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Court History



The District of Maine was one of the original thirteen district courts established by the Judiciary Act of 1789.  A district court was created in each of the eleven states that had ratified the Constitution by September, 1789, as well as in Maine (then part of Massachusetts) and Kentucky (then still part of Virginia).  Although the Court sat primarily in Portland, sessions were also held in Pownalborough and Wiscasset during the first half of the nineteenth century.  In 1843, a term of court was first authorized to be held in Bangor.  There was only one judge in the District of Maine until an additional judgeship was authorized in 1978.  A third judgeship was authorized in 1990.



One Hundred Years ~ Edward T. Gignoux U.S. Courthouse ~ 1911- 2011


            Construction of the United States Courthouse, now known as the Edward T. Gignoux U.S. Courthouse (dedicated in 1988), began in November, 1908.  The building was completed in February, 1911, and dedicated on July 20, 1911. 

            The Thursday, July 20, 1911, edition of the Portland Evening Express reported: 

Distinguished Attendance at Dedication of New Building, Impressive Exercises at Fine Federal Courts Building This Afternoon.  Judge William I. Putnam of the U.S. Circuit Court, Judge Clarence Hale of the U.S. District Court, the Right Rev. Robert Codman, Bishop of the Diocese of Maine of the Protestant Episcopal Church, entered the court room.  Judges Putnam and Hale occupied their positions on the bench.  The dedicatory exercises were presided over by Judge Putnam and were opened with prayer by Bishop Codman.  Judge Putnam, without preamble, introduced U.S. District Attorney Robert Treat Whitehouse, who delivered the opening address.”


            James Knox Taylor (1857-1929), the Supervising Architect of the United States Treasury from 1897 to 1912, designed the building in the Second Renaissance Revival style.   F.W. Cunningham & Sons, Portland contractors, constructed the courthouse, as well as other notable Portland landmarks, such as the Cumberland County Courthouse, Portland High School, Nathan Clifford School, additions to Union Station, Evergreen Cemetery, and the Chapel at St. Luke’s Church, to name a few.  The U.S. Courthouse is one of several government buildings which form a distinguished group near Lincoln Park in the center of the city, which includes the U.S. Custom House (1872), Cumberland County Courthouse (1910), and Portland City Hall (1912).  The U.S. Courthouse was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.    

            When constructed in 1911, the Courthouse occupied the southwestern half of the lot bounded on the northwest by Federal Street, on the northeast by Pearl Street, on the southeast by Newbury Street, and on the southwest by Market Street.  The main entrance was at the western corner, facing the junction of Market and Federal Streets.  The building was a “u” shape, open toward Pearl Street. 

            The cornerstone for an addition was laid in September, 1931.  The addition was a “u” shaped wing added to the existing building on the northeastern end.  The United States Courthouse became a trapezoid, enclosing a courtyard, which filled the entire block.  Construction was completed by November, 1932.

            In 1932, the original section of the Courthouse was used by the United States Courts, including the U.S. Courtroom, the Grand Jury Room, the U.S. Bankruptcy Courtroom, offices for the officials connected with the courts and a GSA office.  The addition housed the Pearl Street Station branch of the U.S. Postal Service and the offices of various federal agencies.  The Pearl Street Station branch was removed in 1976.

            The Courthouse is two stories high with a hip roof which encloses a third story.  The roof slopes back to reveal dormer windows with arched pediments.  Windows on the first two stories are elaborately treated with balustrade segments below them.  They are surmounted by raised triangular or arched pediments.  At the roof line a continuous frieze and dentil cornice and balustrade of open balusters and solid panels runs around the entire building.  The exterior of the original building is granite which came from North Jay, Maine; and the granite for the addition came from Vermont.  Many of the original finishes in the interior of the Courthouse are intact:  marble and terrazzo flooring, molded wood trim, marble trim, molded plaster cornices.  Of special interest is the building’s formal entrance.   The entrance leads into the elliptical rotunda, an elegant and open two-story foyer with refined classical detailing.  The rotunda features a curving marble staircase with a balustrade of thin cast-iron balusters, rising to the second floor along the perimeter of the room. 

            In 1992, a major renovation project began to modernize and renovate the historic fabric of the building.  Designs were prepared by Leers, Weinzapfel of Boston.  The improvements included two full-sized district courtrooms and a magistrate judge’s hearing room.  A wholly new courtroom was constructed inside the old building.  A wall painting, The Virtues of Good Government, is a frieze located just below the courtroom’s skylight.  The mural by Dorothea Rockburne is “a modern contemplation on the virtues of prudence, faith, common good, hope and magnanimity, using pure geometry and vibrant color as meditative devices.”   The original Courtroom One was carefully restored to its original design including arched casement windows, period light fixtures, its original color palette, and replicated plaster moldings for the ceiling.   Copies of the original chandeliers and wall sconces were crafted and installed in the original locations.

            The Reopening Ceremony was held June 26, 1996.  As a result of the project, the Edward T. Gignoux U.S. Courthouse was awarded an Institutional Preservation Award from Greater Portland Landmarks in 1999.

           In 2012, in its 100th year, the Edward T. Gignoux U.S. Courthouse underwent an extensive exterior building envelope improvement to restore the roof and granite façade, as well as some associated interior repairs. This work was completed in the summer of 2013



Supporting Documents
District of Maine Judges and Magistrate Judges
A Brief History of the US District Court for the District of Maine, by Neal Allen
Portland Courthouse Dedication Booklet from 9-19-1988
First Century of the Bench and Bar of Maine 1820-1920, Address by Clarence Hale