Bel Air Courthouse Historic District
Office, Courtland & Main Streets, Bel Air, Harford County
The Bel Air Courthouse Historic District is a small cohesive group of buildings, mostly two or three stories of brick or frame construction that were erected or renovated in the 19th to early 20th century period and border the Harford County Courthouse which is a grand scale brick structure. The terrain gently rises from Main Street to the courthouse, more so along Courtland Street than Office Street, and slopes down to Bond Street. Although the courthouse is set back with a lawn in front, the district has a small and crowded characteristic created by the low scale buildings and the narrowness of the streets. The buildings exhibit various stylistic influences, classical, Renaissance and Georgian Revival, and Victorian but the majority are simple in form and decorative detail. From the Main Street side, the district has a small town turn-of-the-20th-century feel. From the Bond Street side, this feeling is abruptly intruded by the huge-scaled contemporary courthouse addition added in the 1980s. The only other non-contributing aspect is a small scale 1960s building at 4 Office Street. Adding to the historic character of the district are two 18th century survey stones along Bond Street that mark the county plot.
The Bel Air Courthouse Historic District is the only cohesive concentration of buildings in the commercial section of Bel Air that best represents an important aspect of the growth and development of this county seat. From 1880 through the beginning of World War I, canning of fruits and vegetables was the third most important industry in Maryland. Harford was one of the counties which led the state in the industry. As the legislative center of the county, Bel Air also developed as the financial and commercial center which it still holds today. The two-street town rapidly expanded with residential additions and the center of town was in-filled with commercial buildings. The expanded importance of the community during this period is emphasized with major additions in 1905 to the courthouse in a Renaissance Revival style and the boldly designed financial institutions surrounding the courthouse. Of particular note are the Second National Bank and Farmers and Merchants Bank Buildings on Office Street which are elaborately fronted Georgian Revival structures from the first quarter of the 20th century. These noteworthy buildings combined with the more modest and conservative structures which make up the bulk of the district reflect the role, attitudes, and nature of Bel Air from the mid 19th to the mid 20th century.