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The Marion County Courthouse: A Historical Perspective

The following articles were written by Senior Judge Richard D. Barber, who served as a Circuit Court Judge in Marion County from 1974 to 2004.

Part I: The First Courthouse

Part II: The Second Courthouse

Part III: The Third Courthouse

 

Part I: The First Courthouse

This three-part history of our Marion County courthouses should appropriately be preceded by a brief history of the county itself.

Perhaps the very first attempt to create and organize a provisional government of the Oregon Country was in the year 1841, but this attempt failed. Before another effort was made, Jason Lee founded what is now Willamette University, in 1842.

The next year on July 5, 1843, the first provisional government was successful in dividing the Oregon Country into four districts. These districts were named Yamhill, Tuality, Clackamas and Champoeg (also Champooick).

The hub of this subdivision was at or near the point that the Pudding River empties into the Willamette River. This point is near the community of Butteville and not far from the present Champoeg State Park.

Tuality District extended northward from the Columbia River to parallel 54 -40, including much of British Columbia. This northern boundary was the goal of the slogan "54 - 40' or fight" in a boundary dispute between the United States and Great Britain.

Yamhill District contained the area west of the Willamette River to the Pacific Ocean and south to the Alta California border, the 42nd parallel.

Clackamas District started near Oregon City, extended north to 54 -40' and east to the Great Divide, the summit of the Rocky Mountains.

And, Champoeg District, later to be renamed Marion County, extended south from Butteville, along the Willamette River and an extension thereof to the Alta California border, and eastward to the Great Divide, including parts of Idaho and Wyoming.

In 1845 the second provisional government was formed, and these four districts were designated as counties.

The next year a treaty between the United State and Great Britain resolved the boundary dispute, and the 49th parallel became the northern boundary of the Oregon Country. This is the present boundary between Canada and the United States.

The Oregon Territory was organized on August 14, 1848, and the following year Champoeg County was renamed Marion County. It was named after General Francis Marion, a Revolutionary War hero, with no particular connection with the Oregon Country. He was known as the "Swamp Fox" for his tactics and successful attacks on British forces in South Carolina. He also served in the first provincial Congress of South Carolina and was reelected several times to the State Senate, even while leading his brigade. Salem was also designated as the county seat in 1849.

Subsequent re-subdivisions of Marion County, particularly Linn, Lane and Wasco counties, ultimately reduced Marion County to its present boundaries by 1856.

The early sessions of the Marion County Commissioner's Court were held in private houses or church buildings. The first meeting, in 1849, was held in the Judson-McLain building, located at what is now 960 Broadway NE. This is the present address of an office building housing Valley Credit Service, Inc., and attorney's offices. This house was once the home of Jason Lee, and it is thought to be the second oldest building in Oregon. It was also the home of the Honorable Reuben Patrick Boise at the time of his death, April 10, 1907.

This building, which was perhaps the very first "courthouse," was moved from Broadway to its present site as part of Mission Mill Village in Salem.

It would be another few years before an actual courthouse was built, but the county government gave priority to building a county jail in 1852 at the corner of Church St and Ferry St, the present location of DeLynn's Cleaners, 198 Church St NE.

Dr. William H. Willson, upon whose donation land claim the City of Salem was originally platted, designated the present courthouse site "for public purposes." This site is located between High & Church Streets, West to East, and State & Court Streets, South to North. As the jail was being built, the Commissioners began plans to build a courthouse on the dedicated site.

The biggest problem was financing the construction.

The first attempt was to encourage voluntary subscriptions from the public, later to be collected by legal proceedings, when payment lagged. Dr. Willson even donated nine city lots to be sold at auction to help build the courthouse. The lots sold for $90 to $215 per lot.

Construction began in 1853 after prizes were offered for the best design and plans. Albert W. Ferguson won the first prize of $30, and he, along with Elias Montgomery, were eventually awarded the construction contract. The total cost of construction was $15,703.93.

The building was completed in 1854. A simple 2-story frame building, 68 feet long and 40 feet wide, with four doric columns on the front, with a cupola on top.

The courthouse was adequate for county business, and a courtroom, with jury accommodations, served the territorial courts.

It also served as the site of the Oregon Constitutional Convention of 1857, in a four week session which produced the fundamental charter approved by Congress in 1859 in admitting Oregon to statehood.

In the meantime, the jail located on Church and Ferry streets was destroyed by fire, and in 1858 the Commissioner's Court authorized construction of a new jail for $8000 on the courthouse block. It was a two-story brick building, 34 ft long, 25 feet wide and containing three cells. It was located on the southeast corner of the block, which is now the south end of the present parking structure. This jail served its purpose until the second courthouse was built in 1873.

By 1870 it became apparent that a new courthouse was necessary in order to serve the county and the courts. The site selected was the site of the first courthouse, and it therefore was necessary to remove it. It was also obvious that county and court business should not be unduly interrupted during the period of construction.

The Commissioners negotiated an agreement with G.W. Lawson and John S. Hawkins who would be vested with title to the old courthouse, to move it to a nearby site, and restore and maintain it for interim use during construction.

