Th, District Courthouse and Jail situated on the corner of Water and Pitt Streets, has been a landmark in Cornwall since it was constructed in 1833. The main block of the present courthouse complex has been in continuous use since 1833 and is now one of the oldest remaining public structures in all of Ontario.
The courthouse and jail have an interesting history dating back to 1802 when the first building was erected. That two-story building was small measuring only 30 x 24 feet. The lower floor was comprised of three rooms; one for the jailer and two for the prisoners. Solid 12-inch hand-hewn timbers made up the floor below and above the cells with 24 inch, 8 foot high walls and partitions to keep the prisoners in their place. A fireplace at one end was linked to another above providing heat during the winter months. The upstairs consisted of one large room and two smaller rooms for use by the Court and Petit Jury.
During the war of 1812, the Court House was actually given over for use as barracks and the courts were moved to St. John’s Church and local taverns.
In the winter of 1826, the building burned to the ground and the court was moved once again to a building on the corner of Pitt and Second Streets (later the King George Hotel). A house on Fourth Street was rented and fitted for use as a Gaol.
Plans for the new Court House and Gaol were begun at once with the main block being completed in the summer of 1833 at a total cost of 5,500 pounds.
Over the years several additions and changes have been made to the original building. The small stone building on the west side was erected in 1836 to serve as a barracks for a company of the 15th Regiment which had been called in to keep the peace during construction of the Cornwall Canal.
In 1858-59 an addition was made to the west side for a jailer’s residence, while the cells were reconfigured to provide separate quarters for men and women prisoners.
In 1868-69 an internal reorganization of the two floors was completed, especially the jail, and outdoor privies were constructed.
In 1885 the building was expanded for a county office annex. In 1958 and 1959 the Pitt Street section of the jail wall was replaced by an office building.
Finally during the mid-1970’s, following the transfer of the jail to the management of the provincial government, the interior of the jail was again reorganized and the former jailer’s residence was converted to office use.
The jail was closed in the fall of 2002 in favor of newer, larger facilities in Ottawa. The former jailer’s residence is currently the office of Cornwall & Seaway Valley Tourism, while the jail has been kept as it was when closed in 2002. Tours of the jail portion of the building will be offered to the general public, beginning in mid-May 2005.
The Historic Jail is a Tourist Attraction in Cornwall, Ontario, Canada