The Cole County Courthouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. Potions of the text below were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2009, The Gombach Group.
Cole County Courthouse, facing northwest on the east corner of East High and Monroe streets, is a Romanesque Revival-style, three-story building with a high basement and an attic. Corner pavilions and a central clock tower dominate the rectangular-plan courthouse.
Overall Dimensions — The Cole County Courthouse is 107 feet on the northwest and southeast facades. The southwest and northeast facades are 69 feet.
Construction Materials — The walls of the Cole County Courthouse are constructed of three types of grey-beige stone. From the basement to the water table is regular coursed Cole County limestone with a rock-faced texture. The first story is Carthage stone in alternating narrow courses of smooth-cut and rock-faced blocks. The second story is also of Carthage stone, being laid in wide courses of smooth, dressed blocks alternating with narrow courses of rock-faced blocks. The third story is of Warrensburg sandstone, the courses continuing the second story pattern. The roof is constructed of concrete, steel, and brick. It is covered over with brick-red slate and terra cotta.
Windows — The fenestration pattern is regular on all facades of the court house. The central windows on all stories of the northeast facade have been removed or covered over by the addition of the three-story, brick passage which connects the Jail-Sheriff's House with the Cole County Courthouse on this facade. The remaining windows are consistent with those on the southwest facade.
Aluminum storm windows and screens have been randomly installed on the basement, second, and third story windows. Those on the northwest and southwest basement windows, between the corner pavilions, alter the appearance of the windows by making them appear to be four-sash-with-central-mullion windows instead of single, two-light, double-hung, double width windows.
The basement windows are rectangular and of four types. Double-width windows with one-over-one light, double-hung sash are on the main wall of the northwest and southwest facades between the corner pavilions. On the southeast main wall, the windows are, with the exception of the central window, single, paired windows, each having one-over-one light, double-hung sash. The central window consists of a set of three windows, with each individual window identical in design to the other basement windows on this facade. The corner pavilion windows are double-width with a center mullion dividing the window into two one-over-one light, double-width sash sections.
The first story windows are of two basic types. There are rectangular, one-over-one light, double-hung sash windows with rectangular facades, except for the corner pavilions. Single-width versions of these windows are on the northwest and southwest facades; while double-width, with center mullion, versions are on the southeast facade. A triple-width version, reduced in height, is centered on the projected center section of the southeast facade. Mullions mark off the three sections of the window. The corner pavilion windows are rectangular, one-over-one light, double-hung sash with two-light sidelights (also one-over-one light, double-hung) and three-light, semi-elliptical arched transoms. These windows are inserted into broad-arched openings.
The second and third story windows, including those on the corner pavilions are one continuous window spanning the two stories. On the main wall windows, spandrels, with either a carved leaf design or no ornament at all, separate the windows into two sections at the division between the two stories. The second story portions of these windows are rectangular with one-over-one light, double-hung sash. The upper portions, the third story windows, are round-arched with one-over-one light, double-hung sash. As on the first story, the corner pavilion windows are more elaborate than the rest of the windows at the same level. The second story portions of these windows are triple-width and have a rectangular, one-over-one light, double-hung sash per window. Mullions mark off the three sections of the windows. The third story windows are round-arched with a central, round-arched light with four radiating lights. Spandrels with a recessed center panel separate the two sections of these windows. A centered keystone and hood molding are the only trim.
Doorways — The main entrance is centered on the northwest facade of the Courthouse, while a secondary entrance is centered on the southwest facade. The northwest door is recessed within an enclosed, two-story, semi-eliptical-plan porch. The walls are of rock-faced stone, while the foundations and ornamental features are of smooth, dressed ashlar. Paired colonnettes, which flank the arched entrance opening, rest on a common plinth and support the arch voussoirs. The colonnettes' joint capitals are part of the carved bands which span the porch walls. (These bands are carved in a stylized leaf design). Round-arched openings, which rest on these bands, dominate the side walls. The upper edge of the porch is trimmed by an entablature-like feature supporting a parapet, which is pierced by evenly spaced, circular openings. Attached to the front wall of the porch at the juncture of the side walls and the front wall is a cylinder-like feature. This decorative feature consists of alternating bands of rock-faced and smooth-cut stone blocks. The ends of the cylinder are accentuated by a carved leaf, at the bottom, and a half sphere, at the top above the parapet.
