Description of Historic Place
Mackenzie Hall, the former Essex County Court House, is a stately two-storey stone landmark constructed in 1855-56 by Alexander Mackenzie, Canada's second Prime Minister.
A visually dominating presence in the historic Sandwich community of west Windsor, within a grouping of historic buildings, it is recognized for its heritage value by the City of Windsor By-law 5894, 1978.
Prominently sited on landscaped grounds at the corner of Brock and Sandwich Streets, Mackenzie Hall is a visually dominating presence in the historic former Town of Sandwich. In close proximity to other 19th century buildings, it is the most important component of the heritage character in the neighbourhood.
Mackenzie Hall was built by Alexander Mackenzie (1822-92), who later became Canada's second prime minister (1873-78). The self-educated Scottish stonemason was head of Mackenzie Builders of Port Sarnia at the time. Mackenzie's experience with this and other notable building projects undoubtedly influenced his decision to assume the public works portfolio while he was Prime Minister. During this time he was responsible for an extensive program to encourage the building of appropriate public buildings across the county.
Formerly the Essex County Court House, this building is a symbol of the administration of justice during the province's early years. When Detroit gained independence from British rule in 1796, the British authority moved across the river, and Sandwich became the Legislative Seat of Government of the Western District of Upper Canada (Ontario). This structure is the fourth court building on the same site to serve the Western District and later Essex County. The first, an abandoned blockhouse, burned in 1797, and the second was burned by American troops during the War of 1812. A brick court house, completed in 1820, was used until this building opened in 1856.
From land claim disputes to murder trials, the court house was the focus of public attention for more than 100 years. When the courts moved to downtown Windsor in 1963, the building served as headquarters for Essex County Council until 1974. In 1982, it was acquired by the City of Windsor, restored and renamed Mackenzie Hall in honour of its builder. It reopened in 1985 as a community cultural centre.
Mackenzie Hall resides was built with stately lines and at an impressive scale and massing, all which conveys a sense of authority and dignity. It was designed by prominent Detroit-based architect Albert H. Jordan, who incorporated Italianate (Tuscan Renaissance Revival) elements into the basically mid-Victorian Classical Revival architectural style that was prevalent in civic buildings at the time. These elements are expressed in the rich texture of the exterior materials (rough-hewn limestone and sandstone trim), the symmetrically organized façade, the elevated first storey, the stylized classical detailing and the heavy cornice. Other noteworthy features on the front façade include the four pilasters, rounded segmental pediment, and Palladian style entrance.
The building has undergone a number of alterations over the years. In 1892, Mason and Rice of Detroit remodelled the entire interior, including the furnishings, many of which are still utilized in the building today. Together with other artifacts, they reflect the building's original use and enhance its heritage and aesthetic values.
Sources: City of Windsor By-law 5894, 1978, and City of Windsor Heritage Planner's files.
Character defining elements that contribute to the building's heritage value include its:
- impressive form, scale and massing
- location at a busy intersection in the historic former Town of Sandwich within a grouping of 19th century buildings, which includes the adjacent former Essex County Registry Office (1876) and, directly across the street, St. John's Anglican Church (1819-1871) and Cemetery
- signature stones for the architect and builder flanking the entry steps
- stately two-storey design
- symmetrically organized façade featuring four pilasters with a centre door
- rich texture of exterior materials (rough-hewn Anderdon Township limestone trimmed with ashlar Ohio sandstone)
- blending of mid-Victorian Classical style elements with Italianate (Tuscan Renaissance Revival) elements as expressed in the exterior materials, elevated first storey, stylized classical detailing and heavy wooden cornice
- rounded segmental pediment which rises from the cornice rather than the pilasters
- Palladian style entrance on Sandwich Street with a classically-inspired front doorway featuring a fanlight transom
- original seal of the County of Essex in stone above the main door
- signature stones for the architect and Mackenzie builders flanking the entry steps
- grand windows with mullions and stone surrounds on the front façade, some round headed with voussoirs
- complementary interior furnishings and artifacts, which include the original 1855 cornerstone, antique silent wall clock from 1860, and golden oak bench, witness box, barristers' table and clerk's desk from 1892.