Brown County's first formal courthouse was built by Julius Berndt in 1865 at a cost of $2,964. Berndt also built an earlier jail and designed the Hermann Monument that still stands on a hill above Center Street. Berndt's 1865 courthouse was a simple two-story Georgian style building with a hipped roof, central doorway, and evenly spaced paneled windows. An 1866 lynching, incited by anti-Native American feelings, brought attention to the shortcomings of the courthouse and adjoining jail, so they were replaced in 1873.
The new blocky brick building was built for $10,000 on a site just east of the current courthouse. Tall, round-topped windows with hoods and a triple arcade at the entrance reflected an Italianate influence, but corner piers and other parts of the building suggested an English Regency period residence.
The present German Renaissance Revival courthouse (pictured above), had its beginning in an 1887 board of county commissioners' resolution to sell bonds of $35,000 to build the courthouse. Their actions set off an effort by Sleepy Eye Lake to take the county seat from New Ulm. While plans for the courthouse were drawn by architect Carl Struck of Minneapolis and construction began, Sleepy Eye persisted, bringing two different petitions to the county board and offering to bond itself for $30,000.
Eventually, efforts to move the county seat failed and the courthouse in New Ulm was completed and dedicated in 1891. The present jail and sheriff's office date from 1903-04. In 1913, the grounds were regraded, giving them their current park-like appearance.
In 1918, a one-story addition was added to the front of the courthouse. Wood floors were replaced in 1921; central heating was installed in 1925; and a second floor was built over the front addition in 1930, removing the tall, peaked tower and the statute of Justice. The statue was installed in the courthouse gable.
Alex Schwendinger (1862-1934), a New Ulm native, painted eight oil paintings in the building. The largest of the four paintings in the courtroom is called "Justice is the Foundation of the Nation." Others depict scenes of American history.
The Brown County Courthouse as it looked in 1939.
This 1925 photograph of the courthouse was taken prior to the addition of a second floor over the 1918 front addition and the removal of the tower.
This 1905 picture shows the Brown County Courthouse as it was originally built, prior to several additions and renovations.
Historical information adapted from "The First 100 Years... The Minnesota State Bar Association."
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