Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Courthouse History
Courthouse Steps Ron James, author of "Temples of Justice", points out that in many Nevada counties, when the people decided that the time had come to build a courthouse, they seemed to rise to the grandeur of the occasion regardless of constraining circumstances such as finances or local architectural expertise.


 

And so it was with Alpine County. The Board of Supervisors sought and employed the services of Frederick DeLongchamps, one of the best known architects in the west. In 1916, DeLongchamps had designed the Douglas County Courthouse in Minden, and it is very possible that this fact was related to the decision by the Alpine County Board.
Courthouse Under Construction


 

Courthouse Under Construction Both the Courthouse and the New Webster School, which now house the Alpine County Library and Health Department, were designed by DeLongchamps. Both buildings are listed as "State Points of Historic Interest".


 

It could be argued that these two buildings constitute the apex of Alpine County's architectural history. So take another look at this magnificent building, at its form and style, its strength and beauty both inside and out. And consider the grace and talent which went into its design, into the quarrying and finishing of the rock, into the floors and wood work and doors. It is a building of which Alpine County citizens may justifiably be proud. Opening Ceremony


 

Collage of Early Courthouse Pictures

Courtroom Symbolism
"The bar, typically a balustrade or low wall, separates the public from the formal proceedings. Space is established for prosecutor and defendant, but there is no difference between the two in this balanced system where the accused is innocent until proven uilty. The jury is segregated from the proceedings by another wall or balustrade, apart and yet in the midst of the proceedings, with every opportunity for observation. Access to a rear door allows for removal of individuals without public interference. The witness box is closely associated with judge's bench, itself a raised, ornamented, and focal point of the courtroom. The judge, like the jury, has a rear entrance into the courtroom separate from attorneys and the public alike. Variations occur, but the symbolic language of elevation, balustrades, separate space and classical details remains the same."

-Ronald M. James


 

"The courthouse is one of the most powerful visual reminders of the presence of law and order in society. These often unequaled examples of monumental architecture symbolize civilization, stability, and justice. Because they are usually well built, they frequently endure for a long time and come to represent a significant part of a people's heritage."

-Ronald M. James

Old Courthouse Picture


 

Front Keystone

"During the gold and silver "boom" of the 1860's and 1870's, when numerous structures were being erected in the county, several quarries were opened for the production of dimension stone. The principal one was located near Silver Mountain City. A light, cream-colored massive rhyolite tuff was quarried here that was used in the construction of several local buildings. … This building [Alpine County Courthouse] was constructed in 1928 of blocks of rhyolite tuff that were obtained from Silver Mountain City."

-Mines and Mineral Resources of Alpine County


 

"Enough native stone was quarried above the site of Silver Mountain City for a second-story courthouse, but for the financial reasons a smaller building was erected. The surplus stone was used to construct the New Webster Schoolhouse [now the Alpine County Library]."

-Alpine Heritage

Whole Courthouse Picture


 

Front Arch of Courthouse

"The architects, in employing styles that value symmetry, succeeded in designing courthouses that function as metaphors for the ideal of the judicial process and of the local government. As with the scales of Lady Justice herself, these monuments generally exhibit balance and order and serve as sturdy focal points that instill confidence and pride in the community."

-Ronald M. James


 

 

The Alpine County Courthouse "is a single story, hipped roof building with a pinched cornice. There are quoins [any of the large, squared stones by which the corner of a building is market] at the corners of rough hewn stone. There are three rounded arches into the stonework at the main entrance. A rough hewn cornice decoration, like crenellation [indentations or loopholes in the top of battlement] at the cornice above the doorways openings. Two square window openings are at each side of the main entranceway. The building rests on a vented concrete foundation. A long, low flight of stairs leads to the front entrance, made of concrete. The architectural style is Stone Romanesque Revival."

-Historical Resources Inventory

Corner masonery of Courthouse


 

Courthouse Window "Markleeville missed being chosen the first county seat in the election of 1864 by some 95 votes; but in 1875 the voters elected to move the county seat from Silver Mountain City. The old Odd Fellows Hall became the new Alpine County Courthouse and remained in use until 1928. During the eleven years between the two elections, the voting population of the county had decreased from 1,660 to 172, reflecting the drop in total population from approximately 11,620 to 1,204, when the demonetization of silver caused a general exodus from all the mining communities.

-Alpine Heritage

January 5, 1920

"The following Committees were appointed by the Chairman to investigate the building of a new courthouse, & the clerk ordered to notify the same. Com. for obtaining site, Mary N. Gray, Geo. W. Koenig & Wm. A. Thornburg. For making brick, C.W. Barrett & W.S. Coyan. For investigation of Silver Mt. stone, F. H. Payne & L.T. Price. For Probable cost, R.W. Bassman, A.P. McCollum, Mrs. E Scossa, Fred Bruns. Committees to report at the April meeting."

-Minutes, Board of Supervisors

April 9, 1927

A Special meeting of the Board of Supervisors was held "To outline and discuss to and with Mr. DeLongchamps [sic], architect, tentative plans for the erection of Courthouse." At the same meeting, James W. Thornburg "was authorized to locate for and behalf of Alpine County a certain deposit of stone suitable for building purposes, located in Section 22, T.9 N., R.30 E. The Clerk was authorized to mail notices inviting correspondence with any one interested in the proposition of sawing and cutting building stone."