They arranged for "Deacon" Peter H. Hatch, a well-known house mover, to move the structure to what is now 455 Court St NE and is now occupied by the Vacuum Cleaner Clinic, owned by the Whitlock family.

The building had been often described as a "barn-like structure". Indeed, its final use before it was dismantled in 1903, was as a livery stable operated at various times by A.J. Basey and J.A. Simpson.

Part II: The Second Courthouse

When, in 1870, it became apparent that the original courthouse was no longer adequate to serve the growing population of Marion County, a decision was made to erect a new building.

It was first necessary to resolve all disputes regarding the title to the "Courthouse Block".

When the original courthouse was built the City of Salem had not yet been incorporated, but in 1870 the city was a natural rival for the use of the block which had been dedicated "for public use".

A friendly law suit was filed in 1871 by Marion County against the City of Salem. If the heirs of Dr. and Mrs. Willson had been joined as defendants it would have perhaps discouraged later claims by those heirs.

The suit was resolved without delay, but the settlement agreement provided that by July 1, 1875, the County would erect a "substantial brick courthouse and jail", remove the jailhouse from the southeast corner of the block, install a "neat and substantial fence", and plant "at proper and convenient intervals shade trees of maple or varieties as shall be adapted to the purpose and to improve and adorn" the grounds.

The recipients of the original courthouse, G.W. Lawson and John S. Hawkins, were required to move it from the courthouse block so as to not interfere with county or court business.

It took about 30 days to move, and it was restored and repaired at its Court Street location, (see Part I), without incident, and without undue interruption of business during the new construction.

The architectural firm of Piper and Burton was retained to design the new courthouse. Of that firm, W.W. Piper appears to have been the creator of the design.

Mr. Piper had also designed the historic Chemeketa House in Salem, later to be known as the Marion Hotel.

A contract was awarded for the construction to a partnership composed of four craftsman who were interested in working on the project. They were W.F. Boothby, H. Stapleton, David A. Miller and H.R. Myers.

The contract was for $89,650, which was not the low bid, but was awarded to local artisans rather than those from out-of-town.

The architectural design is best described as French Renaissance, with a Mansard roof and with numerous pillars and pilasters.

The dimensions were 85 feet on the High Street (West) side, 95 feet on the Church St (East) side, and 148 feet deep between the East and West walls.

Between 1873 and 1952, when the building was razed for construction of the present building, there were only minimal changes.

The most significant change was in 1922 when the attic which had been used for storage was made available for expansion of services.

At the time of demolition the space was used as follows:

Ground level - jail, kitchen, furnace and storage vault
Second level - Sheriff, Tax Collector, Treasurer, Assessor, and Recorder
Third level - County Clerk, Auditor, County Court office and hearing room, and two Circuit Courtrooms with judges' chambers
Fourth level - Surveyor, County Engineer, property agent, Jury room, Court reporters and Juvenile Department

A cupola was erected as part of the original structure and it was surmounted by a statue of justice made of cedar blocks, sheathed in copper and then gilded.

This statue aroused cynical criticism and newspaper articles referred to it as "unsightly" and suggested that the board of commissioners order that it be taken down.

The Capitol Journal reported on June 15, 1905, "She was left-handed anyway and that is sinister".

It was not until 1905, more than 30 years later, that it was replaced by a 10-foot image of copper ordered from a catalogue as item no. 5762 for $315.

The statue remained until 1952 when the courthouse was razed, and it shortly thereafter appeared inside the entry way of the Willamette University College of Law.

The law school was then situated in what is now Gatke Hall, on the southwest corner of State and 12th streets. This building had originally been the U.S. Post office located on the block just east of the Courthouse. It was moved in 1936 to its present location.

The College of Law is now located on Winter Street SE in the Truman Wesley Collins Legal Center, and the statue still graces the entry way to that building.

A rather colorful article regarding the statue appeared in the Capitol Journalon February 3, 1906, entitled "Justice a Hollow Mockery". The final words were, "... let us hope eternal justice, equal and exact, shall proceed evermore from the courts over which she keeps watch and ward".

The cupola also contained a four-faced clock which was purchased from a local jewelry store for $1500. The editor of the Oregon Statesman, Samuel A. Clark, with O.A. Brown, promoted the project and raised the necessary funds.

The clock remained until the courthouse was torn down in 1952. It was thereafter installed in the tower of the Salem City Hall on the present site of the Wells Fargo bank's parking lot at Chemeketa and High Streets NE.

When the City Hall was demolished in 1972 the clock was purchased and installed in the tower of a former church in Mt. Angel which is occupied by an antique shop.

In May of 1875, two years after construction was completed, a strange phenomenon occurred.

A quit-claim deed describing the Courthouse Block was executed by J.K. Gill and Frances O. Gill, husband and wife, to W.W. Moreland of California.

Frances O. Gill was the daughter of Dr. William Willson and his wife, Chloe Willson.

Shortly thereafter a mortgage was executed by the Morelands securing that the sum of $120,000 payable to J.K. Gill.

The mortgage was satisfied in 1884, by an instrument acknowledging payment in full of the sum of $120,000.

