© 2024
Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Stark County Courthouse Dedication in Dickinson, 1937


The years of the Great Depression, 1929 to 1940, are often remembered in connection with dust-storms, grasshopper swarms, and New Deal government reforms. Other vestiges of the 1930s live on in the buildings constructed during those “hard times” – reminders of federal government programs, like the P-W-A or the W-P-A, which put unemployed people to work with subsistence wages.

One of the Public Works Administration (PWA) projects, the Stark County Courthouse in Dickinson, had its dedication day described on this date back in 1937. The Bismarck Tribune reported that Judge A.M. Christianson of the state Supreme Court delivered the June 16th keynote address as part of “impressive ceremonies.” Music included a vocal solo by Mrs. Bertha Lefor Becker; songs by the American Legion Drum and Bugle Corps; and tunes from the Dickinson city band.

The courthouse had cost $201,359.50 and “local labor was employed whenever possible.” Work on the three-story-tall courthouse had begun in March of 1936, in the worst year of the decade-long drought.

Architect William F. Kurke of Fargo designed the high-style Stark County Courthouse, using Art Deco details. Art Deco Style flourished in the period between the world wars, and was characterized by ornamentation done in low-relief, meaning that a carving protruded very little from its background. The stone carvings around the exterior windows depicted workers in various trades, including a farmer holding a pitchfork, with a sheaf of wheat and a plow at his feet; and a shepherd with a sheep. There were also abstract designs and the words “STARK COUNTY” inscribed in stone. The courthouse’s front face was buff-colored brick from nearby Hebron; and buff-colored (beige) Indiana limestone.

During the Great Depression, high-quality building materials were available at low cost. The main lobby walls were covered in yellow Kasota stone from Mankato, Minnesota; and Cardiff Green Marble from Maryland. The stairway railings were of solid bronze and the second-story courtroom was finished in Black Walnut.

Because the economy had not recovered, the courthouse was inexpensive to build. WPA’s unskilled workers received just a bit more than $1 per day, or, on average, just $41.57 per month, which was only enough to get by. The PWA paid little more.

The stylish Art Deco Stark County Courthouse still stands in Dickinson, one of nine modernistic-style courthouses built in the state during the Great Depression.

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, History Department, MSU Moorhead.

Sources: “Stark County Dedication Is Held,” Bismarck Tribune, June 17, 1937, p. 2.

“New Courthouses Among Structures Built By PWA Help,” Bismarck Tribune, June 19, 1937, p. 2.

“Dedicate [Cornerstone For] New Stark County Courthouse,” Bismarck Tribune, November 12, 1936, p. 1.

“$11,000,000 Paid Last Year By W.P.A. on N.D.; Material, Other Jobs Besides,” Minot Daily News, January 6, 1937, p. 3.

Average wage in “Works Progress Administration,” Surviving the Dust Bowl, www.pbs.org, accessed on May 21, 2013.

Steven R. Hoffbeck, “Art Deco Architecture in North Dakota,” North Dakota History 62, no. 4, (Fall 1995), p. 16, 24.

L. Martin Perry, “Stark County Courthouse,” National Register of Historic Places Nomination, North Dakota Courthouses Thematic Nomination, November 1985, p. 54.

Royce Yeater, “North Dakota Courthouses: An Architectural Sampler,” North Dakota Horizons, Winter 1980, p. 9.

“Stark’s Courthouse Plans Are Approved,” Bismarck Tribune, January 30, 1936, p. 1.

Edwin Amenta and Drew Halfmann, “Wage Wars: Institutional Politics, WPA Wages, and the Struggle for U.S. Social Policy,” American Sociological Review, Vol. 65, No. 4 (August, 2000), pp. 506-528.