Benton County Courthouse History

Benton County was formally organized and Sauk Rapids was named the county seat in 1850.  At the time, county business was conducted in the home of Jeremiah Russel.  Judge Aaron Goodrich presided over the first district court session there in 1851.  Two years later, the county commissioners received bids for a two-story courthouse.  However, there is no record it was ever built.

In 1856, the county seat was returned to its original location, Watab.  The county bought a church and its lot to remodel into a courthouse and jail.  However, the new board of commissioners bonded the county beyond its capacity to pay.  Citizens became angry and the bond holders sued.  They were eventually given judgments, resulting in years of high taxes.

By petition in 1859, the county seat was moved back to Sauk Rapids.  Court was held in "any convenient place" until March 1864, when a house and rooms over a store were rented.  In 1866, a courthouse with a stone foundation and fireproof vaults was built for $600.

Seeking a more centrally located county seat, voters decided to move the location to Foley in 1901.  Later that year, a yellow brick, two-story Benton County Courthouse was built.

The Romanesque Revival building was designed by S.H. Haas and built by A.G. Wahl at a cost of $12,900.  A renovation in 1979 turned the building into a smooth, rectangular block with a plain mansard roof and glass-brick windows.  The most impressive feature of the enlarged building was the entrance from the annex to the old building, which consisted of carpeted steps rising to what must have been the original entryway flanked by polished granite pillars.  The annex was built in 1974.

The Courthouse served until 1998, when the current 33,000 square foot Benton County Courts Facility was completed at a cost of about $3.5 million.  It was built after a planning process of nearly 10 years that included input from judges, court administration, the county attorney's office, the corrections department, and citizens from across the county.  The design focused on security, movement of prisoners from the new jail facility, and overall building efficiency.

The building is equipped with a metal detector and prisoners are moved from the new jail, built in 1994, to the courts facility through an underground tunnel.  The underground tunnel cost about $250,000.  The Courts Facility houses two chambered judges and their staff, the court administrator's office, corrections, the county attorney's office, and the law library.

The building is built of brick and stone and on the outside, resembles the nearby jail.  To acommodate population and caseload growth within the county, the building was designed to add more office and courtroom space in the future.

Historical information adapted from "The First 100 Years... The Minnesota State Bar Association."

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