The Courthouse House
Quad River News--Nov. 20, 1984
By Bill Gladstone

One might think it is more than coincidence that this month's Halfway Worth Mentioning is about the courthouse and that Ed McLeod presented the Historical Society with a scrapbook about the renovation that has recently been done on the courthouse. I knew Ed had been assembling material for a scrapbook for a long time but not until I wandered into Judge Osborne's office the other day did I know the scrapbook had been completed. I keep these articles planned about two months ahead and at the time I found out about the scrapbook I was already working on this article.
The scrapbook is a complete historical record of the renovation project from beginning to end. To give you some feeling for how thorough the committee was, the scrapbook has a copy of the financial statement of the company which did the work.
The accompanying picture is an early day photograph of the new courthouse. I haven't done enough research to date the picture. There are four or five things in the picture that would help to date it. Some automobile buff should be able to identify the model year of the car. The wooden water tower and the little produce building east of the Prugh building also help to establish a date.
This article is really an extension of the Halfway Worth Mentioning column which ran Sept. 8, 1982. That was the column and picture which described the wooden courthouse which stood in the courtyard and served the county from 1866 until the early part of 1895.
The first courthouse in the county was built in either late 1863 or early 1864, and most probably both. It was a two-story, wooden building, 20 feet wide and 40 feet long, costing $6,000 and it sat on the northeast corner of the square in Grant City.
In Feb. 1866 the building burned. About the only memorable thing about that particular fire was that Amos Frakes had a dressed deer hanging in the building and after the fire was over the bystanders feasted on roast venison.
In 1866 the courthouse pictured in the 1982 article was built. It wasn't many years until rumblings began in the county to construct a new modern courthouse. The Gentry and Worth County History published in 1882 paints a very dismal picture of the courthouse in Worth County. In part, the description say, "The offices, with their low ceilings, present a dingy, contracted appearance, poorly lighted and miserably ventilated. The courtroom possesses the same characteristics. There is nothing about it that is neat or attractive, but much that is gloomy or repulsive. The furniture is of an ancient, rickety mould, and the bare walls are covered with the dust and mildews of a dozen years, while over the walls and windows the spiders have woven their webs, which hang upon all sides like the soiled and faded network of a past age. The entire external appearance of the building is in perfect harmony with its interior, and no one would know, without being told, that the old frame structure, which now disfigures the public square, with its antique style of architecture, is the courthouse of Worth County."
Not to be outdone in literary style, the Worth County Times in Dec. 1894 carried the following article describing the courthouse. "There isn't a greater eyesore to the advancement of our magnificent little county that the rookery standing in the center of the public square called the courthouse. And yet it is the next thing to talking to the furies even to broach the subject of a new courthouse. And yet it is the next thing to talking to the furies even to broach the subject of a new courthouse. The man who will go and take a good look at the old barn and then say that is good enough for so progressive a community as ours, will have no difficulty in finding a jury of twelve men who will agree unanimously that he should be sent to the insane asylum for treatment."
Whether that literary outburst did the trick or not, that same month the county court made up of A.L. Conn, C.M. Hunt and R.T. Arnold made an order authorizing the sale of the courthouse to the best bidder. Dr. T.J. Smith placed a bid for $100 and on Feb. 7, 1895 the sale was ratified with the provision that the building be torn down immediately and the debris cleaned away. The good doctor used the material to build a barn in the south part of Grant City.
In Dec. 1895 a special election was held to vote on a proposition to finance the building of a new $20,000 courthouse by direct taxation. This proposition was defeated 579 for and 608 against. Another proposal was not put before the voters until nearly two years later. This time the proposal was for a $25,000 bond issue to be retired by a tax of 10 cents on each $100 valuation. On Sept. 7, 1897 this proposal passed by 899 to 292.
It is reasonable to assume that as soon as the weather broke sufficiently in the spring of 1898 work began on the excavation for the basement for the new building. The June 16, 1898 issue of the Worth County Times carried a long article about the ceremony attending the laying of the cornerstone by the Masonic Fraternity. Of particular interest in the article was the contents of the sealed copper box. It contains a copy of each of the county newpapers, a list of judicial and executive officers of the county and city, a sample of each of the stamps in use in the post office department of our government, a list of the officers and members of the Masonic lodges at Allendale, Denver, Sheridan and Grant City, and a sample of each of the United States coins of the vintage of 1898.
The Worth Times, in the July 21, 1898 issue, also noted that the first brick had been laid on the previous Thursday morning at 8:30 at the extreme northwest corner of the building by one E.F. Hass of St. Joseph.
The work must have progressed rather rapidly for that time because the Feb. 2, 1899 issue of the Times devoted nearly all of its front page to a description of the newly completed building.
The initial planning of the courthouse and the subsequent contract for its construction did not include the clock. The money for the clock was raised by subscription. The costs for the competed building are interesting.
Gen'l contract for bldg…$19,400.00
Steam heating plant…1,929.00
Prisoners detention room…122.00
Jail and furnishings…1,250.00
Gas lighting plant…525.00
Courtroom seating…440.80
Plans & specifications…800.00
Total…$25,226.10
The court had invested the bond money and during the construction time it has accrued some $997.50 in interest, so when the building was completed they had a small excess for some small additional expenditures.
Worth County, and Grant City in particular, must have been a bustling place around the turn of the century. The population of the county reached its historical high of around 10,000 persons about that time. The courthouse was built in 1898; 1899 marked extension of the railroad from Grant City to Albany and beginning of the brand new town of Worth; the new schoolhouse was built in 1903-04 at Grant City.