Lawrence County Courthouse
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Marian M. Ohman
Department of Community Development
Organized: Feb. 14, 1845
Named after: Capt. James Lawrence of the Chesapeake in War of 1812
County seat: Mount Vernon
The first courthouse of Lawrence County, a frame, two-story, 18-by-30-foot building, was constructed in 1846 and continued in use for many years (Figure 1). Initially, the county appropriated $400, later adding $200. Final costs were probably $700. Matlock and Sanford (also appears as Sanders or Saunders), of Springfield, contracted the building. After 1854 or 1855 when it was no longer useful as a courthouse, investors moved the building to the north side of the square, where over the years its doors opened to shops for millinery, carpentry, blacksmithing and wagon repair. Later, it was converted to apartments and finally was razed about 1916-18.
Lawrence County Courthouse, ca. 1846-1855. (From: Lawrence County, Missouri, History, 1845-1970.)
At the January term of the County Court in 1853, the court awarded a contract for a new courthouse. This building served Lawrence County for more than 40 years until gutted by fire at the end of the century. Originally planned as a two-story building, an agreement with a local lodge resulted in the addition of a third story. This brick, three-story structure with stone foundation, sills and lintels measured 50 by 60 feet. Stephen M. Walcott, of Newton County, completed the courthouse in May 1855 for about $7,000 (Figure 2).
Lawrence County Courthouse, 1853-1895. (From: Lawrence County, Missouri, History, 1845-1970.)
Improvements made in 1869-70 included putting on a new tin roof, painting the cornice and landscaping. The third-story Masonic Hall was finished at the same time. A commission in 1895 reported the building unsafe. In June, after the fire, it was sold for $225 and removed from the square.
At an election held June 1, 1900, Lawrence County authorized a $50,000 indebtedness to build a new courthouse. The townspeople were so elated when the proposition passed they built a temporary stand in the park for the band to play Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight.
The court selected George McDonald's plan. A newspaper illustration of the proposed courthouse shows pier-supported porches on three sides, which were apparently eliminated before construction (Figure 3). The contract was first let in July 1900 to J. D. Armstrong of Chicago for $48,875. After he forfeited the bond, T. A. Miller, of Aurora, Missouri, received the contract for the 84-by-104-by-82-foot-tall, stone building on Nov. 28, 1900.
Proposed 1900 Lawrence County Courthouse. Architect: George McDonald (From: Mount Vernon Fountain and Journal, May 24, 1900.)
The unusual inscription on the stone, "Be sure your sins will find you out," is from Numbers 32:23. A year after construction began the building was complete (Figures 4 and 5). architect McDonald designed similar courthouses for Johnson County, 1896; Andrew County, 1898; and Bates County, 1901.
Lawrence County Courthouse, 1900-. (Courtesy: State Historical Society of Missouri)
1900 courthouse facing Main street. (From: postcard, Trenton Boyd collection)
- History of Newton, Lawrence, Barry and McDonald Counties. Chicago: The Goodspeed Publishing Company, 1888.
- Lawrence County History 1845-1970. Mount Vernon: Lawrence County Historical Society, 1970.
- Lawrence County, Missouri History. Mount Vernon: Lawrence County Historical Society, 1974.
- The Ozark Region. Springfield: Interstate Historical Society, 1917.
- Mieswinkel, Fred G. "History of Lawrence County's Court Houses." Lawrence County Historical Society Bulletin, 9/10 (July to October 1964).
- (Mount Vernon) Lawrence Chieftan, May 10, July 15, Nov. 29, 1900; July 25, Oct. 10, Nov. 21, 1901.
- Mount Vernon Fountain and Journal, June 7, 14, 1900.
- (Mount Vernon) Spring River Fountain. Nov. 12, 1868; May 27, June 3, Dec. 2, 1869; Sept. 29, Oct. 6, 13, 1870.
- Work Projects Administration, Historical Records Survey, Missouri, 1935-1942, Lawrence County. Located in Joint Collection: MU, Western Historical Manuscript Collection-Columbia and State Historical Society of Missouri Manuscripts.