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Written By Beth Jeffrey
Drawing by Julie Stone

After Deadwood was selected as the county seat, a county building was set up and officers selected. The first county courthouse was destroyed in the great fire of 1879, along with all the records. The courts were held in a rented building until 1889, when a two-story brick structure was completed on the corner of Sherman and Pine streets. It was demolished in 1906 and replaced with the present Lawrence County Courthouse.

Lawrence County Courthouse - Drawing by Julie Stone    An article which appeared in a local newspaper on January 1, 1908, stated: "For many years it was realized that this county was in need of a new county building, the old ramshackle structure in which the court offices were held, had gotten to be an eyesore to the community, but there were a few timid ones who dreaded that any move toward a new building by the people would be a signal for an attempt to move the county seat to some other town in the county. The movement in favor of a new building gathered headway slowly, and it was finally brought forcibly home to the people when the district court was one day obligated to adjourn in an important case on account of the rain dripping through the roof on the stenographer’s notes while the rain formed pools on the floor in front of the judges bench". At a special election, the people of Deadwood voted that $10,000 be spent on a new structure. The county election then followed, and the proposition carried by a large majority, 2,347 yeas to 543 nays.

The county commissioners at once arranged for the issuance of the necessary bonds. The architectural plans of Belle and Detweiler, Minneapolis, were accepted on September 6, 1905, and the county offices were temporarily relocated. Mullen and Munn beganLawrence County Courthouse tearing down the rear half of the old building at once. The offices of the county auditor, treasurer, and superintendent of schools were moved to the building formerly occupied by the old American National Bank.

The general contractor for the new structure was Mullen and Munn of Deadwood; the heating and plumbing contract was awarded to Geo. V. Ayres, of Deadwood; painting and decorations contract to O.J. Oyen Co. of Wisconsin; Art Metal Con. Co. got the steel furniture bid; A.H. Andrews Co., the wood furniture; and W.C. Vosburg Co., the light fixtures. The construction of the three story courthouse transpired during 1906 and 1907 at a cost of $109,579.26. The Lawrence County offices moved into the new structure on January 1, 1908.

On February 8, 1908, the present courthouse was dedicated. "Like a small state capitol" was the comment made by an eastern visitor, ironic since the same architect, C.E. Belle, also designed the South Dakota State Capitol building in Pierre built in 1909. Every room, as well as the halls, were furnished with artistic brass electric light fixtures to which gas lamps can be added at any time. The floors throughout were composed of beautiful mosaic work and Greek fret borders near the walls. All of the woodwork and furnishings Judge's Benchwere of the very best quality of golden oak. On the ground floor of the new courthouse was located the sheriff’s office, the county judge’s courtroom and the superintendent of schools office, which had a large adjacent room for the examination of candidates for teacher’s certificates. A large portion of the space on the ground floor was taken up by storage vaults, which extended down from the offices on the second floor. The vaults were reached from the offices above by winding stairways with iron railings.

The second floor was occupied by the Clerk of Courts, the Register of Deeds, the Auditor, the Treasurer and the Commissioner’s meeting room. The Commissioner’s room contained four murals painted by E.A. Soderberg, chief artist of the O.J.Oyen Company, at the company’s headquarters in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, and then shipped here. One of the murals reflected the extraordinary combination of bridges in Lead, where the railroad lines all moved by different varieties of power, and superimposed one above the other. An electric below, above it a stream, and high in the air a line operated by compressed air. Another mural reflected an old prospector, his hand shading his eyes and his gaze bent on a far-off mountain peak. The third mural depicted a bull train winding its way slowly across the prairie approaching a wooded spot that promises refreshment and rest. In the distance is another similar train Jury Boxof twenty bulls still out of the torrid sunshine. The final mural was of a party of cowboys hard at work in a herd of cattle with their broncos at full tilt and their lariats whirling in the air.

The second floor also featured an ornate iron railing, backed by golden oak, surrounding the opening of the cupola area.

The third floor housed the entire legal and judicial part of the county government. Here were the spacious district courtroom, the judge’s office, the judge’s law library, a room for the attorneys, the office of the state’s attorney, a jury room, a witness room and an extra room situated in the attic. In the courtroom, the judge’s bench was backed by a graceful niche of golden oak. On the ceiling was painted a large allegorical figure entitled "Justice and Mechanics" painted directly on the ceiling by E.A. Soderberg. The jury room was decorated with hand-painted frieze around the room showing a plow scene.

The series of four paintings in the slanting roof of the cupola represented placer miners of Cupola Paintingthe early days in act of panning gold, a view of the great Homestake Gold Mine showing the highest development of the mining industry, the famous Spearfish falls located in Spearfish canyon, and a view of the town of Spearfish. There were also painted by Soderberg at the Wisconsin headquarters and shipped to Deadwood. Centered at the top of the cupola is a beautiful colored stained glass window.

In 1985 the Lawrence County Courthouse was condemned, being declared structurally unsound, due to support problems in the flooring. The building was vacated in December, 1985, and the county officers were moved to various locations throughout Deadwood. The Lawrence County Commissioners began the difficult task of consulting experts in the field of architecture and engineering in an attempt to find a resolution to the situation.

Controversy erupted over the fate of the courthouse, and in January, 1986, a group called "Save the Courthouse" organized. In its grassroots efforts to save the building, they contacted the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the South Dakota Historical Preservation Center and discovered that the destruction of the historic 1908 building could mean the loss of the Historic Landmark designation for all Deadwood. The group began fund-raising in February, and by April had reached its goal - to hire a restoration specialist recommended by the National Trust. When it appeared that the Ceiling Muralcourthouse might be demolished and a new structure built, the group obtained sufficient signatures on petitions to bring the issue to a vote of the citizens of Lawrence County.

On November 4, 1986, the majority vote was to save the 1908 Lawrence County Courthouse. Passage of the initiative required the county to restore or renovate the building. Again, laborious time was spent and various needs studies evaluated. In May , 1990, Lawrence County entered into bonded indebtedness for $5.8 million to fund restoration and renovation of the courthouse, to build a new administrative building and central plaza area, and remodel the existing Public Safety Center. Numerous contributions by local entities made the special project restoration possible.

Contractors for the project included Neumann, Monson and Wictor, Sioux City, Iowa, architects; Dunham & Associates, Rapid City, engineers; MAC Construction, Rapid City, general contractor; Brad Clark Electric, Ft. Pierre, electrical contractor; and Wolff’s Plumbing and Heating, Spearfish, Plumbing and heating contractor.

Conrad Schmitt Studios, New Berlin, Wisconsin, was contracted to restore the murals, using buttermilk to clean off years of accumulated smoke (cigar) and dust. The four paintings originally in the Commissioner’s room were cleaned, framed and placed in the public area on the second floor. The ornate moldings and borders were gilded with 24 karat gold leaf paint.

The stained glass at the top of the cupola was restored by the Minneapolis Art and Stained Glass Company. There were a few panels missing, however, enough were still intact so the company could restore it to its original look and color. Restoration in the courthouse used original woodwork, doors, hardware, wainscoting and wood furniture whenever possible. Painstaking efforts were made to replicate anything that could not be restored. Particular attention to detail was made in the public places, cupola and third floor courtroom to restore these back to their original splendor.

The chandeliers in the third floor courtroom were purchased from Illuminating Systems of Omaha, Nebraska. The seating in the jury box is original along with the box itself, the judge’s bench and the attorney tables. One hundred seventeen pieces of original furniture were restored and are in use throughout the courthouse, which is now used entirely to house the court system. There is a courtroom on each floor.

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