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County Courthouses


Fifty years ago the National Historic Preservation Act was created to help preserve the diverse archaeological and architectural treasures of America. One of the most fundamental and historic types of building is the county courthouse. Realizing this, the architectural historian at the State Historical Society of North Dakota, L. Martin Perry, conducted a survey from October 1984 through May 1985 to assess all the current and former courthouse buildings.

The earliest period of construction ranged from 1883 to 1905. These brick courthouses involved several styles: Italianate, Queen Anne, Gothic Revival, and Romanesque. Courthouses within this group can be found in Benson, Griggs, and Stutsman counties. The second period of construction runs from 1905 to 1922. Many counties, especially those newly formed in the west, erected wood frame structures, such as those found in Billings and McLean counties. These buildings are smaller and simpler than their brick contemporaries. They resemble large residential dwellings more than monumental public architecture.

A third type of courthouse appears about the same time, but these assume a Beaux Arts classical styling, including elements such as a dome, rotunda, rich exterior decorations, statuary, and interior painting. A significant number of courthouses were designed in this style by a St. Paul, Minnesota, firm, Buechner and Orth, and today are dispersed across the state. Examples of this style are found in Divide, Foster, Grand Forks, and LaMoure counties.

A fourth type appeared after the first World War, from 1918 to 1928, featuring of Classical or Federalist revival styles. Special attention was given to three-part horizontal composition, and the use of Greek temple features such as pediments and columns.

The fifth type of courthouse appeared during the Depression, recognizable as Art Deco because of their stylized exterior decoration and the use of setbacks and telescoping structural bays as evidenced in Ward and Burleigh Counties.

The courthouse was the central location for county offices, criminal and civil procedures, and the consolidation of county records. It had a stabilizing effect on the political life of a county and as a result, almost guaranteed the county seat a viable economic existence. Residents of the county seat were often quick to donate the land and support an elaborate structure, thereby ensuring longevity for the community.

Dakota Datebook by Jim Davis


National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form- North Dakota County Courthouses, November 14, 1985