Historic courthouses still sources of pride, justice

Handsome representatives of public architecture from the past, Nevada’s classic courthouses occupy places of pride in rural county seats across the state.

Many of these survivors from yesteryear still function as county government centers. Some serve other purposes now, supplanted by newer structures. Others stand among ruins in hinterland ghost towns, victims of changing times and bitter county seat wars.

Take time to visit some of these historic buildings when traveling Nevada highways.

Towns across the state waged heated battles to persuade the Nevada Legislature to name them as the seat of their respective counties. Not only did county seats gain importance and political clout, but handling the county’s business provided a stable base for population and prosperity. To Nevada’s mining towns, subject to the boom and bust cycles of that industry, serving as a county set meant survival.

Built to last, many rural Nevada courthouses are still in use much more than a century after their construction. Where county officials strive to preserve the fine craftsmanship of the past, modernization has been kept to a minimum. Many of these old buildings retain old woodwork, fixtures and furnishings. Those venerable courthouses still in use remain open to visitors.

Since Clark County’s original courthouse from the early 1900s succumbed decades ago, head into Nevada’s heartland to find its classic courthouses. U.S. Highway 95 passes through several county seats with distinctive old courthouses.

Goldfield’s Esmeralda County Courthouse stands along the highway, a two-story edifice hard to miss with its crenellated roofline. A half-hour drive takes you to Tonopah, where the Nye County Courthouse looks over the diminished town that boomed in the early 20th century. Its working space is now augmented by a modern complex located elsewhere. This courthouse supplanted a distinguished brick building still standing in the ghost town of Belmont when Tonopah took over as county seat. Belmont had replaced Ione, now also a ghost town, as county seat.

In Hawthorne, look for the old Mineral County Courthouse near downtown, now empty and forlorn but protected behind a fence. A newer building replaced the dignified relic.

In Fallon, head downtown to locate the Churchill County Courthouse, built soon after Fallon bested several other contenders for county seat in 1905.

If you use Alternate U.S. 95 through Yerington, you’ll see the 1911 Lyon County Courthouse that replaced the original in old Dayton when copper-rich Yerington won the county seat battle.

In the Carson Valley, take a side road to one of Nevada’s oldest towns, Genoa, which boasts the state’s oldest courthouse. Dating from 1865, the two-story building served as the Douglas County Courthouse until 1916. Now it houses a museum open in the summer. Neighboring Minden took over as county seat, erecting a grand courthouse in 1916.

Across the valley, take the mountainous loop route through Virginia City, where the Storey County Courthouse dates from the lucrative Comstock mining era that began in 1859. One of the oldest courthouses still in use in Nevada, the stately brick building joins dozens of historic survivors lending Virginia City its distinctive charm.

When you cross the state on Interstate 80, you’ll spot several more fine old courthouses. Replacing an earlier structure, Washoe County’s 1911 silver-domed courthouse in Reno retains its grandeur despite many additions. Lovelock’s Pershing County Courthouse stands as the country’s only remaining round courthouse. In the seat of Humboldt County, Winnemucca’s 1921 courthouse is a neoclassical beauty. The grand neoclassicial Elko County Courthouse in Elko replaced the original, built in 1869, in 1911.

Along U.S. Highway 50, Austin ruled as a mining queen and seat for Lander County for 116 years. After six decades of wrangling over the title of county seat, Austin lost the distinction to Battle Mountain, where today’s courthouse occupies a former school building. The beautiful 1869 courthouse in Austin now houses offices.

Historic Eureka boasts a restored 1870 Eureka County Courthouse among its many remnants of bygone days. A walking tour of the compact downtown includes the white-trimmed, red brick courthouse.

In Ely, the 1887 White Pine County Courthouse reposes in a lovely park.

U.S. Highway 93 passes near Pioche, seat of Lincoln County since 1871. Plagued by cost overruns and finance charges, the infamous "Million Dollar Courthouse" left the county in debt until 1938. Today, visitors touring the stone structure learn about Pioche’s lawless early years.

Margo Bartlett Pesek’s Trip of the Week column appears on Sundays.

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