After the 1856 organization of Steele County, a store was rented in Owatonna to conduct court business, By 1874, a one-story brick building for county offices had been completed at a cost of $5,000. The building still stands at 139 East Main Street and houses the Owatonna Chamber of Commerce. However, court was held at that time in the second story of a building on the corner of Cedar and Vine.
In 1884, voters defeated a $35,000 bond issue to build a new courthouse. Bonds were finally sold for a new building in 1891, after voters approved $30,000 in bonds.
The classical Romanesque Revival style courthouse was designed by T.D. Allen of Minneapolis and built by Leck and McLeod. It is shown above in a 1958 photograph. Built of Austin red brick set with red mortar, and trimmed with Lake Superior brown stone, the 115 by 86 foot courthouse rises three stories above a full basement. Coupled arches supported by polished granite columns protect the north and south entrances. A large sculpture representing Mercy, Law, and Justice is set in a niche above the north entry.
On the northwest corner, the main tower rises five stories to its pyramidal cap with a clock on each side, as well as minarets and gables. A low circular tower is located on the northeast corner and on the southwest sit a minor square tower and roof ridges emphasized with tile crowns.
Changes in the courtroom were made with federal money in 1934. A two-story brick addition at the rear of the building was designed by Gauger-Parrish of St. Paul in 1975-76. The inside of the building has also been remodeled. An elevator was installed in 1975, a sprinkler system was installed in 1977-78, and air conditioning and other restoration work has taken place. However, the wainscoting, woodwork, and ornate oak staircase have all been retained.
The Steele County Courthouse, shown here in 1920, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.
Historical information adapted from "The First 100 Years... The Minnesota State Bar Association."
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