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Washington County
Organized August 21, 1813, (effective November 1, 1813) from Ste. Genevieve and named for George Washington.

County Seat: Potosi

Address:

Washington County
102 N. Missouri
Potosi, MO 63664

Photograph

History
Washington County, one of Missouri's earliest, organized in 1813. The commissioners located the seat of justice at the village of Mine a Breton, which later became Potosi, and accepted donations of 50 acres for the county seat.

Moses Austin donated 40 of the 50 acres; his partner, John Rice Jones, who was also one of the county judges, donated the other 10 acres. Austin, an immigrant to Missouri from Connecticut, Virginia and Pennsylvania, came to Washington County for business opportunities in lead mining. He is known to have had an interest in architecture and undoubtedly provided the courthouse plan.

In the summer of 1814 an advertisement appeared in the St. Louis Missouri Gazette asking for bids on the proposed courthouse which was described in detail. The plan for a three-story courthouse with two-story wings was ambitious. As Missouri progressed toward statehood, Washington County hoped that a building suitable to function as a statehouse might entice legislators to locate the first state capital at Potosi. But this, like so many of Moses Austin's elaborate schemes, was overly ambitious and never came to full fruition.

County commissioners sold 79 lots in Potosi for $5,080 to finance the courthouse construction. Nehemiah Cravens received the building contract for $5,595. The court accepted bond with securities for completion by December 1, 1815. Cravens was unable to fulfill his contract, even though alterations reduced the three-story center building to a two-story frame on stone foundation with brick columns and one-story wings.

Austin was appointed courthouse commissioner when the original commissioner resigned after Cravens forfeited. Sureties on the contractor's bond later funded construction on wings which were used for county offices. The first story of the main building became the courtroom; the second story was never finished. In 1849 the courthouse was razed, and salvage material was used in construction of the second courthouse.

County officials moved the site of the second courthouse south of the original location on a tract of land purchased for $750. The court appointed Matthew Webber superintendent and accepted the building contract from Henry Wright for $10,000. Other Missouri courthouses by Wright include Franklin, 1847, St. Francois, 1848, and Iron, 1858.

The two-story building with cupola and slate roof had a stone foundation. It was painted red, with the mortar joints delineated in a process called penciling. The plan called for offices on the first floor, a courtroom and two jury rooms on the second.

Wright completed his work in 1850, and the court accepted the courthouse April 29 even though they considered some of the work unsatisfactory.

In April 1897 A. H. Mitchell presented plans and specifications to the court for repairing, re-roofing and painting the courthouse. The mansard roof dates from this time. Part of the earlier cupola seems to have been incorporated in the remodeled tower.

D. N. Porter and Son received the contract for remodeling for about $1,500 in August and had completed most of the work in December 1897. Fire consumed the building January 9, 1907.

Immediately, Washington Countians thought of building. After petitioners called for an election, voters expressed their willingness in March 1907 to incur a $30,000 indebtedness to build their third and present courthouse. Pictures of Mississippi and Perry County courthouses appeared in the newspapers for consideration. From several plans which had been submitted, the court selected the proposal from Henry H. Hohenschild, a prolific architect of Missouri courthouses.

The court awarded the building contract to W. R. Oder of Canton, Missouri, for about $30,000. I. F. Plank was appointed superintendent. Cornerstone ceremonies took place March 25, 1908.

Washington County's red brick courthouse, with a tall, square, bracketed tower rising from an entry porch, is comparable to neighboring Madison County's courthouse, 1899, designed by St. Louis architect Theodore C. Link.

Copyright 2002 University of Missouri. Published by University Extension, University of Missouri-Columbia.

Additional History
1st COURTHOUSE: Construction began in October, 1814. It's location was approximately two blocks north of the present courthouse. It was supposed to be a two story structure with two one story wings, however the building was never completed. Only one story was finished - the main building for a courtroom and two wings for county offices. According to the specifications, the building was to be a two-story frame structure with two wings, each one story in height. It was to have a large porch in front with brick pillars extending from the foundation to the roof. Eventually the wings for county offices and the first story of the main building for a courtroom were finished. The second story, however was never completed. The building stood until 1849 when it was torn down and some of the material re-used in the construction of a new courthouse.

2nd COURTHOUSE: Construction began in February, 1849. It was a two story brick structure standing on a stone foundation at the intersection of High and Missouri streets. There was a hall and stairs on the first floor, and the courtroom and two jury rooms on the second floor. It housed offices for the county and circuit court clerks, probate judge, grand jurors and the sheriff and collector. The building was completed in April, 1850 and public records were moved in.  In 1906 this building caught fire and burned, literally, from the top "down". Some people believed that the fire was started by a pigeon which carried a smoldering cigar butt into a nesting area in the roof. Before the building was completely destroyed the officials were able to carry the records out safely.

3rd COURTHOUSE: The present Courthouse, at the corner of Missouri and High streets, was constructed in 1907 on the same site as the second one. It has county offices in the basement and first floors and a large courtroom on the second floor.

Source: Carrolls Corner

Records at Courthouse

Recorder of Deeds: Index to deeds, 1813-1895; Deed records, 1813-1890; Plat book, (no dates); Marriage records, 1815-1918; Negro/ colored marriage records, 1865-1875.

Clerk of the County Court: Permanent record of births, 1883-1895; Permanent record of deaths, 1883-1895 and 1974-1976; Negro marriage records with births, 1865-1875.

Clerk of the Circuit Court: Index to circuit court records, 1814-1895; Circuit court records, 181 9-1 886.

Clerk of the Probate Court: Index to probate records, (no dates); Probate records, 1841-1887; Administratorís/executorís letters, bonds and records, 1825-1911; Inventories, appraisements and sale bills, 1813-1845 and 1868-1879; Settlement records, 1813-1855; Guardianís/ curatorís records, 1813-1855; Will records, 1819-1926
More Links
Search for Washington County Records Catalog

Washington County Inventory Database -PDF file

Roll by Roll County Microfilm Listing - PDF file

Permanent Record of Births - PDF file

Permanent Record of Deaths - PDF file

Washington County Birth Records Vol 1

Marriage Book 1865-1875 Black Records only, with Births

Washington County Marriages 1815-1937

Birth & Death Records Database

Missouri Birth & Death Records Database: Search & Record Availability