The doorway is round-arched. It is filled with a centered, modern, glass and metal, double door topped by a large fanlight and surrounded by voussoir-shaped lights.
The southwest entrance, which is simpler in design, varies from the main entrance in several instances: 1) the paired colonnettes are replaced by single, stubby piers and 2) the overall plan has become a shallow, rectangular shape. The doorways are identical.
The basement entrance is on the southeast facade, immediately south of the east corner pavilion. The entrance completes the pattern of openings on this facade, taking the place of a set of paired windows. The doorway is filled with a wood and glass, double door topped by a horizontal, two-light transom.
A centrally located, square-plan, two-stage clock tower rises above the roof of the Cole County Courthouse. The first stage is the base. Each of its walls is pierced by a range of triple arches, supported by tall columns and recessed in a relieving arch. The base of these arched openings is trimmed by a balustraded balcony, supported by decorative brackets. The upper limit of the base is determined by a bracketed cornice. The corners are reinforced by recessed, tall, slender columns. The roof stage of the tower, rising above the cornice, is enclosed by a low parapet with corner turrets and steeply-pitched wall dormers. The wall dormers have round-arched, shallow niches which are filled by clock faces, centered in the upper arched portion.
Projected, square pavilions, topped by pyramidal roofs, are placed at each corner of the Courthouse. The base of each pavilion is reinforced by battered walls. Wide pilasters of alternating bands of smooth-cut and rock-faced stone blocks reinforce the corners of the pavilions at the first story level, while paired, smooth-cut stone pilasters, set on a base, reinforce the second and third story level corners. All pilasters have carved capitals. The corner pavilions continue the main wall fenestration patterns and trims. The pyramidal roofs rest on a stone base which is emphasized by corner turrets, with pyramidal roofs, and steeply-pitched wall dormers, all reminiscent of the clock tower. The wall dormers are pierced by round-arched openings which are filled with six-over-six light or six-over-eight light windows. The triangular space in the peak of the dormer is emphasized by diapering, a checkerboard pattern of smooth-cut and rock-faced stone blocks.
The Cole County Courthouse is covered with a medium-pitched hip roof. The clock tower has a pyramidal roof, while the wall dormers have gable roofs. Other roofs are described elsewhere.
A single, tall chimney services the Cole County Courthouse. It is located along the southwest side of the east corner pavilion and is flush with the building's southeast wall. The chimney is constructed of alternating bands of rock-faced and smooth-textured stone, similar to the coursework pattern on the courthouse walls at the second story level, and is tied together by metal rods.
All decorative features are of stone. They include: 1) an entablature; 2) wall dormers on the clock tower and corner pavilions (already described) 3) projected, central sections, surmounted by gable-shaped dormers, on the northwest and southeast facades; 4) centered, gable-shaped dormers on the northeast and southwest facades, above the cornice; 5) a water table; 6) a banded string course; 7) spandrels (already described); 8) the northwest facade second/third story balcony; and 9) corner pavilion pilasters (already described).
An entablature is found on all facades of the Cole County Courthouse, being omitted only where the central, third story windows, on both the northwest and southeast facades, break through into the gabled dormer above. A corbeled, decorative band of small blocks, positioned immediately underneath the cornice, is found on all facades of the courthouse main wall between the corner pavilions, where this band is replaced by a band of corbeled, horizontal moldings.
The central section on the northwest and southeast facades are projected forward from the main wall of the Courthouse. On the northwest facade, the main entrance is centered along this projected section, while on the southeast facade this section gains dominance through the variations in the window treatment. Each center section is surmounted by a gable-shaped dormer. These dormers are steeply-pitched. Only the northwest gable has corbeled side turrets. The triangular, upper half space is filled with diapering and is pierced by a small, rectangular opening. The lower half of the dormer is pierced by the round-arched portions of the third story windows.