Title records do not disclose any subsequent efforts by the Willson heirs to claim an interest in the property.

In 1952 the courthouse operations were moved to the vacant Salem High School building located on the West Side of Church Street, between Center and Marion streets. This site presently is the parking structure of Meier and Frank Co.

The old structure was razed to be replaced by the present courthouse in 1954.

Part III: The Third Courthouse

As early as 1938 it was recognized that a new, modern courthouse would be necessary, and voters of Marion County agreed in the general election of that year to start planning for it.

World War II interrupted the planning, but in 1944 the County Commissioners declared its intent to move ahead and to provide tax levies to finance the project.

In 1947 the County Court appointed a commission to assist in the planning and erection of the building, and in 1948 an architect, Pietro Belluschi, was selected. The Portland firm of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill was designated as associate architects..

During the next three years there were several issues regarding the design and location of the building.

A modern design, compatible with the neighboring State buildings was agreed upon, and the location was to remain on the original site, dedicated for public purposes.

Contracts were awarded for the razing of the old building, and the construction of the new, in mid 1952, the construction contract being granted to a local contractor, Viesko & Post, the low bidder, at $1,821,807, including alternates.

For the ensuing two years all county and court functions were located in the old Salem High School building located on Marion Street, between High & Church Streets.

In the meantime there were several attempts to preserve the old courthouse, or portions thereof, but none were successful.

The Statue of Justice was presented to the Willamette University College of Law, and the clock was moved to the tower of the Salem City Hall at the corner of High & Chemeketa Streets.

The building was completed in 1954, and the dedication ceremony took place on June 18th of that year on the front portico.

The original structure provided for all county functions, except the health department and county shops, and included four Circuit Courtrooms and two District Courtrooms, on the second and third floors respectively. The fifth floor contained the county jail.

County budget planning and tax levies provided all of the final costs of construction, being in excess of $2,000,000, and no Federal funds were used.

There would be at least three substantial modifications during the following years.

The first was the erection of the parking structure contiguous to the east wall of the courthouse, in 1978.

Parking had previously been confined to the surface level parking at the same location.

The structure provides parking on two levels above the surface level, and an alley-like excavation provides access to a basement level parking area.

The structure was built by Pence-Kelly, a local contractor.

As in most jurisdictions it became necessary to increase jail space and capacity. The 5th floor facility served the county well, but it just wasn't large enough.

In 1989 a new correctional facility was built at 4000 Aumsville Highway SE, about 6 miles from the courthouse.

The 5th floor of the courthouse no longer was of any use as long as the steel components remained, so the floor was completely renovated, the steel was removed, and the space was put to productive use for the county and the law library.

The spaces were designed to accommodate future use as courtrooms, and in 1999 the most modern and up-to-date courtroom was built there occupied by Judge C. Greg West.

Finally, the most substantial change occurred when Marion County, in partnership with the Salem Area Mass Transit District, developed the block north of the Courthouse into a 5 story office building and a mass transit terminal.

Nearly all of the county offices were moved to "Courthouse Square" in late 2000 and this provided the necessary space to construct more badly needed courtrooms in the courthouse.

Presently under construction is another Circuit Courtroom on the 5th floor, with others to follow in other areas of the building. Unfortunately, time and growth will require more court facilities in the near future

The Marion County Courthouse: A Historical Perspective

The following articles were written by Senior Judge Richard D. Barber, who served as a Circuit Court Judge in Marion County from 1974 to 2004.

Part I: The First Courthouse

Part II: The Second Courthouse

Part III: The Third Courthouse

 

Part I: The First Courthouse

This three-part hist

The Marion County Courthouse: A Historical Perspective

The following articles were written by Senior Judge Richard D. Barber, who served as a Circuit Court Judge in Marion County from 1974 to 2004.

Part I: The First Courthouse

Part II: The Second Courthouse

Part III: The Third Courthouse

 

Part I: The First Courthouse

This three-part history of our Marion County courthouses should appropriately be preceded by a brief history of the county itself.

Perhaps the very first attempt to create and organize a provisional government of the Oregon Country was in the year 1841, but this attempt failed. Before another effort was made, Jason Lee founded what is now Willamette University, in 1842.

The next year on July 5, 1843, the first provisional government was successful in dividing the Oregon Country into four districts. These districts were named Yamhill, Tuality, Clackamas and Champoeg (also Champooick).

The hub of this subdivision was at or near the point that the Pudding River empties into the Willamette River. This point is near the community of Butteville and not far from the present Champoeg State Park.

Tuality District extended northward from the Columbia River to parallel 54 -40, including much of British Columbia. This northern boundary was the goal of the slogan "54 - 40' or fight" in a boundary dispute between the United States and Great Britain.

Yamhill District contained the area west of the Willamette River to the Pacific Ocean and south to the Alta California border, the 42nd parallel.

Clackamas District started near Oregon City, extended north to 54 -40' and east to the Great Divide, the summit of the Rocky Mountains.

And, Champoeg District, later to be renamed Marion County, extended south from Butteville, along the Willamette River and an extension thereof to the Alta California border, and eastward to the Great Divide, including parts of Idaho and Wyoming.

