Historic Courthouse in Stillwater getting a major makeover

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The Washington County Historic Courthouse in Stillwater, Minnesota’s oldest standing courthouse, is getting another major makeover — this time on the outside.

The courthouse abruptly closed in June 2022 for several months when crews discovered a fracture in one of the heavy timber trusses holding up the roof of the 1870 building.

This year, a $4.5 million exterior restoration project is underway at the corner of Third and Pine streets.

Crews, along with construction manager Kraus-Anderson, are restoring the building’s exterior, copper roof and dome; doing brick and mortar repair, and grading part of the site. The work is expected to be completed early next year, said Eden Rogers, an engineer with Washington County Public Works.

Crews are bringing back and exposing certain original elements and materials that have been covered up over the years, including an integral gutter system that was built into the roof in the late 1800s.

“The last time it was reroofed, they just roofed right over it,” Rogers said.

The work, combined with window replacement, painting and site work, will help to stop the deterioration due to water intrusion that has been ongoing, according to Rogers.

Crews have had to search outside of Minnesota for materials “to match the historic nature that was there in the beginning,” Rogers said. “We’re going back to some of the original building materials and colors.”

The nature of the work required contractors “who are skilled and familiar with historic-structure work, so they’ve brought in contractors from all over the United States, including the roofing prime contractor from St Louis,” she said.

The historic courthouse was designed by architect Augustus Knight in the Italianate design. When it opened in 1870, it incorporated a courthouse, jail and sheriff’s residence. A newspaper at the time described it as a “substantial and elegant structure … unsurpassed by any similar building in the Northwest.”

Contractors work on scaffolding wrapped in debris containment netting as they restore the exterior of the Washington County Historic Courthouse in Stillwater. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

The Washington County Courthouse moved to its new location at 14949 N. 62nd St. in 1975. The historic courthouse — owned and maintained by the Washington County Parks Department — has a full time staff person on site and is open to the general public. Exhibits are held in the courthouse, and it is rented out for private events, concerts and mock trials, Rogers said.

FROM 2017: Washington County Historic Courthouse holds court again to mark 150th

During construction, the entire property, including the grounds, building and parking lot, are closed to the public.

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