Smaller, centered, gable-shaped dormers on the northeast and southwest facades are steeply-pitched and pierced by a range of triple arches, supported by columns. A centered, circular opening and diapering are above. Three-over-three light, double-hung sash windows with semi-circular transoms fill the arched openings.
A smooth-textured water table marks the division between the basement and the first story. A molding emphasizes the upper edge and serves as a continuous sill under the first story windows.
A banded string course is located between the first and second stories and is incorporated into the parapets of the entrances on the northwest and southwest facades. It is smooth in texture and is trimmed by moldings. The string course serves as a continuous sill for the second/third story windows.
Above the northwest entrance porch, located at the division between the second and third stories, is a semi-circular, balustraded balcony supported by columns resting on the roof of the porch, behind the parapet. Pilasters with carved capitals, flank the balcony and extend from the roof of the porch to the entablature.
All alterations of the Cole County Courthouse date from the twentieth century, with most having taken place in late 1918 after a fire gutted the upper stories of the structure.
The basic silhouette and integrity of the original design was retained in the rebuilding. Changes in the clock tower result from the additions of slender columns to the corners of the base, a bracketed cornice, a circular opening centered above the arched openings on each relieving arch, and bold, balustraded balconies. Roof turrets and wall dormers were redesigned to make the wall dormers the dominant feature. The corner pavilions, which had collapsed during the fire, were completely rebuilt with their decorative turrets and wall dormers closely echoing those of the clock tower. The facade wall dormer were also redesigned to compliment the clock tower dormers, thus creating a continuity between all the dormers. The third story windows retained their basic shape from the original plans, but were changed through the redistribution of the lights.
The Jail-Sheriff's House, which is northeast of and connected to the Cole County Courthouse by a modern brick, three-story passage, is a rock-faced stone building with smooth-cut trim. The building is divided into two sections: a two-story sheriff's house and a three-story jail.
The Sheriff's House, which is the northwest wing of this structure, is compatible in style and stonework pattern with the Cole County Courthouse. The square-plan building is three bays wide on each facade, with the front entrance centered on the northwest facade in a projected, gabled bay. Rectangular, six-over-six light, double-hung sash windows are on all stories except for the basement which has narrow, horizontally positioned, three-light windows All windows have smooth-cut stone trim. A steeply-pitched hip roof of terra cotta covers the sheriff's house. Small, gable-shaped dormers, reminiscent of the courthouse dormers, are centered on the northeast and southwest facades, above the cornice.
The rectangular-plan, three-story jail is joined to the sheriff's house along the southeast facade of the sheriff's house. The jail is of rock-faced stone, laid in irregular courses with the exception of the northwest facade which is identical to the stonework on the sheriff's house. Entrances into the jail are on the first floor on the northwest facade and on the basement level on the northeast facade. Rectangular, barred windows are on all facades except for the northwest facade which has no windows.
A shared, smooth-cut stone basement underlies both the jail and the sheriff's house. The windows are identical to those on the upper stories of the jail
The Cole County Courthouse and Jail-Sheriff's House, Jefferson City, Missouri, are located on the west corner of the city block bounded by E. High Street on the southwest, Monroe Street on the northwest, East Capitol Avenue on the northeast, and Adams Street on the southeast. An alley, running in a northwest-southeast direction and bisecting the block, borders the Jail-Sheriff's House on the northeast.
Sidewalks trim the curb of the block on the northwest and southwest. Two wide walks lead from the curb to the Cole County Courthouse's northwest and southwest entrances, while a third walk leads to the Jail's northwest entrance. Other walks, running alongside the Cole County Courthouse and Jail-Sheriff's House on the northwest and southwest, connect the entrance walks and the Cole County Courthouse with the Jail-Sheriff's House. A fifth walk runs from the west corner of the block to the west corner of the Cole County Courthouse.
A driveway and parking lot are immediately to the southeast of the Cole County Courthouse and Jail-Sheriff's House and extend from E. High Street to the northwest-southeast alley.
A stone monument is located on the west corner of the Cole County Courthouse lawn in the center of the walkway leading to the west corner of the courthouse.
Other buildings located on the block are not of the same style and age as the Cole County Courthouse, most of the buildings being of a more recent construction.
