Linn County Courthouse
The Linn County Courthouse (108 North High Street) was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
Summary: The third Linn County Courthouse, 108 High Street, Linneus, Linn County, was constructed between 1912-1913 by Ray and Son Contractors. The architects were Rae Sanneman and R.W. Van Trump of Kansas City. The courthouse is an example of the Beaux Arts style that was popular in public buildings around the turn of the century. The three-story cubic building is constructed of concrete, stone, and brick and has a one-quarter basement used for heating facilities and storage. It is located directly in the center of Publick Square in Linneus, and sports a well-tended lawn with bushes and trees along with benches and picnic tables. The courthouse has had few alterations save the bricking over of the east and north entrances and the addition of an elevator shaft to the west exterior of the building in 1992; the exterior was also sandblasted about the same time. Except for a few paint jobs and plumbing updates, the interior has not been changed. Despite these alterations, the building retains integrity of design, materials, location, setting, and association.
The Linn County Courthouse is a dignified Beaux Arts-influenced cubic structure that stands three stories tall and measures 55 by 80 feet with the main entrance opening to the west. The courthouse had four exterior entrances, one on each facade; the east and north entrances have since been bricked over.
The Linn County Courthouse originally was meant to be red brick but a buff color soon replaced red in the plans. It is designed in two media: the brick is laid in a running bond pattern and rusticated ashlar makes up the entire first story and the central projecting bays of each facade. At the base of the second story is a limestone water table. A decorative entablature at the top of the third story precedes the dentil-trimmed balustrade at roof level, which adds some classical details to the courthouse. The roof itself is a low truncated hip with tile shingles. There are two semi-circular dormer windows on the sections of roof facing east and west, and one dormer window each on the sections facing north and south.
Each facade is designed with projecting central bays. There are plain, rectangular 1/1 windows on all three stories of all the facades. These are replacements to the original windows. Exceptions to the rectangular windows are the windows in the central bays above the entrances. On the north, south, and west sides each are three small fixed lights at the second floor with paired 1/1 windows mid-level between the second and third floor. Above is a single pane lunette surrounded by a terra cotta arch with a prominent keystone.
The main door (west facade) faces High Street and is a single plate glass door with glass panes on both sides and a horizontal triple-paned window above the door. It is inset into the central pavilion and is preceded by two modest Doric capital columns in limestone. Some decorative vertical brick rustication exists above the main door. Directly south to the entrance is the addition made in 1992, an exterior elevator shaft that covers all three stories and projects 10 feet out from the original structure. Outside the door are benches and picnic tables for relaxing and visiting and a concrete walkway leads to the front door.
In the west lawn is a monument dedicated to John Holland reading, "Donor of this fifty acres of land to Linn County for permanent seat of justice." In the southwest lawn is the flagpole.
The east facade faces Jackson Street. It is not as ornate as the west facade, lacking the arched window and brick design. In its place on the second and third floors are paired 1/1 paned windows that are smaller than the other bays. The east entrance has been bricked over, but a matching triple-paned window to the west facade remains intact over the bricks. Above the former doorway is a sign that spans the entire central pavilion reading "Linn County Court House." In the southeast lawn resides a cannon used in World War II. It was placed in the lawn between 1946 and 1948, and has stood there in good repair since then.
The north facade faces Main Street. It has an arched window on the third story of the central pavilion and a horizontal triple-paned window at the base of the second story, along the water table. The entrance has been bricked over, but there is a horizontal single-paned window over the former entryway.
The south facade faces State Street. It is identical to the north entrance with the exception that its doorway has not been bricked over and is open for public entrance. It has double white painted metal doors with windows in each. There is a concrete walkway leading up to the doorway and there are shrubs and small trees lining the building near the entrance.