In 1845 the second provisional government was formed, and these four districts were designated as counties.

The next year a treaty between the United State and Great Britain resolved the boundary dispute, and the 49th parallel became the northern boundary of the Oregon Country. This is the present boundary between Canada and the United States.

The Oregon Territory was organized on August 14, 1848, and the following year Champoeg County was renamed Marion County. It was named after General Francis Marion, a Revolutionary War hero, with no particular connection with the Oregon Country. He was known as the "Swamp Fox" for his tactics and successful attacks on British forces in South Carolina. He also served in the first provincial Congress of South Carolina and was reelected several times to the State Senate, even while leading his brigade. Salem was also designated as the county seat in 1849.

Subsequent re-subdivisions of Marion County, particularly Linn, Lane and Wasco counties, ultimately reduced Marion County to its present boundaries by 1856.

The early sessions of the Marion County Commissioner's Court were held in private houses or church buildings. The first meeting, in 1849, was held in the Judson-McLain building, located at what is now 960 Broadway NE. This is the present address of an office building housing Valley Credit Service, Inc., and attorney's offices. This house was once the home of Jason Lee, and it is thought to be the second oldest building in Oregon. It was also the home of the Honorable Reuben Patrick Boise at the time of his death, April 10, 1907.

This building, which was perhaps the very first "courthouse," was moved from Broadway to its present site as part of Mission Mill Village in Salem.

It would be another few years before an actual courthouse was built, but the county government gave priority to building a county jail in 1852 at the corner of Church St and Ferry St, the present location of DeLynn's Cleaners, 198 Church St NE.

Dr. William H. Willson, upon whose donation land claim the City of Salem was originally platted, designated the present courthouse site "for public purposes." This site is located between High & Church Streets, West to East, and State & Court Streets, South to North. As the jail was being built, the Commissioners began plans to build a courthouse on the dedicated site.

The biggest problem was financing the construction.

The first attempt was to encourage voluntary subscriptions from the public, later to be collected by legal proceedings, when payment lagged. Dr. Willson even donated nine city lots to be sold at auction to help build the courthouse. The lots sold for $90 to $215 per lot.

Construction began in 1853 after prizes were offered for the best design and plans. Albert W. Ferguson won the first prize of $30, and he, along with Elias Montgomery, were eventually awarded the construction contract. The total cost of construction was $15,703.93.

The building was completed in 1854. A simple 2-story frame building, 68 feet long and 40 feet wide, with four doric columns on the front, with a cupola on top.

The courthouse was adequate for county business, and a courtroom, with jury accommodations, served the territorial courts.

It also served as the site of the Oregon Constitutional Convention of 1857, in a four week session which produced the fundamental charter approved by Congress in 1859 in admitting Oregon to statehood.

In the meantime, the jail located on Church and Ferry streets was destroyed by fire, and in 1858 the Commissioner's Court authorized construction of a new jail for $8000 on the courthouse block. It was a two-story brick building, 34 ft long, 25 feet wide and containing three cells. It was located on the southeast corner of the block, which is now the south end of the present parking structure. This jail served its purpose until the second courthouse was built in 1873.

By 1870 it became apparent that a new courthouse was necessary in order to serve the county and the courts. The site selected was the site of the first courthouse, and it therefore was necessary to remove it. It was also obvious that county and court business should not be unduly interrupted during the period of construction.

The Commissioners negotiated an agreement with G.W. Lawson and John S. Hawkins who would be vested with title to the old courthouse, to move it to a nearby site, and restore and maintain it for interim use during construction.

They arranged for "Deacon" Peter H. Hatch, a well-known house mover, to move the structure to what is now 455 Court St NE and is now occupied by the Vacuum Cleaner Clinic, owned by the Whitlock family.

The building had been often described as a "barn-like structure". Indeed, its final use before it was dismantled in 1903, was as a livery stable operated at various times by A.J. Basey and J.A. Simpson.

Part II: The Second Courthouse

When, in 1870, it became apparent that the original courthouse was no longer adequate to serve the growing population of Marion County, a decision was made to erect a new building.

It was first necessary to resolve all disputes regarding the title to the "Courthouse Block".

When the original courthouse was built the City of Salem had not yet been incorporated, but in 1870 the city was a natural rival for the use of the block which had been dedicated "for public use".

A friendly law suit was filed in 1871 by Marion County against the City of Salem. If the heirs of Dr. and Mrs. Willson had been joined as defendants it would have perhaps discouraged later claims by those heirs.

The suit was resolved without delay, but the settlement agreement provided that by July 1, 1875, the County would erect a "substantial brick courthouse and jail", remove the jailhouse from the southeast corner of the block, install a "neat and substantial fence", and plant "at proper and convenient intervals shade trees of maple or varieties as shall be adapted to the purpose and to improve and adorn" the grounds.

The recipients of the original courthouse, G.W. Lawson and John S. Hawkins, were required to move it from the courthouse block so as to not interfere with county or court business.

