The Court House

The voters of Griggs County, at an election held June 2, 1883, authorized its commissioners to issue bonds to the amount of $30,000.00 for building and furnishing a courthouse and jail.

On January 7, 1884 the bonds were issued and arrangements were made for their sale.  The commissioners accepted the offer made by Mr. T.J. Cooper of any block they might select, in the Cooper's Addition to Cooperstown, and $1,000.00 cash, and chose Block 3 as the location for the new building.

The lowest bid received for construction of the building was submitted by Alex.  Moffat, of Sanborn, for the sum of $20,980, which bid was accepted.

The May 23, 1884 Courier reported:

"The first stroke of work on the new $30,000.00 court house was done Thursday afternoon by Mr. Langford who does the grading and excavating.  "

More progress was reported in the June 20, 1884 Courier

"Water was struck in the court house well Saturday at the depth of 48 feet from the surface.  It rose in the well with such rapidity that the workmen had to climb for their lives.  At last accounts there was 21 feet of water and still rising - no blindfish as yet."

The original courthouse building measured 91 feet long, 48 feet wide, occupied 3,077 square feet of ground, and was three stories in height.  The basement was 91,2' feet above ground and T2 feet below ground level.  The main story was ten feet high, and the upper story was 16 feet 6 inches high, and the top of the finial on the tower swung in the air 98 feet from the ground.  Originally, it contained three fireproof vaults, one each for the register of deeds, treasurer, and clerk of court.  The original color of the interior was an olive drab, trimmed and shaded by a darker tint.  The woodwork was grained in imitation black walnut and oak, which was painted by T.O. Skattebo, a resident of the county.

The building originally had three brick jail cells with windows.  It was heated by a steam heating boiler, tested to 150 pounds pressure.  The Cooperstown Courier of December 26, 1884 said of the new heating system:

"The completeness and thoroughness Of this system - put in by S.L Pope & Company, of Chicago - may be judged from the fact that steam circulates through all the radiators in all parts of the building with a half pound of pressure at the boiler, and during the recent cold snap, with no storm windows, all the rooms were warmed to 70 degrees with five pounds pressure of steam".  "The commissioners have ordered the register of deeds, treasurer and judge of probate to move to their new quarters, as soon as the furniture arrives (which has been selected), the remaining officers will occupy their respective rooms.  It is the intention to fence the square in the spring, and with the remaining money to ornament the grounds."

The Courier article listed the cost of the building at $20,980.00 and listed additional expenses that brought the total cost to date to $29,212.28.

The July 17, 1885 Courier reported that a fine sidewalk had been built in front of the courthouse and leading up to the entrance with convenient hitching posts for horses.  The latter ornaments would serve to protect the shade trees that will surround the building.

R.C. Cooper submitted a bill on January 4, 1887 in the amount of $499.95 for fixing up the courthouse grounds, fencing, etc. done in 1886; and in the April of 15, 1887 Courier the following notice appeared:

"Sheriff Michels wants to warn the owners of the swine that run promiscuously through our streets that it will go hard with their swine-ships unless they are kept out of the court house yard.  "

The trees were planted in the courthouse yard in 1891.  According to Myrtle Porterville, local historian, those young trees were transplanted from the Sheyenne River valley, and the early residents used those young trees as pickets to tether their domestic animals, and the animals in tugging on their ropes as they grazed caused the young trees to grow very crooked.  During the 1960's and 1970's many of those crooked trees were cut down and some were replaced.

The commissioner's proceedings of October 2, 1899 tell of a petition being presented with 39 signatures of residents and businessmen of Cooperstown requesting the installation of telephones in the courthouse.  Four telephones and an extra drop were furnished by A. Groff, superintendent of the telephone company, for $80.00 per year.  On August 30, 1904, the county commissioners ordered that a 30-light gas lighting plant be installed in the courthouse.  Then, on April 7, 1908, the commissioners hired Platt Electric Company to wire the courthouse for electric lighting and install fixtures.  A bill for this work was submitted and allowed in the amount of $385.00 on July 7, 1908.

The county auditor was, on April 1, 1918, instructed to purchase and have erected a flag staff of iron, not less than 65 feet high above ground.

A bid in the amount of $2,210.00 was accepted May 11, 1918 to erect a vault in the Register of Deeds' office, and upon completion, the existing vault was to be turned over to the county judge's office, and the vault was approved at the October 6, 1918 meeting.

By 1885 there were three English speaking church congregations in Cooperstown, the Congregational, the Methodist, and the Baptist, neither of which had as yet built a church.  The county commissioners, possibly intending to show no partiality to any one church group, on April 7, 1885, made the following:

"Ordered that the application of the First Congregational Church of Cooperstown for use of the court room for Church purposes be rejected. "

All three churches had built their own churches by the fall of 1886.

Many meetings, programs and training sessions have been held in the courtroom, which is still being used for the same purposes to date.  Some of the events that took place in the court house were: a meeting of the stockholders of the Creamery; a Teachers' Institute, compulsory for all teachers in the county to attend, and which lasted an entire week in 1888; church Christmas programs for the various denominations and masquerade dances.  In 1895, the Lutheran congregation planned to build a church and the ladies of the church held a social to raise money by setting up a large tent on the courthouse lawn from which they sold ice cream and other refreshments.  The band played, and croquet was played by torchlight.

