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               July 1, 2014

  Contact the Editors:
      Charles Hansen, Editor & Contributor
      Jenna Mills, Associate Editor & Contributor

  Read previous newsletters: Newsletter Archives

  Filling in the Spaces
  — by Charles Hansen

     Finding the vital records on our ancestors is usually easier than finding out what happened between their birth and death, but as a genealogist it is more important than just filling in numbers on the family group sheet or pedigree chart.

     I have been helping the Spokane County Auditor in finding the genealogy of the Spokane County Courthouse. Now they know when it was built, construction started in 1893 by David Fotheringham a former mayor of the city of Spokane. The architect was Willis Ritchie who won the contest to build the courthouse. The old courthouse was too small and Spokane had had a big fire in 1889 and so the county wanted a fireproof (or nearly fireproof) courthouse. The courthouse was to have three floors and a basement, a grand staircase to the first floor in the east end of the courthouse. Top floor was courtrooms, 2nd floor some courtrooms and offices, first floor auditor, assessor and treasurer, basement a courtroom, sheriff and jail, and a farmers room. Total cost $250,000.00.

     Now I am pretty sure we all have ancestors that were farmers, so why did they have a farmers room in the basement of the courthouse? Remember it was in 1893. About 1920 they removed the grand staircase, removed a lot of dirt all around the south side and a new grand staircas was added to the south side of what was originally the basement. They renumbered the floors so the basement was now the first floor, then second floor, third floor and fourth floor as it is now. So why did they do this?

     So, was the courthouse fireproof? Yes, a few weeks after the courthouse opened in 1895 some wiring shorted out when the courthouse was closed for the night and a fire burned up the wires from the second floor to the ceiling, leaving a lot of black soot on the wall and ceiling, but except for the burning smell in the courthouse no other damage.

     There was a murder on the second floor (now the third floor). Two lawyers were in a courtroom presenting files for a probate. One of the lawyers insinuated that the wife of the deceased had been having an affair with the other lawyer. The deceased had filed for divorce a week before he died. So after leaving the courtroom the one lawyer confronted the other one and hit him with his cane. The other lawyer pulled out a gun and shot the cane weilding lawyer who took a few steps and colapsed on the floor. The lawyer with the gun went down to the basement to the sheriffs office and turned himself in. There was a big writeup in the Spokesman Review newspaper, as next to the lawyer that was killed was a reporter for the Spokesman Review who had been in the courtroom to cover the probate hearing.

     About 1938 the county applied for federal WPA funds to remodel the courthouse, and that was finished soon after WWII was over, but the damage to the original building by poor workmanship is evident in several places. It is such a magnificent building and it looked like they did not care at all. Today they are trying to make it close to original as possible and still have it usefull on into the next century.

     What does this have to do with your genealogy? What did your ancestor do for a living, why did he live where he did? Why did he move? Did he leave Europe? Why? Was he in the military? Fight in any war? Knowing some of these questions will help fill in the space between birth and death and as some people say, put some flesh on the bones. Just having a file full of names and dates is really not doing genealogy, just collecting names.

     Well, I do know the answer to one of the questions about the courthouse, the farmers room. If you were a farmer in 1895 you would have had one of three ways to get to the courthouse, horseback, wagon or buggy, and after 20 to 40 miles on a dusty road you needed a place to freshen up, get the dust off, and relax before doing the business you came to the courthouse for. They had a lounge comfortable chairs and separate restrooms for the men and ladies. I have not found out about moving the stairs or the remodeling in the 1940s yet, but then genealogists always love researching.

(click image to enlarge)

     If you look closely to the right, just left of the "R"estricted, no parking sign, is a small entrance for employees only or emergency exit, with a roof over it, just above that roof you see the bricks are a different color, that is where the original stairs to the courthouse connected to the building.

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