County: Phillips County
Date Constructed: 1935-1936
Built by: WPA
The Phillips County Courthouse is a two-and-half-story plus basement building. It measures 61’ x 83’. The building is composed of a center section with flanking wings. The center section projects slightly beyond the wings on the west and east sides. The center section is also taller than the wings, creating a partial third story. The building rests on a brick foundation and is clad in buff brick laid in a common bond pattern with terra cotta detailing. Terra cotta quoins decorate the corners of the building. Stringcourses at the foundation, water table, and between the first and second floors are also composed of terra cotta blocks. The building’s original paired, single-light, metal-framed casement windows are intact. The county has installed multi-light storm windows behind the original windows to reduce drafts. The roof is flat.
The west facade has seven bays. The center five bays project slightly forward from the main building. On the first floor, quoins distinguish the center section from the rest of the facade. There are six windows and a doorway on the first floor. Five windows with transoms are located on the center section on the second story. Blank openings filled with brick are located on either side of the center section; these brick-filled openings are an original feature. On the second story, smooth terra cotta blocks framed by terra cotta pilasters cover the center section. The name, “Phillips County Court House,” is prominently etched into the facade and painted blue; foliated round sections of terra cotta frame the text. The entrance is centered on the facade. The entrance is composed of grooved, curvilinear piers topped by a terra cotta band that curves out over the entrance doors. Seven concrete steps lead up to the entrance. The double entry doors and transom have square lights with chamfered corners. A band of plain terra cotta interspersed with terra cotta tiles with a blue, foliated pattern forms the cornice. A row of dentils is located beneath the band of terra cotta. The cornice is taller above center section and steps down to the end bays. The building facade mixes elements of several styles. The angular lines, stepped facade, terra cotta decoration, and metal casement windows are all common elements of Art Deco buildings. The quoins, dentils, pilasters, and foliation are all reminiscent of the Beaux Arts style. The building’s distinctive entry is Moderne in style.
The interior features terrazzo floors and stairs. The main lobby area has an arched plaster ceiling and the offices have decorated celotex ceilings. Much of the original dark-stained woodwork is intact.
The Phillips County Courthouse meets Criterion A in the area of Politics/Government for its association with President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. Constructed by the Public Works Administration (PWA), the courthouse presents an important record of New Deal construction programs in eastern Colorado. Though the dire economic conditions of the Depression affected all of Colorado, drought and dust storms hit the agricultural-based economy of the Eastern Plains especially hard. The courthouse is the only surviving PWA project in Phillips County, and the most intact of all New Deal projects constructed in the county.
The courthouse is also significant for its association with the governing of Phillips County, serving continuously as the courthouse since 1936. Governmental buildings were popular New Deal projects. Several Colorado counties have courthouses or courthouse annexes constructed as New Deal projects. In eastern Colorado, New Deal projects funded new courthouses in Sedgwick and Morgan Counties and courthouse annexes in Washington and Baca Counties. Phillips County had been working for many years to raise funds to construct a new courthouse, but set these plans aside in the early 1930s due to economic hardships. With the assistance of the PWA, Phillips County could finally achieve its first purpose-built courthouse.
The Phillips County Courthouse is significant under Criterion C as an example of the Moderne style applied to a government building constructed with PWA funds and designed by a prominent Denver architect, Eugene Groves. Designed by established architects and with larger material budgets, PWA projects typically had more decorative elements than WPA projects. This is evident in the courthouse’s terra cotta detailing. However, the design is still simplified and restrained, reflecting the courthouse’s construction during the Depression. The courthouse is the most substantial building in the small, agricultural county of Phillips, a strikingly modern building when constructed.
The Colorado legislature established Phillips County in 1889. Residents chose Holyoke, incorporated in 1888, as their county seat. Two other buildings served as the Phillips County Courthouse before the current courthouse was constructed. The original courthouse was a frame building constructed as a hotel by early pioneers for a total cost of $16,000. It was located at the corner of Baxter Avenue and Denver Street. By 1890, the new county had grown to a population of 2,642 but Phillips County experienced a dramatic population loss during the drought years of the early 1890s. By 1900, the population had fallen to 1,583. After a population resurgence in the early 1900s, a larger courthouse was needed. In 1904, Phillips County bought the old Burlington Eating House from the railroad company for $3,000 to serve as its new home. The county moved the building from an area east of the train depot to the current courthouse block.
The need and expressed interest for building a new county courthouse began as early as 1924, when the voters approved bond issue to start raising funds for such a project. By 1931, around $27,000 had been set aside, but the county stopped the levy when economic hardship began to spread throughout the county. However, with the population reaching 5,797 in 1930, the county greatly needed a new courthouse. In 1933, the Greater Holyoke Club took up the cause of a new courthouse by circulating petitions asking the county commissioners to build a new courthouse as soon as possible. The organization also asked architects for sketches of possible courthouse designs and submitted the designs to the county commissioners. Two Denver architects, Walter A. Simon, and Eugene Groves, presented sketches. In November 1933, the county submitted an application for a PWA grant to construct a new courthouse. The proposed courthouse was to cost $80,000. Phillips County hoped to obtain grants and loans for the $53,000 over their existing courthouse fund needed for the project. The PWA approved the courthouse project in January 1934, awarding a $23,000 grant and additional loans. However, the project could not move forward until the next general election when voters could approve the county taking on debt for the courthouse construction. Voters approved a bond issue for the construction in October 1934.
