Friends of the Court­house

Vol­un­teer group looks to pro­mote his­tory, en­sure its fu­ture

The Compass - - Front page - BY AN­DREW ROBIN­SON editor@cb­n­com­

The his­toric Pla­cen­tia Court­house, which is now 115 years old, is the fo­cus of a new vol­un­teer group that re­cently came into ex­is­tence in the com­mu­nity. Chair­per­son Anita O’Keefe chat­ted with The Com­pass about Friends of the Court­house’s plans for pro­mot­ing and pro­tect­ing the struc­ture, which the pro­vin­cial govern­ment owns.

Com­mu­nity vol­un­teers in Pla­cen­tia are us­ing their col­lec­tive brain­power to en­sure a build­ing with a long­stand­ing his­tory re­mains in the town for years to come.

The Pla­cen­tia Court­house was built in 1902, mak­ing it 115 years old in 2017.

“The main ob­jec­tive, I guess, is to pre­serve what we have, to pro­tect what we have, and to pro­mote what we have,” said Anita O’Keefe, chair­per­son of the newly formed Friends of the Court­house group. “It’s not just the court­house and the struc­ture, but it’s the his­tory of the court­house and struc­ture, and also the re­lated ju­di­cial sys­tem that goes along with that, be­cause it’s a long, sto­ried his­tory that we have there.”

Ac­cord­ing to O’Keefe, Eu­gene Up­shall con­tacted her af­ter hear­ing a ra­dio in­ter­view she did con­cern­ing the Pla­cen­tia gun, a Ger­man 7mm Field Cannon from the First World War placed in front of the court­house


A Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion and Works em­ployee who was on the verge of re­tir­ing, Up­shall is from the Pla­cen­tia area and has a keen in­ter­est in his­tory.

“So he con­tacted me last fall and he was won­der­ing if there was enough in­ter­est in the area to form a group to kind of get to­gether and talk about the court­house,” said O’Keefe, who is also a mem­ber of the Pla­cen­tia Area His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety.

In­deed, a lot has gone on in­side the walls of the old court­house build­ing. Ac­cord­ing to O’Keefe, it was known as the

Gen­eral Build­ing early on, with a cus­toms of­fice, postal tele­graph, con­sta­ble’s res­i­dence, jailer’s res­i­dence, court­room and mag­is­trate’s of­fice all lo­cated in­side. So­cial ser­vices and a mo­tor ve­hi­cle reg­is­tra­tion of­fice later moved in.

To­day, the build­ing is used on a bi­monthly ba­sis for cir­cuit court, and it also houses of­fices for Eastern Health and the Depart­ment of Chil­dren, Se­niors and So­cial De­vel­op­ment.

The fact it is still in use to­day bodes well for the build­ing’s fu­ture, notes O’Keefe, who adds Up­shall in­formed her the prop­erty is also struc­turally in good


“One of the things that a lot of peo­ple men­tion is it needs to be painted,” she said, in­di­cat­ing it’s likely been 10 years since the last paint job on the build­ing.

One item on the group’s check­list is to get the court­house rec­og­nized as a Reg­is­tered Her­itage Struc­ture. How­ever, the pro­vin­cial govern­ment, as the prop­erty’s owner, would need to take the ini­tia­tive to start that process with the Her­itage Foun­da­tion of New­found­land and Labrador (HFNL).

Ac­cord­ing to O’Keefe, there are two other court­houses in New­found­land orig­i­nat­ing from the same era as the one in Pla­cen­tia, with Wil­liam Henry Churchill re­spon­si­ble for the de­sign on all three. Two of those in Trin­ity and Green­spond are Reg­is­tered Her­itage Struc­tures.

O’Keefe dis­cussed the is­sue with HFNL ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor Jerry Dick and learned his or­ga­ni­za­tion is ac­tively en­gaged with govern­ment on the mat­ter of ap­ply­ing the her­itage des­ig­na­tion to more pub­licly owned prop­er­ties.

“Ba­si­cally, we just want to de­velop aware­ness about the value of the his­tory and the im­por­tance of the build­ing and pro­tect it and pro­mote it as such,” she said.

“Ba­si­cally, we just want to de­velop aware­ness about the value of the his­tory and the im­por­tance of the build­ing and pro­tect it and pro­mote it as such.”

Anita O’Keefe


The Pla­cen­tia Court­house as it stands to­day.

LEFT: The court­house when it had a yel­low paint job, circa 1960s. (Richard Stoker Slide Col­lec­tion/Mar­itime His­tory Ar­chive) RIGHT: A photo of the old court­house dat­ing back to the 1920s. (Face­book)

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