Sedgwick County Courthouse

Location: Julesburg
County: Sedgwick County
Date Constructed: 1938-1939
Built by: WPA

Description

The Sedgwick County Courthouse is located in the middle of a town block, near the center of the town of Julesburg. The rectangular-plan courthouse is constructed of cast-in-place reinforced concrete faced with multi-hued buff brick and terra cotta trim. The building measures 58’ x 80’. A three-story central block is flanked by two-story wings to the northeast and southwest. A raised basement creates the appearance of an additional story. The facade faces southeast onto Cedar Street, with a secondary entrance located on the southwest side. A tall brick chimney is located at the north corner of the building.

The building rests on a concrete foundation, which also functions as the sill course for the basement level windows. A terra cotta band serves as the lintel course for the basement windows. Terra cotta bands also form sill and lintel courses for the first and second story windows. The brick is laid in a running bond with the exception of the rows immediately above and below the terra cotta courses; these rows are composed of alternating stretcher and header bricks. The cornice is composed of a terra cotta beltcourse above which is a course of bricks in a basketweave pattern, a row of bricks in a dentil pattern, and terra-cotta coping on a shallow parapet wall. The building’s flat roof rests on steel joists.

The main entry is centered on the front central block and features an elaborate Art Deco terra-cotta surround. The entry is accessed by a flight of concrete steps. In 1993, the steps were modified to incorporate a new concrete handicap ramp running from the center steps along the front facade to the south corner. The terra cotta entry surround steps back to a recessed door, located between the basement and first floor levels. Above the double-leaf aluminum-framed glass doors and geometric-patterned transom is a course of terra cotta blocks with small, square recessed indentations. Above that, terra cotta blocks are carved with “SEDGWICK COUNTY COURTHOUSE.” On the second floor a large window opening is topped by elaborate terra cotta tiles with stylized fern fronds, floriated patterns, and sunrises. The central block is framed by two pilasters. A horizontal band of stylized floral tiles runs along the top of the pilasters, just below the terra cotta coping. The pilasters are decorated with vertical terra cotta bands topped by foliated decorative panels. A similar vertical terra-cotta band topped by a foliated panel is centered on the entry section between the pilasters, running from the center window to the roof line. The decoration of the rear of the central block is much simpler. There are four brick pilasters, with a horizontal band of stylized floral tiles decorating the top of each pilaster.

The interior spaces are configured in a linear plan, with offices, entry and stairwell lining a central double-loaded hallway. The main entrance opens to a stairway landing located between the basement and first floors. The first and second floor hallways and the stairwell have terrazzo floors and wainscoting. The terrazzo is salmon-colored with mauve borders; rectangular blocks of striped mauve and cream terrazzo decorate the hallway. The first and second floor offices have terrazzo and oak parquet floors, plaster walls, and acoustic tile ceilings framed by wood molding. The courtroom is located on the northwest side of the second floor. It has oak parquet floors, wood wainscoting, and a paneled wood ceiling. The area around the judge’s bench is covered with wood paneling (walnut flexwood) from floor to ceiling. The courtroom also features circular metal and glass pendant lights, suspended from the ceiling with four narrow metal rods.

Significance

The Sedgwick County Courthouse meets Criterion A for its significance in the area of Social History for its association with the New Deal. Constructed by the WPA, the courthouse presents an important record of the federal relief programs administered in eastern Colorado during the Great Depression. Although all of Colorado was affected by the dire economic conditions of the 1930s, the agricultural-based economy of the Eastern Plains was especially hard hit due to the drought conditions that led to the Dust Bowl. The public works jobs helped families as well as communities survive during the Depression years, and provided an infrastructure that would not have otherwise been built. The courthouse is significant in the social history of the area as one of the largest relief projects in Sedgwick County, which providing much needed assistance by giving jobs to the unemployed of the county during the Great Depression.

The Sedgwick County Courthouse also meets Criterion A for its significance in the area of Politics and Government. The building has been essential to the governing of Sedgwick County, serving continuously as the courthouse and jail from its completion in 1939 to the present. Governmental buildings were popular New Deal projects. Several Colorado counties have courthouses or courthouse annexes constructed as New Deal projects. There were also many town halls or other municipal buildings constructed. Many counties and municipalities were in need of new facilities that they could not fund alone and the New Deal programs provided an ideal opportunity to get government assistance for new construction. In the midst of the Depression, the Sedgwick County Commissioners took advantage of the WPA to match county funds toward the construction of a new courthouse to replace the 1904 courthouse building.

The Sedgwick County Courthouse meets Criterion C for its Architectural significance as an example of WPA Art Deco design. The Sedgwick County Courthouse is an excellent example of the Art Deco style as applied to a government building whose construction was constrained by the economic conditions of the Depression. The Art Deco design features of the building include a vertical emphasis with a stepped facade and stylized geometric and floral patterns expressed on terra cotta tiles. However, the detailing is restrained, reflecting the dignity of the building’s public function. Also, overly elaborate decoration would imply imprudently used government funds in the midst of Depression. The courthouse was the work of the Denver architecture firm, Jamieson and Stiffler.

