As you approach Carmel while driving along Route 301 from Cold Spring you come to small rise on top of which is the Old Putnam County Courthouse. The first thing you see is the spectacular facade with its large, ornate columns.
The website of the New York State Unified Court System describes the courthouse as follows:
The Putnam County Courthouse is situated prominently in the hamlet of Carmel, the county seat of Putnam. The courthouse overlooks Lake Gleneida and is a fine example of the Greek Revival style of architecture. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. Up until December 1988, when it was closed for repairs, it had been the oldest courthouse in continuous service in New York State. After Putnam County was separated from Dutchess County by the State legislature in September 1812, half an acre of land was designated for the construction of a courthouse. In 1814, the original courthouse was completed. The builder, James Townsend, was also the owner of a nearby forge and was the first man to attempt to get iron from what became known as the “Tilly Foster Mine.” Mr. Townsend incorporated locally forged ironwork in his construction of the courthouse. The first court session was held on February 15, 1815. By the 1840’s the first courthouse was too small for the growing population of the county and a new building was proposed in 1842. It was to be built in Cold Spring, a growing Hudson River community. But owing to a clause in the deed prohibiting construction of the courthouse on another site, the new building was erected on the same site incorporating parts of the earlier structure, especially the old jail. Repeated renovations inside the building have all but destroyed its history but the exterior has remained largely unchanged for its circa 1847 expansion and updating when the stylish temple form with a giant portico, Corinthian columns, and belfry were added. The four columns and their capitals are of particular merit, architecturally, having been constructed from designs meant to copy those found on the Monument of Lysicrates in Athens. Another renovation, in 1855, saw the construction of a jail to replace the jail which stood at the northeast corner of the courthouse and yet another jail was constructed in the structure in 1907. That jail finally closed in 1977. From the mid-1800’s through 1966, the Putnam County Courthouse not only housed the jail, but the County Sheriff and the sheriff’s wife, who, as the jail matron, cooked meals for the prisoners. The top floor of the courthouse was partially destroyed by fire in 1924, but it was repaired and rebuilt exactly as before. However, in the early 1980’s county officials became concerned about the growing disintegration of the courthouse. Deliberations on how to renovate and rehabilitate the historic structure went on for several years. Actual work on the courthouse began in 1989. The architect’s goal was to maintain the exterior style and to return the interior to its original floor plan. The project however, was plagued with many problems and it was not until June 10, 1994 that the historic courthouse reopened. Funds were not available to restore the jail. The cells still remain, and are used primarily as storage space. Currently the courthouse is home to Surrogate’s Court offices. The county office building, located next door to the historic courthouse, was first built in 1822. Since that time, it has undergone many re-creations and revisions. The 1936 expansion created a suite for the county judge and surrogate, a children’s court room and the county library. The county library became the Putnam County Supreme Court Law Library. In December of 2007 the Supreme, County, and Family Courts relocated to it’s new facility located directly next door to the Putnam County Office building, it’s former location. This new location is 4 stories and includes additional courtrooms, waiting areas, a spacious library, holding area for inmates and the Office of the Commissioner of Jurors.