The Cole County Courthouse and Jail-Sheriff's House are maintained in good condition. Due to a change in Cole County's class (from third to second), improvements in the mechanical systems of the Cole County Courthouse and rearrangement of its interior to increase office space are planned.
A complete, detailed description of the interior of the Cole County Courthouse is on file with the Missouri State Park Board, P.O. Box 176, 1204 Jefferson Building, Jefferson City, Missouri 65107.
Cole County Courthouse, Jefferson City, Missouri, is significant as an example of the Romanesque Revival style of architecture, a style that dominated courthouse construction in Missouri between 1888 and 1908. This style incorporated many elements borrowed from the architecture of Henry Hobson Richardson who had revived Romanesque architecture in the early 1870's to 1880's. This Cole County Courthouse was the sixth to be built in this style; but more important, it was the first of a sub-group, all with closely related overall designs, to be constructed. Cole County Courthouse is also noteworthy for its service to the state of Missouri, as well as its service to the county. No other county courthouse has had the honor of providing meeting space for the State Senate. In addition, the building has served as the site of jurisprudence in Cole County for the past seventy-five years.
Richardson's architecture was the fulfillment of a vision of a bold and vigorous architectural style which would express the virility of a young nation and capture the spirit of several robust architectural periods in European history. He combined, in varying proportions in a bold and original way, the massive, round-arched Romanesque of Auvergne and Aquitaine; the steep-roofed and turreted transitional Early French Renaissance of the Loire Valley; and the deeply-incised decorative stonework of Byzantium. Richardson built with vigor and, at times, with grandeur; he built with imagination and with an excellence in proportion and directness and strength at a time when the revivals and resuscitations of the Romantic Movement had lost their direction and earlier conviction and were floundering about.
History of Cole County's Courthouses
Cole County, established in 1820, is like many other Missouri counties in that it has had several courthouse buildings. The present Cole County Courthouse is the third such structure.
Cole County's first sessions of the county and circuit courts were held in the home of John Inglish in 1821. At this time, Marion, Missouri, was designated as the county seat and commissioners (James Fulkerson, Sr., James Miller, Sr., and James Mood) were appointed to provide for the erection of a courthouse and jail at that location.
Until the completion of the buildings, the home of Richard Miller, located in Marion, served as the seat of justice. On May 26, 1823, it was reported to the county court that the jail was completed, costing $690.00. Specifications were:
"Inside 14 feet square, made of oak timber squared to a foot. Outside same kind of timber, same size with a nine inch space between outer and inner walls. This space to be filled with split or round timber let down endwise. Ceiling seven feet, with detailed specifications assuring sturdiness similar to walls. Oak floor one foot squared covered with two inch oak well spiked."
The Cole County Courthouse was completed in 1825 at a cost of $748.00. (One of the contractors who put in the windows, doors, and brick floors received the total sum of $75.00 for his work).
An act approved January 21, 1829, provided for the removal of the county seat from Marion to Jefferson City and appointed commissioners to sell the courthouse buildings and grounds at Marion and apply the funds toward a new courthouse in Jefferson City. On removal of the county seat, the county rented a room from John C. Gordon at $18.00 per annum to be used as the clerk's office. The county and circuit courts were granted the use of Representatives' Hall in the State Capitol. In June, 1832, the county rented the old post office from R. W. Wells for $50.00 per annum and ordered that the building be used after July 1, 1832, for county and circuit court purposes. After a time, a log structure, near the present Cole County Courthouse site, was constructed to house the county offices. The jail was built across the alley from the present courthouse site.
In February, 1836, the question of building a more permanent courthouse was brought before the county court. $4,000 was appropriated for building such a structure on City Lot 351, donated by the State, and City Lot 352, bought by the county. R. W. Wells and Thomas Miller were appointed agents to negotiate the loan of $4,000 to the county. The Cole County Courthouse was occupied in 1838.
In 1896, the contract for the present Cole County Courthouse and Jail was let. The courthouse design was by a local architect, Frank B. Miller. The Cole County Courthouse was completed in 1897.