Phillips County received the PWA grant funds in April 1935. In the same month, PWA revoked funding for 38 other projects, totaling more than $5,000,000. The Holyoke Enterprise concluded: “approval of the Phillips County grant in the face of this action is taken to mean that the need of a new courthouse was realized and that the financial condition of the county warranted the grant.” Phillips County chose Eugene Groves as the courthouse architect. Eugene G. Groves (1882-1967) was born in Dana, Indiana and moved to Denver in 1914. He practiced architecture for five decades, gaining renown for his design of numerous educational and government facilities in Colorado. His educational work included numerous buildings at Colorado State University in Ft. Collins as well as high schools in Canon City, Golden, Grand Junction, and Aurora. Government facilities included courthouses in Archuleta and Mesa Counties. He also designed single-family homes and commercial buildings, such as the Nordlund House in Denver and the Farmers State Bank in Fort Morgan. Groves incorporated a variety of styles in his designs including Art Deco, Art Moderne, Beaux Arts, Italian Renaissance Revival, and Colonial Revival. During the 1930s, Groves designed several New Deal buildings including gymnasiums in Akron and Otis, an elementary school in Golden, the Fort Lewis Library west of Durango, and a courthouse in Morgan County. Completed in 1936, the Morgan County Courthouse shares many similar features with the Phillips County Courthouse. For both courthouses, Groves chose a restrained, simple Moderne style which is representative of Depression-era government buildings. The Phillips County and Morgan County courthouses both feature symmetrical facades, buff brick, and terra cotta bas-relief panels. However, in the Morgan County Courthouse Groves employed Art Deco detailing, with stepped brick pilasters and a central tower, creating a design with vertical emphasis. In the Phillips County Courthouse, Groves relied more on terra cotta elements for detailing with terra cotta facing, quoins, and stringcourses prominent elements of the design.
In June, the county moved its offices out of the existing courthouse and into the First National Bank Building. Demolition of the old building began on June 17, 1935 using FERA labor. Construction bids for the new courthouse also began in June. The county awarded Walter Knutzen & Sons of Kearney, Nebraska the general construction contract for $61,800. George Zeiler received the plumbing contract for $2,750 and the electrical contract for $2,500. Johnson & Davis of Denver obtained the heating contract for $6,114.
Excavation of the new building began July 15, 1935. Workers poured the concrete for the footings and foundation in early August, and brick laying began in early September. Masons laid the cornerstone, made of Bedford stone, on September 13, 1935 to much fanfare. The Masonic lodges of Haxtun and Holyoke arranged the cornerstone ceremony. Speakers included Governor Edward C. Johnson and State Supreme Court judges Ben C. Hilliard and Hazlett P. Burke.
The county originally expected the courthouse to be complete by January 15, 1936, but due to several delays in the arrival of materials, the project fell behind schedule. The contractor increased the size of the construction crew to help speed completion. By the end of January, the courthouse was nearing completion with just the interior finishes and fixtures remaining. In February, the county contracted two Denver firms, C.F. Hoeckel Blank Book & Lithographing and W.H. Kistler Stationary, to supply fixtures and equipment for the courthouse. Construction was completed on March 15, 1936. The Phillips County Board of Commissioners formally accepted the courthouse building on May 8, 1936.
The new courthouse was the most substantial and modern building in the county. On May 14, an article in the Holyoke Enterprise described the courthouse in great detail, praising its beauty and up-to-date design:
Generously proportioned, it offers an abundance of usable space, scientifically mapped out and equipped, which will materially increase the dispatch with which business can be carried out within its doors. . . . The west facade is beautiful but simple, broad cement steps leading up to a many-paneled doorway of glass and steel. . . .Many find that the spaciousness of the edifice cannot be conceived of from the outside. Rather, the observer must explore the interior, pausing frequently to note the generous, conveniently arranged rooms and the storage space which is provided in and adjoining every office. The gleaming terrazzo floors of the hall and lobby first catch the eye of the visitor as he enters the main portal. This substance, used in the halls, lobbies and lavatories on the two floors of the building and on the staircases throughout, gives a beautiful appearance with the thousands of tiny, many-hued stones dotting the smoothly shining surfaces. . . .Upon crossing the upper lobby from the stairs, persons are confronted by attractive French doors which open into what is by far the most magnificent section of the new courthouse—the district courtroom. . . . the high windows across the upper front of the building light this vast room. The judge’s bench is an imposing structure at the extreme north end . . . it is of paneled, dull-finished birchwood, a beautiful example of elegance and dignity in its restrained ornamentation. . . the boiler room on the northeast houses the key to the building’s fine six-thousand dollar heating system. Thermostatic controls and stoker-feeing help make the plant a model in modern, scientific heating.
The newspaper concluded that the new courthouse would be a “source of pride for generations to come.”