Upon entering the West Entrance:
The west entrance opens into a small foyer with benches on each side. The floor is laid in small white octagonal tile with green and red fretwork decoration along the edge of the floor. Directly south of the entrance is the doorway to the elevator shaft. The foyer leads into a corridor with offices and a marble dogleg staircase with metal railings on each side (to the south and to the north). The south entrance is under the south staircase. The first and second floor house offices and the vaults are located on the second floor. The third floor is the location of the county court.
On the north side of the first floor are the men and women's restrooms. The original appearance has changed very little since 1913. White porcelain toilets and sinks have replaced the original toilets and sinks, but the stalls and paneling in both restrooms are still made of the gray and white marble wainscoting, and the wooden doors on the stalls are original. In the men's restroom resides a unique fixture of two 3'2" gray and white marble urinals. Next to these is an original porcelain washtub. Outside of the women's restroom is the original water fountain of the courthouse. It is a shallow white porcelain sink standing four feet off the ground. It is not in use, and stands next to the modern, working water fountain.
The second floor has a hall running north to south with offices on the east and west sides. It has changed little since 1913, even the location of the particular positions are in the same offices. The main vaults are on the second floor. One joins the County Clerk's office with the Probate Judge's, and another stems off the other side of the Probate Judge's. These vaults hold birth, death, education, and court ruling records. Lining the walls of the second floor are the names of the veterans of war from Linn County.
The courtroom resides on the third floor of the courthouse. It does not take up the entire floor; there are rooms for the jury to deliberate as well as private rooms for the judges, offices, and restrooms. The courtroom has rows of windows on the east and west side of the room and the north and south walls are lined with bookcases and pictures of former judges. On each wall are two decorative white pillars. Sixteen benches, eight on each side with a central aisle, make up the area for the spectators. The judge's stand is an impressive oak construction on the west side of the room. A rise behind the stand contains a stained glass window with a wreath design with the letters "LC" in the center of the wreath.
There is not a full basement, only a quarter basement with cement floor and walls used for heating facilities and some storage.
The only alterations to the building are the addition of an elevator shaft in 1992 and the bricking over of the north and east entrances in 1996. Some sandblasting work was done throughout the 1990's to improve the exterior appearance of the courthouse. The original windows have been replaced. Few interior alterations have been made: the building is now air-conditioned, some locations of offices have moved, and there have been a few paint jobs, but otherwise everything stands as it has since 1913.
Summary: The third Linn County Courthouse, 108 High Street, Linneus, Linn County, is an example of dedication and pride in Linneus, MO. After a run of low-quality courthouses, the county felt a need to build a lasting monument for justice. The Linn County Courthouse, was constructed in simple Beaux Arts and finished in 1913. The Linn County Courthouse is significant under Criterion A in the area of Politics and Government. The period of significance runs from circa 1913, the date of construction, to 1949, the arbitrary 50-year cut off for National Historic eligibility. The Linn County Courthouse has served as the seat and center of justice and politics in the county for 86 years and is the earliest symbol of government in the county. The courthouse has needed no repairs over the years, and has had no alterations, save a few that have been made in recent years to bring the courthouse up to date and make it available to a wider range of citizens. In the 1990s, Linn County bricked over the north and east entrances of the courthouse, and an elevator shaft was added in 1992; the courthouse was also sandblasted in the 1990s. Although these alterations have had minimal effect on the original design of the building, integrity has been affected to the extent that the building is not nominated for architectural significance. However, the building retains sufficient integrity to stand as an imposing monument to order and stability in the county.
The area of Missouri that is now Linn County was originally part of Chariton County, established after Missouri statehood in 1820. The land was unsettled by white people at the time, rich with wild game and black soil, and full of thick forests. The Sac And Fox, Pottawattamie, and Musquakie Native American tribes were the primary inhabitants, as well as the occasional white hunter/trapper.