Historical Background

Sedgwick County was formed in 1889; previously the northeastern corner of the state had been part of Logan County. The new county had three towns: Julesburg, Ovid and Sedgwick. Julesburg was chosen as the county seat. County offices and court were held in several buildings before the county’s first purpose-built courthouse was constructed in 1904 on the city block bounded by Cedar Street, 3rd Street, Pine Street, and 4th Street. The jail was located in the basement. With rapid growth during the next few decades, Sedgwick County quickly outgrew its first courthouse. In 1900, Sedgwick County had a population of just 971. By 1910 the population had grown to 3,061. There were 4,207 residents in 1920 and 5,580 residents by 1930.

Sedgwick County’s application for a New Deal courthouse project showed a desire to find any available means to improve the county and its capital. During the 1930s, the Julesburg Grit-Advocate was a strong booster of the local community. The Julesburg Chamber of Commerce also ran advertisements in the paper advocating “neighborliness, thrift, pride in our homes, our business, our public improvements and ourselves” as necessary to progress and prosperity.

Courthouses and other municipal buildings were popular New Deal projects. The Sedgwick County Commissioners decision to seek federal aid for a new courthouse seems to have been influenced by seeing the new courthouses constructed in nearby Phillips (1935) and Morgan Counties (1936). The Julesburg Grit-Advocate reported in May 1936 that “following in the wake of numerous other counties which have taken advantage of federal aid to build new structures,” the Sedgwick County Commissioners have applied for funds to construct a new courthouse. A drawing of the proposed structure, “showing a modernistic design such as adopted by several other Colorado counties,” was placed on display in the county clerk’s office. In addition to getting a share of the federal funds being given to other counties, local officials also wanted to “provide work for the county’s unemployed and . . . obtain a much-needed structure for a steadily-growing community.” The original proposal submitted to the WPA called for a $25,000 courthouse and included a request for funds to demolish the existing courthouse. The commissioners were optimistic about their proposal being approved. Wrote the Julesburg Grit-Advocate: “Allowances made by the Works Progress Administration are the most liberal of any government relief agency since the birth of such federal organizations and taking this fact into consideration and the knowledge that the county badly needs a new courthouse, officials believe that the project should be put through immediately.”

A courthouse project, including the construction of 190,000 “cement cider bricks”, was approved November 7, 1936. Under this proposal the WPA would provide all unskilled and intermediate labor, and the county would pay for the skilled labor. The WPA covered the cost of construction superintendence. Material costs were split between the WPA and the county with the WPA contributing $4,162 for materials and the county providing $16,211. The total project cost was $43,022 with $23,448 of that in WPA funds. However, more funds were needed as the scope and cost of the project increased. On September 10, 1938 another WPA application was made requesting additional funds to complete the project, including funds for landscaping and demolition of the old courthouse. The WPA contributed an additional $27,304 under this application.

The county chose Jamieson & Stiffler of Denver as the project architects. Jamieson & Stiffler were a relatively new architectural practice, formed in 1931. Both architects had formerly worked for Eugene Groves, who designed the Phillips County Courthouse. W. Gordon Jamieson was born in 1894 and emigrated from Scotland to the United States with his parents in 1904. He received his architectural training at the Rhode Island Institute of Design and the Beaux Arts Institute of Design. Jamieson moved to Denver in 1919 and worked as a draftsman for various architectural and engineering firms till he got his Colorado license in 1926. He then went to work as an associate architect with Eugene Groves, known for concrete homes, public and educational buildings. He worked for Groves till 1931. R. Ewing Stiffler was born in 1888 in Cooper County, Missouri and studied at Colorado State College in Greeley. He got his license in 1925 and was associated with Groves by 1930.

W. Gordon Jamieson presented his plans for the new courthouse to the Julesburg Chamber of Commerce and county commissioners in January 1938. At the meeting, it was proposed that the courthouse would be constructed of “home-made bricks, manufactured in Sedgwick County of ash, cement and sand” if final studies determine it to be “absolutely durable.” These appear to be the same “cement cider bricks” referred to in the WPA proposal. It is unclear exactly what type of brick this refers to since this is not common terminology. Cement is a finely pulverized mixture of clay and limestone used as an ingredient in concrete. Cinder is another term for slag, the vitrified ash left as a residue from the smelting of metallic ore. So the WPA proposal seems to be referring to slag brick, which is a concrete brick made from slag and lime. The fact that the bricks used in the construction were hand-made is characteristic of WPA projects, which aimed to spend as much of the project budget as possible on labor and as little as possible on materials. WPA projects often utilized labor-intensive but materially inexpensive materials such as locally-quarried stone or adobe.

According to local press coverage, the drawings show that “Sedgwick will have one of the finest, up-to-date, courthouses in Colorado.” When planning for the new courthouse, the county commissioners made trips to study other new courthouse structures, wanting to ensure that Sedgwick got the best possible courthouse for their money. At this point the commissioners then estimated the cost of the courthouse at around $80,000, a substantial increase from the original $25,000 estimate of 1936. A courthouse levy fund started the year before had raised $11,550 by January 1938. The county anticipated an additional levy to raise $7,208.

