Old Courthouse

WASHINGTON COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY     (Washington County, Utah)

OLD COUNTY COURTHOUSE

St. George, Utah

St. George was designated the seat of Washington County on Jan. 14, 1863. The courthouse was begun in 1866 and completed in 1876. The building has a full basement which originally served as a jail. The first floor served as offices for county government. The large room on the second floor was used as a schoolroom and the courtroom. Other interesting features include the 18-inch thick interior doors, the old chandeliers, original paintings of Zion National Park and the Grand Canyon, a security vault, the exterior cornice work, and the cupola. The cupola was designed for hangings, though none were ever performed there. The building is still in use, which is a testament of the skill and care used in its construction. Tours are available.


LOCATION

97 E. St. George Blvd.
St. George, UT 84770
(435)628-1650     (The St. George Chamber of Commerce, current building occupants)

Northwest corner of St. George Blvd. and 100 East.

37° 6' 36.7" North Latitude,   113° 34' 53.6" West Longitude
37.1101° North Latitude,   113.3816° West Longitude
2,770 feet (844 meters) MSL


HISTORY

The courthouse was begun in 1866.
It was built of sandstone bricks and mortar manufactured locally.
It was completed in 1876.

Unlike later buildings which used lava stone for foundations, sandstone bricks were used for both the foundation and upper walls. It was discovered that sandstone used underground in this area has a tendancy to erode.

Put on the National Register of Historic Places (#19700000634) on September 22, 1970.

The building currently houses the St. George Chamber of Commerce. The upper floor is used for lectures and other such meetings. The jail cells in the basement are used for storage.

Commentary by Mary Phoenix:
In 1861 Washington County's seat was in New Harmony but on January 14, 1863 the legislature unexpectedly moved the county seat to St. George.
In November, 1888, the court voted $500 for a basement to be built and the next year the county voters overwhelmingly voted for a one fourth of one percent tax raise to pay for a courthouse. This levy would raise about $10,000. Miles Romney, architect for the St. George Temple and Tabernacle, was engaged for the new three-story courthouse.
The original plans called for using limestone for the foundation. Only the first stones were in place when the builders learned that similar rocks used in building the Tabernacle were rapidly being eroded by the alkali in the soil. Hurriedly, the plans were changed and the basement was constructed of black volcanic rock, and the first story of red sandstone. Then another change was necessary. There simply were no stone cutters available because they were working full time on the Temple and Tabernacle. For generations the family of Samuel Adams had been English lime-burners. When members of this family, who were converts to the Mormon Church, showed up in a wagon train commanded by Daniel D. McArthur he persuaded them to come to Dixie. The entire upper portion of the building was constructed of their adobe with some trim of sandstone to give the outside of the building unity.
The courthouse was not completed until 1876. The rock-lined basement had three rooms designed to be used as a jail. One without windows was for the most dangerous criminals although there is no evidence that it was ever occupied. The first floor provided offices for all county departments and the third floor provided the court with both an adequate and impressive setting. In between sessions it was used as schoolroom for older students and a recreation hall for community events. Public pride inspired the poorly fed and housed people to donate to a cupola to be placed on top of the building and two small balconies to adorn the front of the building.
The plaster of paris decorations and the fine woodwork of Miles Romney still testify of the genius of some of the early settlers in Dixieland but the most inspiring of all is that three buildings of the size and grandeur of the Temple, the Tabernacle and the Courthouse were erected in a space of little more than ten years after mankind entered what was then a desolate valley.


PHOTOS

Old Washington County Courthouse
Old photo by Arthur F. Bruhn

Old Washington County Courthouse
May 1992 photo by Calvin Beale

Old Washington County Courthouse         Old Washington County Courthouse

WCHS photos:
WCHS-00542     Jon Bowcutt sketch of the Old Pioneer Courthouse
WCHS-00572     Jon Bowcutt watercolor painting of the Old Pioneer Courthouse
WCHS-00702     1st annual Pioneer Courthouse Invitational Art Exhibit poster
WCHS-00706     5th annual Pioneer Courthouse Invitational Art Exhibit poster
WCHS-00857     Postcard photo of the old courthouse with a cannon out in front
WCHS-01016     Postcard photo of the old courthouse

Other photos on the web:
An old photo of the old courthouse
1940 photo of the old courthouse
1989 photo of the front of the old courthouse
Modern photo of the front of the old courthouse
Modern photo of the old courthouse looking northeast
May 1992 photo of the old courthouse looking northeast
Modern photo of the front of the old courthouse
Monument to the Dixie pioneers located just east of the old courthouse
Photos from the National Register of Historic Places nomination form


REFERENCES

Andrew Karl Larson, "I Was Called to Dixie"
pp. 576-577

Old County Courthouse

Historical Buildings of Washington County (Volume 1), pp. 6-7.

Landmark and Historic Sites: City of St. George
First Edition,   January 2, 2009,   pp. 50-1 through 50-3
Compiled by the St. George Community Development Department

Landmark and Historic Sites: Informational Guide of Historical Sites within the City of St. George
Second Edition,   Revised 2011,   p. 9-56
Compiled by the St. George Community Development Department

Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey, Washington County Courthouse
Call Number: HABS UTAH,27-SAGEO,3-
Survey number HABS UT-10

National Register of Historic Places, Inventory - Nomination Form

St. George plans to restore historic courthouse
Article by Mark Havnes in the Salt Lake Tribune, February 10, 2012