Martin County's first courthouse was built with $200 raised in 1862 by the county's 151 residents. During the Sioux uprising, a stockade was built around the building, which became the mess hall for soldiers. Once the conflict ended, the building was used as a courthouse, church, hotel, general store, and post office.
Fairmont citizens contributed $2,000 toward the cost of a new courthouse in 1882. The 63 by 81 foot, two-story, brick veneer building was built at a cost of $14,000. In the 1890s, a fund was started that led to the construction of the current courthouse in 1907 on the first courthouse site.
The December 1907 dedication of Martin County's courthouse was extensive. The entire building was draped with flags, and freight and passenger trains rolled into town packed with people. Five hundred horses were stabled and 3,000 free meals were served during the seven-hour celebration.
The three-story Beaux Arts style courthouse sits on a hill overlooking Fairmont and Lake Sisseton. Rusticated Marquette rain-drop sandstone in a reddish hue from Michigan forms the first story. The second and third stories are built with smooth, buff-colored Bedford limestone. The masonry rests on a concrete foundation five feet deep.
The main door is flanked by polished double Corinthian columns and topped by a complete entablature with a broken segmental arched pediment. A cornice and balustrade conceal a low-pitched roof. The neo-classic detailing carries through to the central metal-domed tower, 58 feet above the roof line, with a large clock on each of its four sides. The building is 79 by 116 feet and is 50 feet high. It was designed by Charles E. Bell and built by J.B. Nelson at a cost of $125,000.
Inside, visitors can find original metalwork, marble-topped counters, and stained glass. Murals were painted on the third floor and in the dome by Franz E. Rohrbeck of Milwaukee. Mural figures represent Peace, War, Inspiration, Genius, Sentence, and Execution. Among the figures can be seen William Budd, an early settler and a Native American, holding the plans for the courthouse.
The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.
Historical information adapted from "The First 100 Years... The Minnesota State Bar Association."
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