The first settlers to arrive in the area were white hunters from the Fayette area. James Pendleton and Joseph Newton were so beguiled by the temptations of the area that they returned a year later in 1831, with their wives and children. They settled in Section 14, Township 58, Range 21, which is today the Locust Creek Township. At the time, the area was nicknamed Locust Creek County. By 1833, there were 10 families in the area. The early settlers and resident Native Americans lived harmoniously together. There was some fear in the white settlers at the outbreak of the Black Hawk war in Illinois in 1833. Although the war posed little or no threat to the residents of Locust Creek County, the area was evacuated nonetheless. When Black Hawk, the chief of the Iowa tribe and the leader of the war, was captured, the settlers moved back home and the area began to develop rapidly. By 1837, a thriving community was emerging and the petition to make the Locust Creek community a county was passed. On January 6, 1837, Linn County was approved. The county was named for Missouri U.S. Senator Lewis F. Linn who served his congressional term from 1833 to 1843 and died later in 1843.
In 1839, the townspeople decided that there should be a county seat. John and Elizabeth Holland, one of the original ten families of Locust Creek County, donated 50 acres of their land to be the seat of local government in Linn County. The county seat was originally called Linnville, but was changed at the request of Senator Linn himself who preferred "Linneus". There is still confusion as to whether the name Linneus is in honor of the German scientist, Carolus Linnaeus, or simply a revision of Senator Linn's own name.
Shortly after Linneus was established, local government officers and county court was scattered around to whatever residence could accommodate them. This was inconvenient and sometimes even dangerous as is demonstrated by the account of the 1882 history of Linn County:
"Before the building of the courthouse, the county offices were usually at the residences of the officials. Court was held at Barbee's, Fore's and Holland's. Judge Clark held his first court at Holland's. The court assembled in one room of the cabin (the first in the place) which was warmed by a fireplace with a smoky chimney. The smoke was almost intolerable. The judge and the attorneys shed tears copiously and it was well for the blind goddess who was supposed to preside on the occasion that she was blind. Her eyes would have been smoked out if she had any. The trouble with the chimney was that the back wall was bad — full of gaps and cracks. It chanced that in the midst of the session the back wall fell out. The judge thereupon adjourned his court, and was not very sorry the mishap occurred. As he left the courtroom the sheriff came, told him that a fight was in progress nearby, and asked for instructions. "Oh! Never mind," said the judge, "let them alone — let the boys enjoy themselves!"
Instances like these prompted the townspeople to realize they needed a courthouse. The first Linn County Courthouse was built by Goolsby Quinn and David Jenkins and was superintended by William Mines. They were given $400.00 to build the 36-by-20-foot log building with four brick fireplaces. With the extra cost of benches and windows, the total cost for the "temporary court house" was $516.50. It was finished behind schedule in November 1841.
By 1846, the court had become busy enough that the current courthouse did not meet the needs of the town. Besides this, the courthouse was in disrepair, as it had not been well built and had bad fireplaces. Thomas Barbee, one of Linn County's earliest settlers, was appointed to make an estimate on supplies and lay out the floor plans for the new courthouse. A $4,000 grant was given to William Sanders, Hiram E. Hurlbut, and Daniel Grace who were appointed to superintend the construction. James L. Nelson, who also built the Daviess County Courthouse in 1843, was the contractor for the second Linn County Courthouse. The brick, two-story building was situated in Publick Square and finished on schedule and under budget in the fall of 1848.
Only nine years later, in 1857, extensive remodeling was needed. An addition was made and an entrance was added, and by 1859 the only bar in the county could be found in the courthouse. The courthouse had to be repaired again between 1865-1867 and then again in 1871. In the twenty years since the courthouse was built, Linn County had spent more in repairs than the courthouse had actually cost to build.
By 1879, the courthouse was considered unsafe, and the top story was not in use. All the offices in the second story had to be moved to a business building across the street. Although the building was condemned, there is some evidence of the general use of the first floor as indicated in Sanborn maps. According to the Linneus Bulletin. "The old courthouse at Linneus was a patchwork representing the efforts of county courts for the past forty years to give the people a capital building. There was no place in it large enough to hold a term of circuit court; the offices were crowded, and, although many hundreds of dollars had been spent in repairs, the vaults gave no security to the people's records."
