Dedication of New Sheridan County Courthouse
The National Register of Historic Places honors buildings significant for architectural style or their connection with important people or events. In the town of McClusky, which is right-smack-dab in the middle of North Dakota, there’s the Sheridan County Courthouse. It gained listing on the National Register in 1985, along with several other Art Deco courthouses, as visible vestiges of 1930s New Deal construction projects.
On this date, in 1940, the Bismarck Tribune promoted the upcoming Dedication Day of Sheridan County’s newly-completed courthouse. The newspaper featured a photo of the three-story courthouse, showing its imposing concrete face with Art Deco features.
Art Deco was a modern design movement that flourished between the world wars, featuring zigzags, geometric lines, and low-relief carvings, but little extra ornamentation. It was a “modern” style, departing from classical architectural styles that featured Greek pillars and elaborate decorations.
The only ornamentation on the Sheridan County courthouse were simple straight lines, running up and down the front wall, and the words “SHERIDAN COUNTY COURT HOUSE” in capital letters along the roofline. The most-striking feature is its ‘concrete’ look – the only New Deal courthouse in the state “built completely of monolithic concrete.”
The term “monolithic concrete” simply meant that the entire building was constructed using concrete poured into wooden forms. The concrete was reinforced with metal mesh or rods to give it greater strength. Reinforced concrete combined steel’s “tensile strength” with concrete’s “great compressive strength,” at a cost far-cheaper than brick or cut-stone.
The courthouse cost $88,260.25. $54,000 came from the Works Progress Administration, with $34,004 coming from the county’s accumulated building-funds.
74 workers for the 1938-1940 project came directly from Sheridan County, with only a few skilled artisans hired from outside.
Ira L. Rush of Minot, served as the architect, having designed other Art Deco-styled courthouses, including Burleigh County (Bismarck, 1931), and Ransom County (Lisbon, 1935).
And so, Sheridan County dedicated its brand-new courthouse September 1940. Distinguished speakers speechified; the McClusky H.S. band and glee-club performed; the Granville-town-singers warbled; Lois Irick and Wanda Kaiser played a duet; and the Reverend E.K. Heimer delivered the benediction and blessing.
If you travel to McClusky nowadays, you will see that Sheridan County’s National-Register-listed, “monolithic concrete,” courthouse still stands, a reminder of Depression Days when unemployed workers built rock-solid buildings for subsistence wages.
Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, History Department, MSU Moorhead.
Sources: “Sheridan’s New Courthouse,” Bismarck Tribune, September 21, 1940, p. 3.
“Sheridan Courthouse Among State’s Finest,” Bismarck Tribune, September 24, 1940, p. 3.
“New Sheridan County Court House,” Bismarck Tribune, November 22, 1938, p. 8.
“Sheridan Men Built Courthouse Themselves,” Bismarck Tribune, September 24, 1940, p. 4.
U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, “Sheridan County Courthouse,” National Register Nomination, November 25, 1985, p. 44-45.
“Development of Concrete,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 17, 1912, p. 20.
U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, “Nordlund House, Denver County, Colorado,” National Register Nomination, 1997, p. 11.
Steven R. Hoffbeck, “Art Deco Architecture in N.D.,” North Dakota History 62, no. 4 (Fall 1995): 16-17, 24-25.