plans submitted the Court selected a proposal from J.W. Gaddis of Vincennes, Indiana.
Caldwell and Drake from Columbus, Indiana contracted for construction in January 1904 and work began in February. The laying of the cornerstone ceremony was on June 4, 1904. The celebration included a parade, speeches, music and the largest crowd, ever assembled in Perry County to watch as a huge block of stone was place in its bed of mortar where it has remained for generations. With elements of Federal, Romanesque, Gothic and Classical styles the courthouse was completed on November 17, 1904 when Gaddis officially handed over the keys to the governing body. Total cost of the red brick, 65-by-92-foot building was $32,762.98.
A deep well was sunk for water on the property and other modern amenities were included such as a boiler system for heat and a tile sewer for plumbing.
In February of 1905 wrecking and removing the old courthouse began along with the sale of old furniture.
In 2015 the courthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and the citizens of Perry County voted to support a tax for its upkeep. In 2017 the courthouse underwent a major renovation to repair and preserve its original beauty and significance to the history of Perry County.
Over the last one hundred years the present-day courthouse has conducted the county and state business dealing with land records, birth and death records, court proceedings, laws, elections, county maintenance and many other daily activities. It has been modernized with many new inventions such as telephones, electric, indoor plumbing, heating and air conditioning systems and an elevator.
Over the years the Perry County Health Department, Perry County’s 911 Department, Probation Office, Coroner, Prosecuting Attorney, Sheriff, County Commission, County Clerk, County Treasurer, County Collector, Circuit Clerk, Circuit Court, Recorder of Deeds and County Assessor have held office within its walls. Over the last one hundred years we too have grown and expanded our county offices. Today only the Circuit Clerk, Circuit Court, Recorder of Deeds, Juvenile Office and County Administrator are housed there.
Group tours of the Perry County Courthouse are available by appointment. Please contact Trish Erzfeld, Director of the Perry County Heritage Tourism.