John Quincy Adams Nickerson, who was active in winning an 1872 election that moved the county seat to Elk River, was criticized for gaining in rentals from the county and responded by donating lots for a courthouse. A courthouse was built there in 1877.
The two-story, 28 by 56 foot, hip-roofed building, had narrow wooden siding that has since been stuccoed over. It was designed by W.C. Warner and was built by Horatio Houlton at a cost of $2,390. A square tower, supported by brackets over the west entry, rose above the roofline into a pyramid-capped cupola. The cupola was eventually replaced by a simple gable and a small addition with its own gable roof has since been added in front of the doorway. Over the years, several other extensions have been added to the rear of the building.
Next door, facing north, is a low brick annex designed in 1971 by Fred Wemlinger of St. Cloud. It is a two-story building, but only on the southeast does the slope of the land allow the lower level to appear above ground.
A new courthouse and government center was built on 10 acres of land west of town in 1980. The interior repeats the rosy brick of the exterior. The two-story central section houses two courtrooms and auxiliary judicial services. Law enforcement and social services offices are also located there.
The 40,000 square-foot building cost $3 million and was designed by Fred Wemlinger. Its smooth brick diagonals, large triangular windows, and wide sweep of horizontal glass is typical of 1980s public buildings.
Historical information adapted from "The First 100 Years... The Minnesota State Bar Association."
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