On March 14, 1918, the Cole County Courthouse was gutted by a fire that started in the central clock tower and caused the collapse of the corner pavilions. The basement and first story were left practically intact. To rebuild the courthouse, new stone was required from the top of the first story up, with painting and cleaning needed on the basement and first story levels. As the cost of materials was too high to permit the complete reconstruction of the courthouse, it was decided that the finishing of the interior could be deferred until later. In October, 1918, the contract for the rebuilding was let to Louis Schell at a cost of $58,400. The original exterior design was to be closely adhered to, with the following features:
"The roof will be rebuilt on iron girders of slate as it was before. The tower will be rebuilt as it was before, but the carved stone will not be placed in at this time. It will be cut later in place. The two lower floors will be completed and made ready for occupancy. The court room will be left in an unfinished condition, but can be used. The clock will not be placed in until the building is finished and another appropriation will have to be made for it.
Cole County Courthouse has been used on two occasions for state purposes. In 1837, after the Capitol was destroyed by fire, the Cole County Courthouse opened its door to the General Assembly, providing them with a meeting place until a new Capitol could be constructed. In 1911, the present Cole County Courthouse provided space for the State Senate to meet after fire again destroyed the Capitol.
Due to a change in Cole County's class from third to second, the county court is currently determining what changes in the interior arrangement of the courthouse are necessary in order to provide space for the additional offices that are needed and what mechanical systems are to be updated. The exterior appearance of the Cole County Courthouse will be unaffected.
Comparison with Other Missouri County Courthouses
Cole County Courthouse is one of thirteen surviving courthouses designed in the Romanesque Revival style which dominated courthouse construction in Missouri for twenty years. Other counties with courthouses in this style, in chronological order, are: Barton County, 1888-89; Henry County, 1892-93; Jasper County, 1894-95; Johnson County, 1896; Worth County, 1897-98; Adair County, 1897-99; Andrew County, 1898-1900; Lawrence County, 1900-01; Bates County, 1901; Carroll County, 1901-04; Polk County, 1906-07; and Vernon County, 1906-08. Cole County Courthouse (1896-97) was the sixth to be built in this style. (Schuyler County, 1895, also had a courthouse in this style, but it has been torn down and replaced by a 1960-61 structure).
All the surviving courthouses share five basic characteristics: 1) a rectangular plan; 2) four, square corner towers or pavilions, crowned with pyramidal roofs; 3) facades emphasized at the center with a pedimented or gabled feature; 4) round-arched portals (either low and broad or tall and narrow), which further accentuate the central section of the facades; and 5) a fenestration pattern composed of a combination of round-arched and straight-topped openings.
Surveying the thirteen surviving courthouses, a group of four stands out due to their closeness in design and particular arrangement of Romanesque elements. This group includes: Cole County Courthouse, 1896-97; Adair County Courthouse, 1897-99; Polk County Courthouse, 1906-07; and Vernon County Courthouse, 1906-08. Of these four courthouses, Cole County's appears to be the initiator of this particular version of the Romanesque, a variation that appeared during the middle years of the Romanesque's twenty-year popularity in Missouri courthouse construction and reappeared during its last years of domination.
These courthouses include all the above characteristics, with the addition of: 1) rock-faced stone walls; 2) a tall, centrally positioned clock tower rising above the roof (with the exception of Adair County Courthouse); 3) steeply-pitched wall dormers, centrally located above the cornice on each facade; and 4) slightly projected central sections on the main facades, accentuated by projecting entrance porches. Of these four courthouses, Cole County's gives the fullest expression of this particular variation due to: 1) the addition of small wall dormers on the clock tower and corner pavilions; 2) more detailing of the window openings, especially on the corner pavilions; 3) a more complex main entrance, extending several stories in height; and 4) variety in wall surface created by variations in the textures of the stone.
The survey of Missouri's sites of historical and architectural significance is based on the selection of sites as they relate to theme studies in Missouri history as outlined in Missouri's "Comprehensive Preliminary Historic Preservation Plan." The Cole County Courthouse and Jail-Sheriff's House are therefore being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places as an example of the thematic study of civic architecture because the courthouse 1) is the earliest of four Missouri examples of a variation of the Romanesque Revival style and 2) the present courthouse, along with one of its predecessors, provided meeting space for the state legislature after a fire destroyed the State Capitol.