It took about 30 days to move, and it was restored and repaired at its Court Street location, (see Part I), without incident, and without undue interruption of business during the new construction.

The architectural firm of Piper and Burton was retained to design the new courthouse. Of that firm, W.W. Piper appears to have been the creator of the design.

Mr. Piper had also designed the historic Chemeketa House in Salem, later to be known as the Marion Hotel.

A contract was awarded for the construction to a partnership composed of four craftsman who were interested in working on the project. They were W.F. Boothby, H. Stapleton, David A. Miller and H.R. Myers.

The contract was for $89,650, which was not the low bid, but was awarded to local artisans rather than those from out-of-town.

The architectural design is best described as French Renaissance, with a Mansard roof and with numerous pillars and pilasters.

The dimensions were 85 feet on the High Street (West) side, 95 feet on the Church St (East) side, and 148 feet deep between the East and West walls.

Between 1873 and 1952, when the building was razed for construction of the present building, there were only minimal changes.

The most significant change was in 1922 when the attic which had been used for storage was made available for expansion of services.

At the time of demolition the space was used as follows:

Ground level - jail, kitchen, furnace and storage vault
Second level - Sheriff, Tax Collector, Treasurer, Assessor, and Recorder
Third level - County Clerk, Auditor, County Court office and hearing room, and two Circuit Courtrooms with judges' chambers
Fourth level - Surveyor, County Engineer, property agent, Jury room, Court reporters and Juvenile Department

A cupola was erected as part of the original structure and it was surmounted by a statue of justice made of cedar blocks, sheathed in copper and then gilded.

This statue aroused cynical criticism and newspaper articles referred to it as "unsightly" and suggested that the board of commissioners order that it be taken down.

The Capitol Journal reported on June 15, 1905, "She was left-handed anyway and that is sinister".

It was not until 1905, more than 30 years later, that it was replaced by a 10-foot image of copper ordered from a catalogue as item no. 5762 for $315.

The statue remained until 1952 when the courthouse was razed, and it shortly thereafter appeared inside the entry way of the Willamette University College of Law.

The law school was then situated in what is now Gatke Hall, on the southwest corner of State and 12th streets. This building had originally been the U.S. Post office located on the block just east of the Courthouse. It was moved in 1936 to its present location.

The College of Law is now located on Winter Street SE in the Truman Wesley Collins Legal Center, and the statue still graces the entry way to that building.

A rather colorful article regarding the statue appeared in the Capitol Journalon February 3, 1906, entitled "Justice a Hollow Mockery". The final words were, "... let us hope eternal justice, equal and exact, shall proceed evermore from the courts over which she keeps watch and ward".

The cupola also contained a four-faced clock which was purchased from a local jewelry store for $1500. The editor of the Oregon Statesman, Samuel A. Clark, with O.A. Brown, promoted the project and raised the necessary funds.

The clock remained until the courthouse was torn down in 1952. It was thereafter installed in the tower of the Salem City Hall on the present site of the Wells Fargo bank's parking lot at Chemeketa and High Streets NE.

When the City Hall was demolished in 1972 the clock was purchased and installed in the tower of a former church in Mt. Angel which is occupied by an antique shop.

In May of 1875, two years after construction was completed, a strange phenomenon occurred.

A quit-claim deed describing the Courthouse Block was executed by J.K. Gill and Frances O. Gill, husband and wife, to W.W. Moreland of California.

Frances O. Gill was the daughter of Dr. William Willson and his wife, Chloe Willson.

Shortly thereafter a mortgage was executed by the Morelands securing that the sum of $120,000 payable to J.K. Gill.

The mortgage was satisfied in 1884, by an instrument acknowledging payment in full of the sum of $120,000.

Title records do not disclose any subsequent efforts by the Willson heirs to claim an interest in the property.

In 1952 the courthouse operations were moved to the vacant Salem High School building located on the West Side of Church Street, between Center and Marion streets. This site presently is the parking structure of Meier and Frank Co.

The old structure was razed to be replaced by the present courthouse in 1954.

Part III: The Third Courthouse

As early as 1938 it was recognized that a new, modern courthouse would be necessary, and voters of Marion County agreed in the general election of that year to start planning for it.

World War II interrupted the planning, but in 1944 the County Commissioners declared its intent to move ahead and to provide tax levies to finance the project.

In 1947 the County Court appointed a commission to assist in the planning and erection of the building, and in 1948 an architect, Pietro Belluschi, was selected. The Portland firm of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill was designated as associate architects..

During the next three years there were several issues regarding the design and location of the building.

A modern design, compatible with the neighboring State buildings was agreed upon, and the location was to remain on the original site, dedicated for public purposes.

Contracts were awarded for the razing of the old building, and the construction of the new, in mid 1952, the construction contract being granted to a local contractor, Viesko & Post, the low bidder, at $1,821,807, including alternates.

For the ensuing two years all county and court functions were located in the old Salem High School building located on Marion Street, between High & Church Streets.

In the meantime there were several attempts to preserve the old courthouse, or portions thereof, but none were successful.

The Statue of Justice was presented to the Willamette University College of Law, and the clock was moved to the tower of the Salem City Hall at the corner of High & Chemeketa Streets.

