THAYER COUNTY COURTHOUSE - 225 North 4th Street
PRESS THE PLAY BUTTON BELOW TO LISTEN TO THE HISTORICAL AUDIO OF ROOSEVELT PARK!
1871 – THAYER COUNTY
In 1871 Thayer County became a separate county. Previously, in 1856, Thayer County was designated as part of Jefferson County, known as Jones County at that time. Later, in 1867, Jones and Jefferson Counties were united under one name, Jefferson County. The 1870 – 1871 Legislature provided for the division of the county, with Jones County retaining the name Jefferson as to hold the old county records. This change caused the previously named Jefferson County to become Thayer County.
1876 – FIRST COURTHOUSE
The location of the county seat was a subject of controversy in early years. The first courthouse was completed in 1876 at its current location. The original survey completed by the Union Colony had set aside this block for public use. Mr. John Hughes obtained the contract to build Thayer County’s first courthouse; ground was broken on June 8, 1876; and work commenced. By November, 1876, the courthouse was completed. The first courthouse was a two-story wood structure costing about $6,000. The courthouse housed offices for the various county officials and the jail cell was under the courthouse with two port holes. A new jail was erected in 1888. The wooden courthouse served as the business center of Thayer County for the next 24 years until 1900.
1900 – COURTHOUSE DESTROYED BY FIRE
In January of 1900 talk had begun about the need for a new courthouse. The talk was confirmed in the court of public opinion when, on July 27, 1900, the wooden courthouse went up in flames. At 5:30 a.m. smoke was seen coming from the roof, the alarm was immediately sound, and in about 15 minutes, many people were on scene. The vaults, furniture, and all valuable county records were saved. The building, insured for $5,000, was considered to be a total loss. The origin of the fire was unknown. Various county offices carried on business at temporary offices in homes in Hebron.
As the county commissioners made plans for a bond election for a new courthouse, the towns of Belvidere, Davenport, and Gilead made pitches to become the new county seat. In November, 1900, a bond issue for a courthouse in Hebron passed. However, state officials ruled the vote invalid due to a mistake in providing public notice of election. A second bond election was conducted in May, 1901, and this time, the bond $55,000 bond issue passed 1,074 to 422.
1901 – CONSTRUCTION BEGAN
Excavation and building work began immediately and the cornerstone was laid on November 21, 1901, in a daylong celebration that drew thousands of people.
The new courthouse exterior was blue Bedford stone, in the Richardsonian Romanesque Revival style of architecture. The walls were 12-inch concrete and solid brick masonry from the foundation to the roof line no wood was used. The floors were supported with steel beams and filled in between each beam with concrete fireproofing. The inside had 10,000 feet of marble, each office had its own fire-proof vault, and all furniture was made of white oak.
One of the features of the courthouse are the faces at the entry and on each corner of the front. The story that has been passed around for many years is that Gutzon Borglum, sculptor of the four presidents on Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota, is the man who carved the faces. Part of the controversy is also that these faces had names of local people who lived in Hebron in the early 1900’s. The names supposedly attached to the faces were: Frenchie Samoisette, the courthouse yard keeper; Big Mary, widow of a man accused of murder and lynched, and who later operated a house where men could quench their thirst; Borglum himself, and a prominent Hebron businessman. The story is told that William Bauman from Hebron met Borglum on a train in the 1920’s and when Borglum learned that he was from Hebron, he told him that he had sculpted the courthouse faces and gave identity to each. While it is a believable story, no definite proof has ever been found, so this remains a mystery.
Finally, on April 10, 1903, the county officers moved into the new courthouse. Business affairs continued normally until the May 9, 1953 tornado.
1953 – TORNADO
In the 1953 tornado that hit Hebron, the courthouse was hit, shaking the building in its entirety. After consulting structural engineers, it was determine that it would best to remove the tower and install a flat roof. By September, 1953, the courthouse repair was underway. The tower was being removed and brick was being replaced. Even though it had lost part of its majestic look, the building still retained much of its beauty.
The courthouse still has the hidden faces, marble floors, corner vaults in each office with beautiful hand-painted pictures on each vault door, and Ralph Hawkins paintings of the courthouse prior to and after the tornado are displayed on the second floor. The current courthouse is an example of Romanesque Revival – Collegiate Gothic Revival style of architecture.