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History of the United States Courthouse

The United States Courthouse (Alexander Pirnie Federal Building) was constructed in 1928-29 at the site where an earlier Post Office, circa 1882, stood. The 1882 Post Office was two stories tall, constructed of red brick with stone detailing. Portions of the thick stone walls and vaults of the original basement remain as part of the current Courthouse. There are also reports that iron beams and posts were encased in concrete and incorporated into the present structure.

Funding for the new federal building, designated at that time to be a "renovation" of the 1882 Post Office, was authorized as part of a $15,000,000 appropriation for new public buildings at specific locations, including Utica. The original contract for the building was for $427,000, which was increased by $8,800 to include a gabled, slate roof upon which the flagpole was located.

Private architects could not be used to design buildings under this federal appropriation. Rather, the Supervising Architect of the Department of the Treasury was responsible for the design. James A. Wetmore, a lawyer and a judge, was Supervising Architect from 1915 to 1933. He assigned the role of designing the Utica federal building, as well as others built during this period, to Louis A. Simon. The building design reflects simple classical elements typical of Starved Classicism, a style popular for public buildings of the 1920s and 1930s. It was clad with limestone and buff-colored brick, the details of which were executed in stone.

The building was constructed as a Post Office, Courthouse, and Custom House. The first floor, with a square floor plan, was occupied by the post office and public lobby. The second floor consisted of offices in a square around an inner light court. The third floor was U-shaped.

The Post Office remained in the building for about fifty years. The interior of the first floor still contains the original details including the post office boxes and windows. Also retaining original details are the public lobby on the first floor, the stairwells, the third floor corridors, and most of the public restrooms. The courtroom on the third floor also contains original details, including the original furniture. No additions have been made to the building, and all four exterior facades are intact.

Various federal agencies currently occupy offices on the first and second floors. The United States Bankruptcy Court is on the second floor. The third floor houses offices of the United States Courts, including the United States District Court courtroom.


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