Arts & Culture

Old Courthouse Arts Center


The Old Courthouse Arts Center is an inclusive community based arts center managed by the Northwest Area Arts Council located on the historic Woodstock Square promoting artists in all genres.

The Old Courthouse was constructed in 1857, a classic brick structure designed by one of the country’s most prominent architects, John Mills Van Osdel. The adjoining Sheriff’s House & Jail was built 30 years later. After 115 years as the focal point of McHenry County government, the county outgrew the buildings in 1972 and the complex was to be demolished for a parking lot. But it was saved from the wrecker’s ball by Woodstock residents Cliff and Bev Ganschow. The Ganschows bought the buildings and began an extensive renovation program completed for American’s Bicentennial in 1976. Because of the buildings’ architectural and historical significance, both the Old Courthouse and Sheriff’s House & Jail are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Today the Old Courthouse complex is a proud landmark. Revival as the anchor of historic Woodstock Square (originally named Courthouse Square) for you and your family’s and friends’ enjoyment. Its entire three floors, totaling more than 30,000 square feet, are no occupied by unique restaurants, galleries and studios. Here you can still see the original pressed tin ceilings… impenetrable wooden jail doors…massive iron vaults with doors that are beautifully decorated with hand painted murals and floral motifs…election tallies recorded and preserved on a giant chalkboard…high arched doorways…an elegant winding stairway, and many other handsome vestiges of the 19th century which make the Old Courthouse complex a fascinating place to explore. The Woodstock Public House, which occupies the entire ground level floor, complements the authentic atmosphere with an All-America dining experience.

Over the years, the Old Courthouse and the Sheriff’s House & Jail has witnessed a panorama of American life and history. One of the most famous prisoners was Socialist leader Eugene V. Debs, jailed here after the great Pullman strikes of the late 1800’s. In the Roaring Twenties two of American’s most notorious bootleggers, ‘Dapper Dan’ McCarthy and Ear Weiss served a stretch in the McHenry County Jail. In 1932 ‘Lone Wolf; Loftus, billed as America’s greatest bank robber, was captured and jailed in Woodstock after authorities bad been trailing him for nearly three years. Another notorious gangster, Frank ‘Red’ McGee, sawed his way out of jail during the holidays leaving a farewell Merry Christmas note to the sheriff. The Jail’s death cell was used only once, after a minor Chicago politician and all-around hoodlum murdered a Chicago alderman over a drink of whiskey. He was hanged in the Square in 1886, the only hanging ever in McHenry County.

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