The building stood condemned and practically unused from 1876 till the early twentieth century, when juries began to repeatedly petition for a new and much-needed courthouse. The residents of Linn County were becoming increasingly concerned that the vaults in the second courthouse offered no protection to the county's records. On February 5,1911, the Missouri State capital burned to the ground. A statewide election to approve the building of the new capital was set for August 1, 1911. Around the same time, the residents of Linn County petitioned for a new courthouse, and the county decided to time the election for a $60,000 bond to build the courthouse at the same time as the election for the new capital. This was done for two reasons, the first being that officials hoped support for the capital would overflow to support for a new courthouse and the other being that holding the two elections together would cut down election costs. At about 9 o'clock PM on the first of August, the last precinct sent in its results and it was quickly spread all over Linn County that the courthouse had been approved. The Linneus Bulletin's front page read, "GO RING THE BELLS AND FIRE THE GUNS! Courthouse Election Wins — Linn County Lines Up For Progress." The election for the new capital had not even merited a front-page article.
Brookfield and Linneus had battled for the designation of county seat previous to the election. Brookfield had even approved a $75,000 grant to build the courthouse in an effort to add beauty to the town, but either by tradition or lack of support, Linneus was granted the distinction as county seat even though the bond for the Linneus courthouse was $15,000 less than that for Brookfield. Not surprisingly, Brookfield's voting return against the courthouse was almost twice as much as its affirmative votes.
On Monday, September 4, 1911, the architects for the courthouse were named. They were Rae Sanneman and R.W. Van Trump, from an architecture firm in Kansas City. The architects used the courthouses in Carroll, Daviess, Vernon, Johnson, and Grundy County for inspiration. Construction was scheduled to begin in April of 1912. According to the September 29, 1911 issue of the Brookfield Argus, the courthouse structure would be of vitrified brick with stone trimmings and would much resemble Brookfield's Frances Building. The court rejected the idea of unnecessary fancy trim, and a dome was never considered because of its potential fire hazard and also to cut costs. Ray and Son received the building contract in January 1913 for $56,000 and the cornerstone celebration was June 5, 1913. A year later the Linn County Courthouse was finished at about $60,000. Not only did it house space for the county clerk, commissioner, judges, attorneys, recorder, treasurer, and sheriff, but also a space for the county coroner. Four vaults were also added to hold the precious records that had spurred on the building of the courthouse in the first place.
Today the Linn County Courthouse provides much of the same service as it always has. It still houses the offices of the county officials. The lawn of the courthouse is used for picnics and gatherings, and the trees, bushes, and lawns are kept neat and orderly. Life in Linn County is generally quiet so there have been no flashy court cases over the years, mostly inheritance settlements and property suits and the occasional marriage. The courthouse was used in World War I and II for war registry for the departing soldiers, and on the second floor, the walls are covered with a mural of names of World War veterans. The Linn County Courthouse is nearing a century in age and still remains a social, governmental, and political center of the town. The few alterations that have been made have simply made the courthouse more accessible to a wider range of people and have also added beauty and organization to the courthouse.
Brookfield Argus. 1911.
History of Linn County. Missouri. Kansas City, MO: Birdsall and Dean, 1882.
History of Northeast Missouri. 3 vols. Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, 1913.
Linn County, Missouri, Historical Society, comp. History of Linn County. Missouri. 1989. N.p., 1990.
Linneus Bulletin. 1911.
Ohman, Marian M. Encyclopedia of Missouri Courthouses. Columbia: University of Missouri, 1981.
Turner, Connie (Linn County Clerk). Interviews and correspondence with Rebecca Penfold. Compiled July 16, 1999.
† Rebecca Penfold, DNR/DSP/Historic Preservation Progam, Linn County Courthouse, Linn County MO, nomination document, 1999, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.