- 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
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 stenographers 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 began 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 were of the very best
quality of golden oak. On the ground floor of the new courthouse was located the
sheriffs office, the county judges courtroom and the superintendent of schools
office, which had a large adjacent room for the examination of candidates for
teachers 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 Commissioners meeting room.
The Commissioners room contained four murals painted by E.A. Soderberg, chief artist
of the O.J.Oyen Company, at the companys 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 of 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 judges
office, the judges law library, a room for the attorneys, the office of the
states attorney, a jury room, a witness room and an extra room situated in the
attic. In the courtroom, the judges 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 the 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 courthouse 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
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
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 Wolffs Plumbing and Heating, Spearfish, Plumbing and heating
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 Commissioners 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 judges 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