The building was completed in 1954, and the dedication ceremony took place on June 18th of that year on the front portico.

The original structure provided for all county functions, except the health department and county shops, and included four Circuit Courtrooms and two District Courtrooms, on the second and third floors respectively. The fifth floor contained the county jail.

County budget planning and tax levies provided all of the final costs of construction, being in excess of $2,000,000, and no Federal funds were used.

There would be at least three substantial modifications during the following years.

The first was the erection of the parking structure contiguous to the east wall of the courthouse, in 1978.

Parking had previously been confined to the surface level parking at the same location.

The structure provides parking on two levels above the surface level, and an alley-like excavation provides access to a basement level parking area.

The structure was built by Pence-Kelly, a local contractor.

As in most jurisdictions it became necessary to increase jail space and capacity. The 5th floor facility served the county well, but it just wasn't large enough.

In 1989 a new correctional facility was built at 4000 Aumsville Highway SE, about 6 miles from the courthouse.

The 5th floor of the courthouse no longer was of any use as long as the steel components remained, so the floor was completely renovated, the steel was removed, and the space was put to productive use for the county and the law library.

The spaces were designed to accommodate future use as courtrooms, and in 1999 the most modern and up-to-date courtroom was built there occupied by Judge C. Greg West.

Finally, the most substantial change occurred when Marion County, in partnership with the Salem Area Mass Transit District, developed the block north of the Courthouse into a 5 story office building and a mass transit terminal.

Nearly all of the county offices were moved to "Courthouse Square" in late 2000 and this provided the necessary space to construct more badly needed courtrooms in the courthouse.

Presently under construction is another Circuit Courtroom on the 5th floor, with others to follow in other areas of the building. Unfortunately, time and growth will require more court facilities in the near future

The Marion County Courthouse: A Historical Perspective

The following articles were written by Senior Judge Richard D. Barber, who served as a Circuit Court Judge in Marion County from 1974 to 2004.

Part I: The First Courthouse

Part II: The Second Courthouse

Part III: The Third Courthouse

 

Part I: The First Courthouse

This three-part history of our Marion County courthouses should appropriately be preceded by a brief history of the county itself.

Perhaps the very first attempt to create and organize a provisional government of the Oregon Country was in the year 1841, but this attempt failed. Before another effort was made, Jason Lee founded what is now Willamette University, in 1842.

The next year on July 5, 1843, the first provisional government was successful in dividing the Oregon Country into four districts. These districts were named Yamhill, Tuality, Clackamas and Champoeg (also Champooick).

The hub of this subdivision was at or near the point that the Pudding River empties into the Willamette River. This point is near the community of Butteville and not far from the present Champoeg State Park.

Tuality District extended northward from the Columbia River to parallel 54 -40, including much of British Columbia. This northern boundary was the goal of the slogan "54 - 40' or fight" in a boundary dispute between the United States and Great Britain.

Yamhill District contained the area west of the Willamette River to the Pacific Ocean and south to the Alta California border, the 42nd parallel.

Clackamas District started near Oregon City, extended north to 54 -40' and east to the Great Divide, the summit of the Rocky Mountains.

And, Champoeg District, later to be renamed Marion County, extended south from Butteville, along the Willamette River and an extension thereof to the Alta California border, and eastward to the Great Divide, including parts of Idaho and Wyoming.

In 1845 the second provisional government was formed, and these four districts were designated as counties.

The next year a treaty between the United State and Great Britain resolved the boundary dispute, and the 49th parallel became the northern boundary of the Oregon Country. This is the present boundary between Canada and the United States.

The Oregon Territory was organized on August 14, 1848, and the following year Champoeg County was renamed Marion County. It was named after General Francis Marion, a Revolutionary War hero, with no particular connection with the Oregon Country. He was known as the "Swamp Fox" for his tactics and successful attacks on British forces in South Carolina. He also served in the first provincial Congress of South Carolina and was reelected several times to the State Senate, even while leading his brigade. Salem was also designated as the county seat in 1849.

Subsequent re-subdivisions of Marion County, particularly Linn, Lane and Wasco counties, ultimately reduced Marion County to its present boundaries by 1856.

The early sessions of the Marion County Commissioner's Court were held in private houses or church buildings. The first meeting, in 1849, was held in the Judson-McLain building, located at what is now 960 Broadway NE. This is the present address of an office building housing Valley Credit Service, Inc., and attorney's offices. This house was once the home of Jason Lee, and it is thought to be the second oldest building in Oregon. It was also the home of the Honorable Reuben Patrick Boise at the time of his death, April 10, 1907.

This building, which was perhaps the very first "courthouse," was moved from Broadway to its present site as part of Mission Mill Village in Salem.

It would be another few years before an actual courthouse was built, but the county government gave priority to building a county jail in 1852 at the corner of Church St and Ferry St, the present location of DeLynn's Cleaners, 198 Church St NE.

Dr. William H. Willson, upon whose donation land claim the City of Salem was originally platted, designated the present courthouse site "for public purposes." This site is located between High & Church Streets, West to East, and State & Court Streets, South to North. As the jail was being built, the Commissioners began plans to build a courthouse on the dedicated site.

