McPherson County Courthouse
McPherson County Courthouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2009, The Gombach Group.
The McPherson County Courthouse was constructed from limestone quarried near Strong City in Chase County in the Richardsonian Romanesque style. The McPherson County Courthouse is symmetrical on axis measuring 104 feet long and 71 feet wide. It is three stories with a half basement and rises to a height of 80 feet with a central tower rising to 105 feet. The central tower which is square in plan projects forward from the building and serves the combined function of a bell and clock tower. The main entrance to the McPherson County Courthouse is located at the base of the tower and accentuated by a Syrian arch. This central tower is flanked on either side by smaller octagonal towers. These towers are also repeated in the rear of the building. The six windows on the ground floor in each of the octagonal towers have a stilted arch and the voussoirs are cut from the same limestone. The frieze at the top of these towers is a billet moulding crowned by a limestone balustrade around the bottom of the spire. The windows on the third story of the building, except for those in the tower, have stilted arches. The windows in the basement have a flat arch formed with limestone voussoirs. All other windows are rectangular with limestone lintels. There are slight projections centered on the north, south and west facades of the courthouse. The projection on the west side emphasizes the secondary entrance which is set above the ground, level with the top of the voussoirs and the basement windows. A flight of eight stone steps leads to this entrance. There are tall, rectangular stone chimneys to either side of this projection. A limestone string course runs entirely around the building forming a sill for the second story windows.
The central projections on the north and south facades end in a wall dormer with a Serliana motif in the peak. The windows align on the two stories and the basement and give the appearance of thin vertical strips. The four second-story windows to either side of the central projection are arched. The two windows on the first story of the projection and octagonal towers are also round-headed, while the remaining windows have flat arches. The roof is hipped and covered with slate.
The McPherson County Courthouse is located on a densely planted square. The county jail which had been built at the same time as the courthouse on the square was demolished in 1960 for a parking lot. A modern building has been constructed on the square to the north of the courthouse.
Modern alterations have included the lowering of ceilings, redecoration of offices, installation of window air conditioners and replacing the front and rear entrances. The slate roof was given major repairs in the early 1950's. The third floor is no longer fully used.
The McPherson County Courthouse was designed by John G. Haskell of Topeka, one of the most prominent early Kansas architects, and constructed in 1893-1894.
McPherson County had been organized in 1870 and the county seat established at Sweadahl. After two months an election was held for a new county seat. Lindsborg was the victor but held the honor only three years. Another election was held June 10, 1873, and the newly formed town of McPherson was selected by an overwhelming majority of the voters. The county offices were located in donated or rented facilities in McPherson for the next 21 years. With the settlement and development of the county, the county offices also grew. An effort was made to pass a $75,000 courthouse bond issue in 1886, but it was defeated 2,147 to 1,556. By 1889 county offices were scattered up and down McPherson's Main Street, making it unhandy for those having courthouse business. In 1889 the commissioners rented the McPherson Opera House, using all of the building but the main hall.
On March 9, 1893, a petition was presented to the county commissioners calling for another bond election, $40,000 for a courthouse and $10,000 for a county jail. At a special election on May 23, 1893, voters narrowly approved the courthouse bonds 1,152 to 1,013 and the jail bonds 1,112 to 981. Perhaps the closeness of the vote can be better understood in light of the country's poor economic situation in 1893.
The three county commissioners — G.F. Byers, E.C. Tyler and George S. Bishop — visited a number of county courthouses in eastern Kansas during July and interviewed a number of prospective architects that same month. John G. Haskell of Topeka and his associate J.F. Stanton were chosen to prepare the plans and specifications, and by September, the plans had been turned over to the commissioners. Bids for construction were received October 5 but all were rejected. Some modifications were made and bids were taken again in November. On November 23, 1893, the general contract for construction was let to James Jack of Hutchinson for $32,594. The completion date set by the contract was October 31, 1894. Frank Dillon was awarded the contract for excavation work and for hauling the stone. A.G. Linn of Freemount was appointed by the county commissioners to supervise all stone and brick work.
By spring of 1894 the construction was well underway. A large number of men, primarily stonemasons, were at work on the building. The cornerstone ceremonies were held May 10 and by early June the workmen were completing the walls of the third story. In August slate was being placed on the roof. Although the McPherson County Courthouse was up by the end of September it was not finished inside. Most of the work was done by mid-December and some of the county officers began moving in. The commissioners, however, did not formally accept the building until January, 1895.
Originally the clock tower had clock faces on the four sides but no clock. Around 1908 a popular subscription raised around $1,200 to purchase a clock.
In addition to the regular McPherson County Courthouse functions the building housed the high school classes in 1910 while the high school building was under construction, the city library for a time and the meetings of the American Legion post.
Built in 1893-1894 when hard times had brought building materials and skilled labor to the lowest price level in many years, the McPherson County Courthouse exhibits a quality of workmanship and construction which could not be duplicated today. The McPherson County Courthouse is a landmark structure in McPherson, having served as the center of county government for more than 80 years. Also, the Romanesque styled building is the work of a prominent 19th century Kansas architect, John G. Haskell, and an excellent example of the craftsmanship of 19th century stonemasons.
"The Courthouse," The McPherson Republican New Century Pictorial Edition, Mar. 1, 1901. (Supplement to the McPherson Republican.)
McPherson Republican, July 14, 28, Aug. 4, Sept. 1, Oct. 13, Nov. 17, 24, 1893; Jan. 5, April 27, May 11, 18, June 8, Aug.. 17, 24, Sept. 21, Dec. 14, 1894; Jan. 25, Feb. 1, 1895.
Peterson, Linn, "The McPherson County Courthouse and Clock Tower," Leaflet distributed by the McPherson County Historical Society during the Centennial Homes Tour, June 3, 1972.