Tusket Court House
Argyle Township Court House and Gaol
Argyle Township Court House
Links and documents
1801/01/01 to 1805/12/31
Listed on the Canadian Register:
Statement of Significance
Description of Historic Place
The Tusket Court House is a two-and-a-half storey wooden building located in the village of Tusket NS. With the gable end facing the water, the large structure is a landmark in the community. Provincial Heritage Registration applies to the building and land.
The Tusket Court House is valued for its age, role in the history of the community of Tusket, for its many original and historic features, and for its architecture.
Construction of the Tusket Court House began in 1804 and completed in 1805, making it the oldest court house and gaol in Canada. At this time Nova Scotia was governed at the local level by Courts of General Sessions of the Peace, which in Tusket were held at the Court House until 1836. The Court House also hosted the Inferior Court of Common Pleas and the Supreme Court, which was overseen by circuit judges. Local judges presided over the lower courts. Supreme Court was last held in the Tusket Court House in 1925, while Magistrate’s Court was held there between 1925 and 1945. Under the County Incorporation Act of 1879, the Courts of General Sessions were eliminated and replaced by municipal governments and the building was converted to municipal offices. In 1976 the local government moved to a modern building.
The Tusket Court House is a simple Greek Revival, two-storey building. Its imposing size and massing have made it a local landmark and somewhat unique in Nova Scotia. While the building underwent several renovations, much of its original form remains. In 1833, with a need for more space, the building’s length was doubled and again extended in the 1870s. The current appearance of the second-storey court room dates from the 1870s renovations. Neither renovation altered the original front façade, with its prominent entrance distinguished by Tuscan style pilasters. The original jury benches, prisoners' docket and judge's podium remain intact. Also intact are the main floor cell blocks and rounded staircase leading to the spectator section of the court room.
The Court House was the seat of government and justice for Tusket and what is now the District of Argyle for one-hundred and seventy-five years. During that time numerous trials were held in the building and countless people confined in the gaol. Located across from the Tusket River in the heart of the community, the building was the centre of activity for two centuries, and continues to serve the community as the Argyle Township Court House and Archives.
Source: Provincial Heritage Property file no. 55
Character-defining elements of the Tusket Court House that relate to its Greek Revival architecture include:
- gable end facing road;
- main entrance in centre of gable end with Tuscan-style pilasters on either side;
- fan light over main entrance;
- Tuscan-style pilasters at corners;
- triangular pediment over fan light;
- eave returns;
- decorative cornerboards.
Character-defining elements of the Tusket Court House that relate to its use as a court house and gaol include:
- windowless prisoner cells on main storey;
- court room on second storey;
- original iron door on main storey leading to cell block;
- original rounded interior stair case leading to gallery;
- original elevated judge’s bench;
- carved rosette in centre of court room ceiling;
- judge’s chambers and jury room directly behind court room;
- original jury benches and prisoners' docket.
General character-defining elements of the Tusket Court House include:
- constructed of local building materials;
- form and massing;
- wooden clapboard cladding;
- gable roof;
- granite foundations;
- location in centre of Tusket;
- wooden cupola;
- double hung sash windows;
- medium pitched roof;
- twelve-over-twelve window over main entrance;
- diamond shaped window in centre of gable on front elevation;
- five symmetrically placed twelve-over-twelve windows on second storey of south and north elevations;
- two twelve-over-twelve windows on ground level of south and north elevations and two smaller windows placed slightly higher than others;
- two twelve-over-twelve window in rear gable end.
Province of Nova Scotia
Heritage Property Act
Provincially Registered Property
Theme - Category and Type
- Governing Canada
- Government and Institutions
- Governing Canada
- Security and Law
Function - Category and Type
- Correctional Facility
- Courthouse and/or Registry Office
- Town or City Hall
Architect / Designer
Location of Supporting Documentation
Provincial Heritage Property Files, 1747 Summer Street, Halifax, NS.
Cross-Reference to Collection
See the Argyle Township Court House fond, Argyle Court House and Archives.