Excavation of the courthouse basement began in early February 1938. Trucks also began hauling in the homemade brick to be used in construction. The construction of the walls began in June 1938 with the laying of the cornerstone. WPA labor was used for the unskilled construction jobs on the courthouse. Skilled labor was bid out to contractors. C.W. Jones of Denver was awarded the brick-laying contract for $3,540. George Zeiler of Holyoke was given the contract for electrical work for $2,185. The plumbing and heating contract went to City Plumbing and Heating Co. of Boulder for $7,500. No bids were received from firms or individuals from Sedgwick County.

The new courthouse generated a great deal of community excitement and pride. Soon after construction began the Julesburg Grit-Advocate, reported that local people “are so pleased with the forward progress on the new building that they care little at having their homeward route through the park made almost impassable.” A ceremony for the laying of the courthouse cornerstone was held on a Saturday evening, June 11, 1938. The Masonic Lodge organized the program which included a performance by the Julesburg Band, an address by the County Commissioners, a Masonic ceremony and an address by Hazlett P. Burke, Colorado State Supreme Court Justice. Masons from Holyoke, Chappell, and North Platte also came to participate in the ceremony. According to the Julesburg Grit-Advocate, the cornerstone laying was a “splendid entertainment.” Within the stone were placed a copy of the Bible, a list of members of the Masonic Lodge, names of the county officials, names of the contractor, architect, and workers, and newspaper articles about the new courthouse along with an account of the completion of the previous courthouse in 1904. Wrote one observer:

The ceremonies as conducted by the Masonic fraternity are always impressive and upon this occasion they were exceptionally so. Grand Master Killan is a man of fine appearance and in the routine work of the ceremony and in the address he delivered afterward, he acquitted himself in an admirable manner. Mr. Todd who upon this occasion acted as Grand Marshal was also at his best and . . . left nothing lacking to make this an auspicious occasion in the history of Sedgwick County (Archives, Fort Sedgwick Historical Society).

The ceremony drew a huge crowd that was “unusually attentive.” The Julesburg Grit-Advocate reported: “The people of the territory realized the importance and unusual aspect of the occasion. Seldom do they have an opportunity to be present when the cornerstone of a courthouse is laid, an $85,000 structure which will mean a big step forward in the progress of Sedgwick County.”

In November 1938 Sedgwick County voters approved the county’s issuing of $35,000 in bonds to enable the speedy completion of the courthouse. The plastering of the courthouse was begun in December 1938. In May 1939 the Julesburg Grit-Advocate reported that the courthouse interior was “taking on magnificence for which the county may well be proud.” The opening date was tentatively set for early August. However, the furniture caused a brief delay. It did not arrive until late September, forcing the opening to be rescheduled for October.

The formal courthouse dedication was held on the morning of October 21, 1939. The Julesburg Band paraded through town and then gave a half hour concert in front of the new building. Those attending the ceremony included Lieutenant Governor John Vivian, Secretary of State George Saunders, architect R. Ewing Stiffler, and State WPA Administrator Paul Shriver. It was an occasion for many speeches, and though it was a joyous occasion, the shadow of the war of Europe was evident in the comments. Local chairman L.J. Bennett praised the WPA, stating that though its usefulness may have been questioned in the past, its fine work was now recognized everywhere. He also favorably compared the United States to Europe. Here, the unemployed were building projects like the library, courthouse, and sewers constructed in Julesburg unlike the “instruments of destruction” men were being put to work making in Europe. Paul Shriver addressed the crowd next, including some slightly odd praise of WPA workers: “WPA workers do not have it too easy. These workers do not know what will happen to them, one day to the next. Nevertheless, WPA workers do not gather in basements plotting the overthrow of the government, they have faith and they go forward with their chins up!” Shriver then formally presented the building to the county. County Commissioner G.N. Austin accepted the building and then presented it to the people, stating that “The creed of this board of commissioners has been that ‘nothing is too good for the people of Sedgwick County.’ This has been the background of our thoughts and all our work in connection with the building of this courthouse.”

The dedication ceremony was followed by a free chuck wagon lunch and an afternoon celebration of Sedgwick County’s 50th Anniversary. This began with a parade of school children, school bands, and the American Legion Drum and Bugle Corps. Attending the ceremony were around 180 residents who had lived in the area since the county was formed in 1889. State Representative Joe Jankovsky introduced all the Sedgwick county pioneers. That evening was a free Old Time Dance with prizes for best square dancers and oldest costumes.

The first court was held in the new building on April 17, 1940. The Honorable Arlington Taylor, District Judge opened with these comments:

I am sure it is quite a pleasure for the jurors who are called for service to have the honor (I consider it) of being the first panel to serve in this beautiful courtroom. You folks ought to be proud of your Court House, and no doubt you are. This is a beautiful court room: the acoustic properties seem to be excellent. I am sure we ought to all join very heartily with your Board of County Commissioners, and all of the officials in the Court House, to keep it as clean and bright, and beautiful as it is today. I hope that you will save this building, and I known there will be every effort extended to do so. It is a lovely place. I should like to be district judge for a hundred years and hold court in this particular room a hundred years more (Archives, Fort Sedgwick Historical Society).

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