The biggest problem was financing the construction.

The first attempt was to encourage voluntary subscriptions from the public, later to be collected by legal proceedings, when payment lagged. Dr. Willson even donated nine city lots to be sold at auction to help build the courthouse. The lots sold for $90 to $215 per lot.

Construction began in 1853 after prizes were offered for the best design and plans. Albert W. Ferguson won the first prize of $30, and he, along with Elias Montgomery, were eventually awarded the construction contract. The total cost of construction was $15,703.93.

The building was completed in 1854. A simple 2-story frame building, 68 feet long and 40 feet wide, with four doric columns on the front, with a cupola on top.

The courthouse was adequate for county business, and a courtroom, with jury accommodations, served the territorial courts.

It also served as the site of the Oregon Constitutional Convention of 1857, in a four week session which produced the fundamental charter approved by Congress in 1859 in admitting Oregon to statehood.

In the meantime, the jail located on Church and Ferry streets was destroyed by fire, and in 1858 the Commissioner's Court authorized construction of a new jail for $8000 on the courthouse block. It was a two-story brick building, 34 ft long, 25 feet wide and containing three cells. It was located on the southeast corner of the block, which is now the south end of the present parking structure. This jail served its purpose until the second courthouse was built in 1873.

By 1870 it became apparent that a new courthouse was necessary in order to serve the county and the courts. The site selected was the site of the first courthouse, and it therefore was necessary to remove it. It was also obvious that county and court business should not be unduly interrupted during the period of construction.

The Commissioners negotiated an agreement with G.W. Lawson and John S. Hawkins who would be vested with title to the old courthouse, to move it to a nearby site, and restore and maintain it for interim use during construction.

They arranged for "Deacon" Peter H. Hatch, a well-known house mover, to move the structure to what is now 455 Court St NE and is now occupied by the Vacuum Cleaner Clinic, owned by the Whitlock family.

The building had been often described as a "barn-like structure". Indeed, its final use before it was dismantled in 1903, was as a livery stable operated at various times by A.J. Basey and J.A. Simpson.

Part II: The Second Courthouse

When, in 1870, it became apparent that the original courthouse was no longer adequate to serve the growing population of Marion County, a decision was made to erect a new building.

It was first necessary to resolve all disputes regarding the title to the "Courthouse Block".

When the original courthouse was built the City of Salem had not yet been incorporated, but in 1870 the city was a natural rival for the use of the block which had been dedicated "for public use".

A friendly law suit was filed in 1871 by Marion County against the City of Salem. If the heirs of Dr. and Mrs. Willson had been joined as defendants it would have perhaps discouraged later claims by those heirs.

The suit was resolved without delay, but the settlement agreement provided that by July 1, 1875, the County would erect a "substantial brick courthouse and jail", remove the jailhouse from the southeast corner of the block, install a "neat and substantial fence", and plant "at proper and convenient intervals shade trees of maple or varieties as shall be adapted to the purpose and to improve and adorn" the grounds.

The recipients of the original courthouse, G.W. Lawson and John S. Hawkins, were required to move it from the courthouse block so as to not interfere with county or court business.

It took about 30 days to move, and it was restored and repaired at its Court Street location, (see Part I), without incident, and without undue interruption of business during the new construction.

The architectural firm of Piper and Burton was retained to design the new courthouse. Of that firm, W.W. Piper appears to have been the creator of the design.

Mr. Piper had also designed the historic Chemeketa House in Salem, later to be known as the Marion Hotel.

A contract was awarded for the construction to a partnership composed of four craftsman who were interested in working on the project. They were W.F. Boothby, H. Stapleton, David A. Miller and H.R. Myers.

The contract was for $89,650, which was not the low bid, but was awarded to local artisans rather than those from out-of-town.

The architectural design is best described as French Renaissance, with a Mansard roof and with numerous pillars and pilasters.

The dimensions were 85 feet on the High Street (West) side, 95 feet on the Church St (East) side, and 148 feet deep between the East and West walls.

Between 1873 and 1952, when the building was razed for construction of the present building, there were only minimal changes.

The most significant change was in 1922 when the attic which had been used for storage was made available for expansion of services.

At the time of demolition the space was used as follows:

Ground level - jail, kitchen, furnace and storage vault
Second level - Sheriff, Tax Collector, Treasurer, Assessor, and Recorder
Third level - County Clerk, Auditor, County Court office and hearing room, and two Circuit Courtrooms with judges' chambers
Fourth level - Surveyor, County Engineer, property agent, Jury room, Court reporters and Juvenile Department

A cupola was erected as part of the original structure and it was surmounted by a statue of justice made of cedar blocks, sheathed in copper and then gilded.

This statue aroused cynical criticism and newspaper articles referred to it as "unsightly" and suggested that the board of commissioners order that it be taken down.

The Capitol Journal reported on June 15, 1905, "She was left-handed anyway and that is sinister".

