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Emmons County Gets PWA Funding To Build A New Courthouse


The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of properties in the U.S. considered worthy of preservation. The National Register lists sites, buildings, structures, and objects significant in American history, architecture, and culture.

One of the National Register buildings in North Dakota is the Emmons County Courthouse in Linton, sixty miles southeast of Bismarck, honored for its 1930s Art Deco architecture.

In 1932, in the time of the Great Depression, county officials decided that their old wood-frame courthouse lacked adequate office space, and had become a serious fire hazard. In 1933, New Deal dollars became available, and the county commissioners put in a well-crafted bid for the federal funding, believing the work could be done at rock-bottom depression-era prices. They hired Minot architect J. Howard Hess to draw up the plans, and submitted their grant application.

On this date, in 1933, the State Board of Public Works approved Emmons County’s proposal. Because the county had already saved $73,000, it got $24,000 in a federal grant.

Work began on the two-story structure shortly thereafter. Made out of North Dakota brick and Mankato stone, its most beautiful feature was the front door, with silvery-metal vertical-lines, stylish curves and chain-link-like stripes.

The words, “EMMONS COUNTY COURTHOUSE,” in capital letters of shining metal, loomed high above the main entrance.

The most fascinating Art Deco elements were 13 low-relief carvings, one above each first-story window, depicting human progress, pioneer life, and the county’s development through decades of change.

The first panel depicted Moses and the Ten Commandments, foundational for Western law. Another carving showed Native Americans smoking a peace-pipe. One featured three Native Americans slaying a buffalo. Additional panels portrayed covered-wagons approaching a new day’s dawning; and a prosperous farmer cutting golden-wheat with a horse-powered grain-binder.

Three low-relief carvings portrayed the courthouse’s construction. One showed Architect Hess at his drawing-board; another illustrated a Linton stone-quarry; and one pictured a pick-and-shovel workingman installing the 1933 cornerstone.

Local unemployed workers, paid subsistence-wages, completed the courthouse in time for its formal dedication in October, 1934, coinciding with Emmons County’s 50th anniversary. The county designated its gleaming new courthouse as its War Memorial Building, honoring local World War I soldiers.

In 1985, the Emmons County Courthouse became listed on the National Register of Historic Places – noteworthy as the first Public Works Administration project completed in North Dakota and for its irreplaceable bas-relief Art Deco carvings.

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

Sources: “Emmons County To Obtain Courthouse With Federal Help,” Bismarck Tribune, September 28, 1933, p. 1.

“Emmons Celebrates Completion of New Courthouse, First PWA Project in State,” Bismarck Tribune, October 8, 1934, p. 2.

“Begin Work On Courthouse,” Bismarck Tribune, December 20, 1933, p. 3.

“$1,484,330 Advance Is Required For 32 PWA Jobs In State,” Bismarck Tribune, April 23, 1934, p. 2.

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

“Linton,” The WPA Guide To 1930s North Dakota (Bismarck: State Historical Society of N.D., 1990), p. 210.

“Emmons To Build New Courthouse,” Bismarck Tribune, August 4, 1932, p. 1.

Emmons County History: Compiled for the Bicentennial, 1976, p. 11.

“Grant $24,000 for Emmons Courthouse,” Bismarck Tribune, October 18, 1933, p. 5.

“John Howard Hess (architect),” Minot, Ward County, N.D., U.S. Census, 1930.

German-Russian County, “Emmons County Courthouse,” Flickr Commons, accessed on August 1, 2016.