J. D. Forbes, "Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson and Abbott, Architects; An Introduction," Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. XVII, No.3, Fall, 1958, p.19.
History of Cole, Moniteau, Morgan, Benton, Miller, Maries, and Osage Counties, Missouri (Chicago: The Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1889), p.223.
James E. Ford, A History of Jefferson City and Cole County (Jefferson City, Missouri : The New Day Press, l938), p.31.
History of Cole, Moniteau, Morgan, Benton, Miller, Maries, and Osage Counties, Missouri, p.227.
Howard L. Conard, ed., Encyclopedia of the History of Missouri, Vol.II (St. Louis: The Southern History Company, 1901), pp.44-45.
From information collected by graduate students in a Missouri Courthouse Seminar Course under the supervision of Dr. Osmund Overby, University of Missouri-Columbia, Spring, 1972.
Jefferson City [Missouri] Capital News, October, 1918.
"Missouri's Eleven State Capitols," Missouri Historical Review, Vol. VII (Columbia, Missouri: State Historical Society of Missouri, October, 1912-July, 1913), p.228; and Jonas Viles, "Missouri's Capitals and Capitols," Missouri Historical Review, Vol. XIII (Columbia, Missouri: State Historical Society of Missouri, October, 1918-July, 1919), p.245.
Conard, Howard L. (ed.). Encyclopedia of the History of Missouri. Vol.II. St. Louis: The Southern History Company, 1901, pp.44-45.
Forbes, J. D. "Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson and Abbott, Architects; An Introduction," Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol.XVII, No.3, Fall, 1958, pp.19-31.
Ford, James E. A History of Jefferson City and Cole County. Jefferson City, Missouri: The New Day Press, 1938, pp.29-33, 171, 223.
History of Cole, Moniteau, Morgan, Benton, Miller, Maries, and Osage Counties, Missouri. Chicago: The Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1889, pp.222-235.
From information collected by graduate students in a Missouri Courthouse Seminar Course under the supervision of Dr. Osmund Overby, University of Missouri-Columbia, Spring, 1972.
Jefferson City [Missouri] Capital News, October, 1918.
"Missouri's Eleven State Capitols," Missouri Historical Review. Vol.VII. Columbia, Missouri: State Historical Society of Missouri, October, 1912-July, 1913, No.4, pp.224-231. (From an address delivered by Cornelius Roach, Secretary of State, at the ground breaking ceremonies for the present State Capitol on May 6, 1913).
Viles, Jonas. "Missouri's Capitals and Capitols," Missouri Historical Review. Vol.XIII. Columbia, Missouri: State Historical Society of Missouri, October, 1918-July, 1919, No.3, pp.232-250.
Other Pertinent Sources
Conard, Howard L. (ed.). Encyclopedia of the History of Missouri. Vol. 111. St. Louis: The Southern History Company, 1901, pp.419-420, 428.
Hitchcock, Henry-Russell. Architecture of H. H. Richardson and His Times. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1936, p.259.
________Richardson As A Victorian Architect. (Published text of a lecture from a seminar given at Harvard in the Spring of 1965).
Inventory of the County Archives of Missouri: No.26, Cole County Jefferson City). St. Louis: The Historical Records Survey, 1938, pp.4, 5, 30.
Jefferson City [Missouri] Daily Post, March 14, 1918, p.1.
Jefferson City [Missouri] Weekly Tribune, April 15, 1896, p.3.
________,April 7, 1897, p.8.
Johnston, J. W. (ed.). The Illustrated Sketch Book and Directory: Jefferson City and Cole County. Jefferson City, Missouri: Missouri Illustrated Sketch Book Co., 1900, p.15.
Schuyler, Montgomery. "The Romanesque Revival in America," American Architecture and Other Writings. Vol.I. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1961, pp.200-225, 272.
Standard Atlas of Cole County, Missouri. Chicago: George A. Ogle & Co., 1914, p.71.
Van Trump, James D. "The Romanesque Revival in Pittsburgh," Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. XVI, No. 3, 1957, DO. 22-27.