Ithaca Builds

Mapping, photos and information for Ithaca construction and development projects

Historic Structures: Tompkins County Courthouse and Old Jail

January 22, 2014 // by Jason Henderson

Excerpt from Ithaca and its Past:

“A particularly interesting case is that of J. Lakin Baldridge, who practiced from 1923 to 1937. Baldridge was born in Cincinnati in 1892 but grew up in Jersey City, N.J. He studied architecture at Cornell and graduated in 1915. After serving in the Navy, he returned to Cornell for his M.A., which he received in 1922, and then became an assistant professor. In 1924 he opened his own office. In the late 1920s and early 1930s Baldridge designed several handsome Neo-Georgian (Colonial Revival) buildings downtown, including the new county courthouse and the jail (both 1932); the Cayuga Apartments (1930), 100 W. Buffalo; and the Seneca Building (1928), 121 E. Seneca. He also did Thurston Court in Cornell Heights and several Cayuga Heights residences, including his own, which he named Robin Hill, at 511 Cayuga Heights Road [7 bedroom, 6.5 bath mansion]. After the courthouse was completed, however, Baldridge did little work. He had inherited a large amount of stock in 1931; with the worsening of the Depression, he apparently felt he shouldn’t take commissions away from those who needed the money more. He then built a home in Bermuda and spent much of his time deep-sea fishing [Baldridge commissioned Sparkman & Stephens to build a boat for him, the “Cleopatra”, which was finished and launched in 1959- you can see pictures and plans of it here]. He died in London in 1969.

Tompkins County Courthouse (1932) 320 North Tioga Street
This is the third and most recent courthouse in Tompkins County. (The second one is two buildings west on Court Street.) Designed by J. Lakin Baldridge in the Neo-Georgian style, it features a double staircase leading to the main entrance, bronze double doors in an elaborate entranceway, a central bay that is set forward slightly, tall pilasters, and a round window in the main pediment. Inside is a marble-lined lobby. Formed in 1817, Tompkins County was named after Daniel D. Tompkins, vice president elect of the United States at the time. Tompkins had been a lawyer, congressman, state supreme court justice, and governor of New York before serving as vice president during the two terms of James Monroe’s presidency.

Tompkins County Jail (1932) 125 East Court Street
You will not be surprised to learn that this jail was built at the same time, and designed by the same architect (J. Lakin Baldridge), as the new courthouse.”

Courtesy of The History Center in Tompkins County

The Tompkins County Court sits in the 6th Judicial District (basically the Southern Tier), serving as the main courthouse for prosecuting crimes within the county, with exclusive authority to prosecute felonies, and shared authority with the Towns, City and Villages for minor misdemeanors and minor violations. The Old Jail is now office space, housing the County Administration, Attorney’s Office, Finance Department, Purchasing Division, Personnel Office, Public Information, Training and Development, and the County Treasury.

The Tompkins County Courthouse:



The Tompkins County Old Jail: