Watonwan County Courthouse History

The first courthouse in the county was located in Madelia.  The frame building was destroyed by fire and Madelia citizens immediately replaced it with a brick building to avoid losing the county seat to St. James.  Still, St. James petitioned for a vote on the issue and eventually won the seat.

In 1896, a Richardsonian Romanesque Revival style courthouse was completed in St. James at a cost of $33,000.  Otto Kleinschmidt of Mankato, the contractor, laid the floor tiles himself on Sundays to finish the building within his estimate.

The two-story courthouse's asymmetric features, towers, the roof, and pavilions balance it well.  It is built with smooth light-brown brick and Indiana limestone trim.  Marble pillars at the front entrance support three arches of limestone.  The original building included a pillared tower rising to an imposing height.  However, its huge beams and heavy plank flooring were open to the weather and eventually the tower was closed and lowered.

Offices on both floors of the courthouse were heated by fireplaces, faced with handmade ceramic tile.  The second floor was occupied entirely by the district court.  The large courtroom had a recessed dome, from which hung an elaborate brass chandelier.  The interior retains its original tall windows and high ceilings, though the panes on the first floor have been reduced to the size of the combination window fittings.  The hallway floors are of rust and white polished tile, and oak woodwork remains throughout the building.  The names of citizens in military service are painted directly on the white walls of the hall in measured ranks bordered by red and blue.

The building was remodeled in 1950 and was added on to in 1972 and 1981.

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

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