It was not until 1905, more than 30 years later, that it was replaced by a 10-foot image of copper ordered from a catalogue as item no. 5762 for $315.

The statue remained until 1952 when the courthouse was razed, and it shortly thereafter appeared inside the entry way of the Willamette University College of Law.

The law school was then situated in what is now Gatke Hall, on the southwest corner of State and 12th streets. This building had originally been the U.S. Post office located on the block just east of the Courthouse. It was moved in 1936 to its present location.

The College of Law is now located on Winter Street SE in the Truman Wesley Collins Legal Center, and the statue still graces the entry way to that building.

A rather colorful article regarding the statue appeared in the Capitol Journalon February 3, 1906, entitled "Justice a Hollow Mockery". The final words were, "... let us hope eternal justice, equal and exact, shall proceed evermore from the courts over which she keeps watch and ward".

The cupola also contained a four-faced clock which was purchased from a local jewelry store for $1500. The editor of the Oregon Statesman, Samuel A. Clark, with O.A. Brown, promoted the project and raised the necessary funds.

The clock remained until the courthouse was torn down in 1952. It was thereafter installed in the tower of the Salem City Hall on the present site of the Wells Fargo bank's parking lot at Chemeketa and High Streets NE.

When the City Hall was demolished in 1972 the clock was purchased and installed in the tower of a former church in Mt. Angel which is occupied by an antique shop.

In May of 1875, two years after construction was completed, a strange phenomenon occurred.

A quit-claim deed describing the Courthouse Block was executed by J.K. Gill and Frances O. Gill, husband and wife, to W.W. Moreland of California.

Frances O. Gill was the daughter of Dr. William Willson and his wife, Chloe Willson.

Shortly thereafter a mortgage was executed by the Morelands securing that the sum of $120,000 payable to J.K. Gill.

The mortgage was satisfied in 1884, by an instrument acknowledging payment in full of the sum of $120,000.

Title records do not disclose any subsequent efforts by the Willson heirs to claim an interest in the property.

In 1952 the courthouse operations were moved to the vacant Salem High School building located on the West Side of Church Street, between Center and Marion streets. This site presently is the parking structure of Meier and Frank Co.

The old structure was razed to be replaced by the present courthouse in 1954.

Part III: The Third Courthouse

As early as 1938 it was recognized that a new, modern courthouse would be necessary, and voters of Marion County agreed in the general election of that year to start planning for it.

World War II interrupted the planning, but in 1944 the County Commissioners declared its intent to move ahead and to provide tax levies to finance the project.

In 1947 the County Court appointed a commission to assist in the planning and erection of the building, and in 1948 an architect, Pietro Belluschi, was selected. The Portland firm of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill was designated as associate architects..

During the next three years there were several issues regarding the design and location of the building.

A modern design, compatible with the neighboring State buildings was agreed upon, and the location was to remain on the original site, dedicated for public purposes.

Contracts were awarded for the razing of the old building, and the construction of the new, in mid 1952, the construction contract being granted to a local contractor, Viesko & Post, the low bidder, at $1,821,807, including alternates.

For the ensuing two years all county and court functions were located in the old Salem High School building located on Marion Street, between High & Church Streets.

In the meantime there were several attempts to preserve the old courthouse, or portions thereof, but none were successful.

The Statue of Justice was presented to the Willamette University College of Law, and the clock was moved to the tower of the Salem City Hall at the corner of High & Chemeketa Streets.

The building was completed in 1954, and the dedication ceremony took place on June 18th of that year on the front portico.

The original structure provided for all county functions, except the health department and county shops, and included four Circuit Courtrooms and two District Courtrooms, on the second and third floors respectively. The fifth floor contained the county jail.

County budget planning and tax levies provided all of the final costs of construction, being in excess of $2,000,000, and no Federal funds were used.

There would be at least three substantial modifications during the following years.

The first was the erection of the parking structure contiguous to the east wall of the courthouse, in 1978.

Parking had previously been confined to the surface level parking at the same location.

The structure provides parking on two levels above the surface level, and an alley-like excavation provides access to a basement level parking area.

The structure was built by Pence-Kelly, a local contractor.

As in most jurisdictions it became necessary to increase jail space and capacity. The 5th floor facility served the county well, but it just wasn't large enough.

In 1989 a new correctional facility was built at 4000 Aumsville Highway SE, about 6 miles from the courthouse.

The 5th floor of the courthouse no longer was of any use as long as the steel components remained, so the floor was completely renovated, the steel was removed, and the space was put to productive use for the county and the law library.

The spaces were designed to accommodate future use as courtrooms, and in 1999 the most modern and up-to-date courtroom was built there occupied by Judge C. Greg West.

Finally, the most substantial change occurred when Marion County, in partnership with the Salem Area Mass Transit District, developed the block north of the Courthouse into a 5 story office building and a mass transit terminal.

Nearly all of the county offices were moved to "Courthouse Square" in late 2000 and this provided the necessary space to construct more badly needed courtrooms in the courthouse.

Presently under construction is another Circuit Courtroom on the 5th floor, with others to follow in other areas of the building. Unfortunately, time and growth will require more court facilities in the near future