Washington County, Kansas Courthouse History
A complete accounting of the preceding courthouses is fascinating, mysterious and troublesome. The Washington County Museum contains a wealth of information on this subject. The following brief overview of the events summarized is from a book available at the museum The History of Washington by Helen Hennon.
In 1867 the county bought the stockade house and set up county offices forming the first Washington County Courthouse. It housed offices for the clerk, treasurer, commissioners, sheriff, surveyor, school superintendent, probate judge, district judge, clerk of the district court, assessor and coroner.
In the early morning hours of March 31, 1870 the first courthouse was lost to fire. Records suggest that the first was due to:
The building was a total loss, all records of school lands, titles and deeds to property were destroyed. Sometime later the retiring county treasurer was charged with arson and embezzlement but was acquitted.
The second County Courthouse was a two story frame structure completed in 1871.
Exactly what happened will never be known but most told the same story. Rumors state that on a stormy mid July night in 1872, a group of riders on horseback left town with their arms and saddle bags, containing packages of books and papers. They rode northward where a creek, appropriately named for the Devil, twisted and turned across the prairie through an out cropping of sandstone.
There behind a high ledge of rock, two turns from the road, the riders built a small campfire and huddled out of the storm to watch all of the county treasurer's records burn. When the blaze had burned down they hid the evidence of their fire and rode silently back to town content that the auditors who were coming to town to check the books were fouled forever.
Nevertheless the burning of the county treasurer's records was not the end but continued the ten years of trouble which plagued Washington County. For the auditor was still coming and there remained in the courthouse the well kept records of the county clerk, which if had been available would or could have entrapped a guilt treasurer.
In the early morning of December 15, 1872 the second courthouse burst into a mass of uncontrollable flames and burned to oblivion. Historians of 1882 passed over the incident lightly, suffice it to say there is a mystery surrounding the double destruction of the county property that the future alone would reveal. Once again all the county records were lost.
The third courthouse, built in 1873, was a duplicate of the second courthouse. It stood on the courthouse square until it was moved off the site to make room for the construction of a brick courthouse in 1886.
The fourth courthouse was a large elaborate ornate brick building. In the mid 1890's it survived an earthquake that shook down its highest tower. It was actually a better looking building without that added piece the authorities of the day believed. Thus the tower was never replaced.
This beautiful courthouse and many other buildings could not survive the deadly tornado that struck July 4, 1932. The tornado left a path of death and destruction from Kansas through Nebraska.
The cornerstone for the fifth courthouse was laid on March 11, 1933 and dedicated on March 4, 1934. The courthouse today is simple and elegant in an art deco style surrounded by many trees. A Statue of Liberty stands on the southwest corner of the courthouse square and an old style gun on a concrete slab to the north of the main sidewalk.