-Minutes, Board of Supervisors

May 4, 1927

"Mr. DeLongchamps appeared before the Board with several sketches for the new Court House, after discussing the matter the architect suggested that another meeting be arranged for the 14th day of May, to further consider the plans."

-Minutes, Board of Supervisors

 

May 19, 1927

"It was moved and seconded that the Architect be and is hereby instructed to work out and complete the one story plan as presented, also that the architects fee for working drawings and specifications be 3 3/5 per cent of $30,000. Mr. DeLongchamps stated that he would have the plans ready for adoption in two weeks time." The Board also authorized "Mr. Thornburg to apply to the Forest Service for a special use permit for building stone in the National Forest, for public buildings in Alpine County."

-Minutes, Board of Supervisors

 

 

 

The next mention of the project in the Supervisors' minutes is July 2, 1928, when the "Board ordered that any building stone that has been quarried and is not needed for the Court House be donated to the Webster School District, and also such District is privileged to quarry such additional stone as they may require before Dec. 31, 1928 [sic]."

-Minutes, Board of Supervisors

July 5, 1927

"Mr. DeLongchamps appeared before the board with plans for a new courthouse. He was instructed to make certain changes in the plans, as suggested by the members of the board." The board also instructed the District Attorney to prepare the necessary call for a Special Election for a Bond Issue for $18,000 "for completion of the Court House and jail". The Board also agreed to open up a quarry near Silver Mountain City for the purpose of procuring stone for county purposes, and Grant P. Merrill was "authorized and empowered, on behalf of the Board, to employee the necessary labor and to purchase the necessary material to put the same into operation."

-Minutes, Board of Supervisors

On July 18, 1927 the Board approved the plans and specifications submitted by F.J. DeLongchamps and agreed to receive bids on August 22. On August 15 the bond election was held, and the measure, which required a two-thirds vote, passed by the following vote:

  For Issuing Bonds Against
Precinct 1 6 0
Precinct 2 23 2
Precinct 3 8 0
Precinct 4 4 0
Precinct 5 4 10
  __ __
  45 12

-Minutes, Board of Supervisors

On August 22, 1927, the bid was awarded to E.K. Fowler and Son for construction. The bid amount was $23,743 for No. 1 and $33,690 for No. 2, but there is no explanation in the minutes as to the difference between the two. On August 26 the Board met "to consider revised plans and specifications prepared by Architect and accepted the revised bid of E.K. Fowler in the amount of $30,640.95. The Architect was directed to get the opinion of the Bureau of Public Welfare on jail specifications." On September 6, all paperwork was completed and signed.

July 11, 1928

"A committee appointed by the Chamber of Commerce came before the Board and submitted the following recommendation: That the Board of Supervisors of Alpine County furnish the meat for the barbecue and that the Chamber of Commerce furnish the coffee, sugar and milk. The matter was taken under advisement." No further mention of this matter appears in future minutes.

-Minutes, Board of Supervisors

September 17, 1928

"A committee of three appointed by the Chamber of Commerce appeared before the Board to discuss and make arrangements with the Board in regard to the financing part of the celebration in connection with the dedication of the new Court House. It was ordered that so much of the advertising Fund shall be expended as may be necessary to assist in such celebration." …"The Chamber of Commerce requested that the Board of Supervisors clean up Water Street and remove all rock from the street before the Dedication. On motion it was ordered that the Supervisor of Dist. No. 2 [Harry Fleming] clean up Water Street." Also, "on Motion Mr. Springmeyer was authorized to interview the Band at Gardnerville, and make arrangements for music for the Dedication exercises."

-Minutes, Board of Supervisors

Drillholes for Plugs and Feathers This photograph shows the drill holes for "plugs and feathers". A plug consists of two metal half round objects which are inserted into the drill hole. A feather is then inserted into the plug. As the feather is tapped into the plug, the plug expands. A series of these is used to break loose a slab of rock from the base rock.

Sources of Information

"Temples of Justice: County Courthouses of Nevada", by Ronald M. James. Univ. of Nevada Press, 1994. [Available at the Alpine County Library.]

"Mines and Mineral Resources of Alpine County, California"; Calif. Div. Of Mines and Geology, County Report 8; 1977.

"Alpine Heritage - One Hundred Years of History, Recreation, and Lore in Alpine County, California - 1864-1964"; Centennial Book Committee; 1964. [Available for sale at the Alpine County Museum and at local merchants.]

"Historical Resources Inventory of Markleeville"; State of California, The Resources Agency.

Minutes of the Alpine County Board of Supervisors - Alpine County Clerk.

"Nevada" Magazine; July/August 1994.

"The Record Courier" - Sept. 14, 1928; Sept. 21, 1928; Sept. 28, 1928.

Photographs on this website and displayed in the Alpine County Superior Court Courthouse are from the Alpine County Museum as well as the following:

The Hoke Barrett Collection
Larry Cenotto
Judge George Francis
William J. Clark Collection
California State Library
Nancy C. Thornburg

Parade in Markleeville


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