The Wilkin County Courthouse in Breckenridge, Minnesota has stood at the corner of Dacotah Avenue and Buffalo Avenue for 90 years. It was completed in 1929.
Courthouse Building Maintenance Supervisor/Manager Glen Roberge has been working at the courthouse for six years at the end of July. He gave his knowledge of the ins and outs of the building, both old and new.
The courthouse is on the National Register of Historic Places. The National Park Service website gives a brief explanation of what the National Register of Historic Places does.
“Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America’s historic and archeological resources.”
Roberge explained that being on the register means that they have to check with them before altering the building.
“Any changes have to go through the Minnesota State Historical Preservation Office and I’ve been dealing with them because we want to, up on the second floor, put in some rails,” Roberge said. “To secure people so kids aren’t falling over or whatever and meet the MCIT railing height of 42 inches and we’re at 36, we’d be going like to 44 inches for safety.”
There were two courthouse buildings prior to today’s structure. According to documents from the Wilkin County Historical Society, the offices for Wilkin County were housed in a rented space for a yearly lease of $250. A courthouse building was commissioned in 1882, but before the county offices could move in, the leased building burned on January 1, 1884. Some of the county records were lost in the fire, but the offices relocated to the new courthouse soon after.
The original courthouse burned down in the early 1920s. Records disagree on whether it was in April of 1922 or 1924.
The construction of a new building began in 1927, the cornerstone was laid in 1928 and the building was completed in 1929.
The vault in the county recorder’s office holds large books full of deeds, handwritten. Renae Niemi, Wilkin County recorder, explained that they are documents of years gone by.
“Back in the day they were hand written in them. Every document in there is a document that was recorded in this office since 1858, around there,” Niemi said.
The courthouse used to be heated with coal burning boilers through a steam system, according to Roberge. In 1964, the heating system was updated with a oil boiler. About 20 years later in 1985, the courthouse received multiple updates, including: another more efficient boiler in addition to the oil boiler, air conditioners, an elevator and handicap accessible bathrooms. The boilers can both switch between burning gas or oil.
“It’s old systems but they seem to work pretty well,” Roberge said.
A steep metal staircase leads up through a narrow stairwell to the roof. The roof of the courthouse is rubber coated with a small, glass-roofed building which protects the stained glass rotunda.
“This roofing was put on in the ‘80s, it’s over 30 years old and we’re actually looking at redoing it here next year because we’re starting to get a few leaks,” Roberge said.
Inside the rotunda cover there are eight powerful lights hanging above the stained-glass center. They are used to light the rotunda at night. In the past, the light fixtures have held 300 watt lightbulbs. However, Roberge was able to find LED lights which use significantly less electricity.
“Three hundred watts for this whole thing, whereas before it was 2400 watts,” Roberge said.
Another renovation which was made in 2016, was the addition of some drain tile to the basement of the courthouse which required the replacement of terrazzo tiles, according to Roberge.
The floors are made of terrazzo, “a combination of fine stone that has been poured for a walking surface,” according to documents from the Wilkin County historical society. The wainscoting is made of Tennessee pink marble, while the base is made of Italian marble.
Furniture of decades gone by is still found within the courthouse walls. The oak chairs in the jury room have the date “1-23-29” and still look new.
In 2006, the Wilkin County Law Enforcement Center was added on to the building’s east side.
The motto engraved onto the front of the courthouse reads, “TO NONE WILL WE DELAY TO NONE WILL WE DENY RIGHT OR JUSTICE.”
The courthouse has stood for 90 years and as Roberge said, “hopefully it will hang in for another 90.”