Piscataquis County-Dover-Foxcroft, MaineImage of Piscataquis County Courthouse

The following excerpt is reprinted by permission from The Courthouses of Maine, Robert K. Sloane, Senior Editor.

The County Courthouse

The people of Piscataquis County, on the early frontier of settlement in Maine, have been served by seven courthouses--only three of which were located within the county.  Although settlers reached Piscataquis County in 1794, it took over 40 years for the services of the court to be located in a convenient local courthouse within the county.

By the time the first settlers arrived, the area had been made part of Hancock County with a shire town at Castine, nearly 75 miles away on a route compromised of a lengthy footpath and a river.  Built in 1790, Castine’s courthouse was used by settlers of the land that became Piscataquis County for county courts and, perhaps most important, the registry of deeds.  The courthouse stood opposite a stone jail where residents were detained if necessary and where lawbreakers would have been held in the stocks for public punishments.

To get to the courthouse in Castine or the Registry of Deeds took a three day walk from Dover and Foxcroft through the wilderness to Bangor, followed by a 35 mile sail on the river (or another 2 or 3 day hike on the riverbank).  Few lawyers were willing and able to make the trip for their clients.  For appeals to the Supreme Judicial Court, residents of the future Piscataquis traveled to Boston, since Maine was then a part of Massachusetts.  A trip to Boston required the settlers to walk the three days to Bangor and once there to obtain passage by boat for the remainder of the 240 mile trip.

In the winter of 1838, when the bill establishing Piscataquis County was before the Maine Legislature, objections were registered regarding the expense of constructing and maintaining buildings for the proposed new county.  Anxious to assure a favorable result, the proprietors of the Universalist Society of Dover and Foxcroft sent a message to the state house in Augusta proposing a unique arrangement:  in return for the State’s establishment of Dover as the shire town for the new county, the church’s proprietors would permit the use of the five-year old church building as a courthouse during the week (reserving the use of the building on Sunday as a place of worship).  The church proprietors offered to sign a written contract for the use of the church as a courthouse so long as it might be needed, free expense to the state.  With this offer, the legislative battle was won, Piscataquis Count was formed, and Dover became the county seat. The first term of the Court of Common Pleas was held in the Universalism meeting-house on September 18, 1838.

In 1839 the Court of Common Pleas was replaced by the District Court and six years after the founding of the county, the need for a permanent building became apparent.  The first courthouse built specifically for Piscataquis county courts was erected in 1844.  The town was proud of this sturdy courthouse.  It was used for special occasion, including seasonal use by church congregations needing housing.  The walls of the building still exist as part of the present courthouse.

The old courthouse served well into the early Victorian Era, but after 40 years the building needed expansion and modernization.  In 1885 the Piscataquis County Commissioners obtained help from the legislature, providing $12, 000 in state money for courthouse expansion.  The formal opening of the new courthouse was a major civic occasion.  On Thursday, February 18, 1886, the new building was dedicated with celebratory exercises. 

Since 1886, the “new” courthouse remained the focus and location of Piscataquis County administration and court activities.  In 1930 the Superior Court took up business in the building.  In 1956 a wing to the east of the building was added to the courthouse as new space for the cramped county offices.  The courthouse was renovated in 1975 and between 1988 and 1990.  During the 1975 period renovations, a former residence was remodeled to provide a separate building for the District Court.  This building had become a courthouse annex.  As the most recent courthouse for Piscataquis County, this building becomes the seventh building used for court purposes.