The B. B. Brown family in 1883 brought to Cooperstown a large, heavy grand piano from Pennsylvania, which was the first piano in the area.  The editor of the Courier, in June 11, 1886, made the following comments on moving the piano:

"Did you ever move a piano? If not, you have no idea how people strain themselves in the back, early in life.  J. N. Brown undertook to move Mrs. B. B. Brown's piano to the courthouse Wednesday.  George Stork was sprung in the back.  R. C. Cooper had done too much lifting - Knud Thompson had a knee out of whack - Rollef Berg wasn't feeling well - A.N. Adams thought the fresh air would do John Glass good - Dr. Newell had been kicked by a horse - Dr. McGuire had a patient waiting for him around a corner - A. L. Bowden said he had a new clerk that was a terror to snakes handling pianos - Charley Van Wormer said he didn't live here anyhow - D. McDonald said he wasn't receiver for pianos - Jimmy Muir thought the commissioners ought to buy a piano for the use of the county and have it on draft at all times -John Glass said he would have to get a screw driver and take its legs off - John Jorgensen thought he could catch more of the boys with a corkscrew - when, suddenly, the editor of the Courier came to the rescue, shouldered the musical box, and deposited it in the court house without turning a hair."

Various excerpts taken from the record of commissioners' proceedings indicate it must have been a problem for the commissioners to decide if, or how much, to charge for the use of the courtroom, and which rules to implement.


September 8, 1890:

"Ordered that the court house hall should not be used or allowed to be used, by any Party or Parties for dancing purposes."

July 11, 1892:

"Ordered that $1.00 per night's use of court hall be charged secret societies after November 1, 1891.

November 17, 1894:

"Ordered that an amendment to resolution passed Sept.  8, 1890 in regard to letting court hall for dancing and other entertainments, the words $20.00 be stricken out and $10.00 be inserted."

January 10, 1895:

"A resolution was passed by the Board of County Commissioners to put the question of renting court house hall for $10.00 per night, or not at all, to the vote of the people at the coming spring election.  " (No other mention was made of this.)

May 18, 1895:

"Ordered that a schedule of prices for rent of court house hall: For dances, $15.00 per night; For other entertainments, $10.00 per night; For entertainments of a series of 3 nights or more, $7.00 per night.  All rents to be paid in advance.

November 18, 1895:

"Ordered that all entertainment for charitable purposes be charged for lighting, and heating of court house hall. 

January 17, 1899:

"Ordered that the Cooperstown Fire Department be granted the use of the court house hall for their annual ball, free of charge.  "

November 13, 1900:

"Resolve that the court house hall be closed for all entertainments requiring a stage to be built, or curtains to be hung, necessitating the driving of nails, or using of hooks in plaster, ceilings or floor."

This new courthouse in the 1880's was a huge, tall structure in comparison to other existing buildings, so it stuck out like the proverbial "sore thumb" from the bare prairie with no trees, and few, if any, buildings surrounding it.

The courthouse through the years has been a witness to happy times, when a child has been adopted, or an alien received his citizenship.  It has also witnessed sadder times, when a prisoner has faced a penitentiary sentence, or a marriage has been dissolved and children face separation from a parent-, or when parental rights are terminated and children face separation from both parents.  There have also been amusing incidents, such as the enthusiastic lawyer vehemently expounding his case to the jury with an occasional hard blow on the table for emphasis.  With each blow of his fist, the water glass made a very noticeable move toward the edge of the table.  Finally, came one blow too many and the glass went crashing to the floor.  After a moment of utter silence, the lawyer stooped to pick up the pieces.  The judge suggested he leave it, since it "couldn't fall any further."  Whereupon the embarrassed lawyer muttered that he didn't want his opponent stepping on the glass and suing him, which broke the seriousness of the moment.

One of the officials at the courthouse (I was told it was Ben Tufte) owned a hunting dog that quite often accompanied him to his office.  One evening when Mr. Tufte left the office he unwittingly locked the dog in the building.  The dog apparently tried his best to free himself, since the door in the old state's attorney's office in southwest corner of the building still contains the deep scratches the dog left there.

The floor in the present Clerk of Court's office still shows where a bullet lodged when an "empty" gun a sheriff was examining discharged accidentally after ricocheting off the tin covered walls.

At various times visitors have stopped by the courthouse to chat.  One such visitor mentioned that his father had worked at the local lumberyard when this visitor was a young boy, and came home to report that a load of special fancy lumber had gone to the courthouse.  He had assumed that it was used in the courtroom but was disappointed to see so much of the woodwork painted so that he could not identify where that wood had been used.  My memory falls me as to the variety of wood, but I believe he said it was "curly mahogany."

Another time, a visitor told us his father had worked in the local creamery when it was located on the east edge of town.  One visitor identified himself as the son of Ole Skrien, an early resident living east of Cooperstown along the Sheyenne River.

The trademark of one courthouse employee was his habit of pushing his eyeglasses up on his forehead, then forgetting they were there, would go from office to office searching for his glasses, until someone would finally tell him where they were.

Anyone closely examining the construction of the courthouse will notice several boards of Birdseye maple in the floor of the Register of Deeds office.  The ornate hinges and doorknobs, and the hand painted vault doors are other very interesting items to take the time to examine.  The heavy framework visible in the attic of the building is also impressive, as well as the view of the surrounding countryside from the tower windows, although the steps leading to the top of the tower are no longer in the best condition.

A 26' by 47' fireproof addition to the west side of the court house was added in 1959 to house the auditor's office on the main floor, and the offices of sheriff and social services in the basement.  The original bids accepted totaled $28,576.44 for the general, electrical, and plumbing and heating contracts.

The courtroom was extensively remodeled, and various windows have been replaced, ceiling lowered, walls paneled throughout the building in the last twenty-five years.  Also, an entry was built at the rear of the building since the energy crunch came into being.  A new coal stoker was installed in 1978-79, bids for which were opened on December 16,1977 and the bid of Frostad Plumbing & Heating, Valley City, was accepted in the amount of $126,755.00 with final payments thereon approved on March 20, 1979.

The courthouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Lillie Simenson

Source: Cooperstown, North Dakota 1882-1982 Centennial page 15

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