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Crow Wing County courthouses repurposed with passing years

The Crow Wing County Historic Courthouse along Laurel Street is the seat of county government, but the historic courthouse is no longer building where judges adjudicate matters of law. The first courthouse was located at the southeast corner of Fourth and Kingwood before it was sold.

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The Crow Wing County Historic Courthouse is located at 326 Laurel St. in Brainerd. Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

The Crow Wing County Historic Courthouse along Laurel Street in Brainerd is an unmistakable downtown landmark, an impressive sight to behold and a tangible link to the area’s past.

But the historic courthouse was not the county’s first courthouse. That title belongs to a structure still standing today at the southeast corner of North Fourth and Kingwood streets, kitty-corner to The Fine Line Salon and Spa in Brainerd.

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The first Crow Wing County Courthouse was at the southeast corner of North Fourth and Kingwood streets in Brainerd for three decades before it was sold and converted to apartment housing. Contributed / Google Maps

The earliest Crow Wing County courthouse, which was built in 1883, was authorized for the city of Brainerd by the Minnesota Legislature in 1872, and 25-year, 7% bonds in the amount of $30,000 were issued for the construction of a courthouse, a home for the sheriff and a jail.

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The sheriff’s home and the jail were then built on the northeast corner of Washington and North Fourth streets. They and the courthouse were constructed with Brainerd-made Schwartz cream brick. But as the years passed and the population grew, the three were deemed inadequate.

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“The citizens’ committee in charge of the courthouse proposition is sending cards to people of the county asking their opinion as to whether a new courthouse should be built or the old one improved,” according to a Brainerd Dispatch account of the then-prevailing sentiment.

The courthouse along Kingwood Street served in that capacity for three decades. It was later sold and became apartment housing while the sheriff's residence and the jail along Washington were eventually demolished.

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The Crow Wing County Historical Society opened its first museum in 1931 in that courthouse. The museum relocated to the basement of the historic courthouse on Laurel Street before finding a home in the former sheriff’s residence and jail next to the historic courthouse.

The historic courthouse's construction along Laurel Street was completed in 1920, and the construction of a new sheriff’s residence next to it was completed in 1917.

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Crow Wing County Historic Courthouse. Photo courtesy Crow Wing County

“(The courthouse) will be of stone exterior, marble and tile interior. No wood of any kind will be used in the building, except a few casings on windows. The doors and all interior trim will be of metal,” according to the July 14, 1918, edition of the Brainerd Daily Dispatch.

The general contract was awarded to J. & W. A. Elliott Co. of Minneapolis for $246,763. Heating and ventilating were awarded to American Heating Co. of Duluth for $17,050. The plumbing was awarded to Slipp-Gruenhagen Co. of Brainerd for $6,950. Electric wiring was awarded the Brainerd Electric Co. for $8,635.

The original stained glass window continues to decorate the domed rotunda in the Crow Wing County Historic Courthouse. Chelsey Perkins/Brainerd Dispatch
The original stained glass window continues to decorate the domed rotunda in the Crow Wing County Historic Courthouse. Chelsey Perkins/Brainerd Dispatch

“The commissioners adopted a resolution that the contractors engage local labor wherever practicable, and they are to be commended for the stand so taken,” according to the July 7, 1919, edition of the Brainerd Daily Dispatch.

In 1919, cement was poured for the main floor of the new three-story courthouse, which was projected to cost $270,000 to build and was expected to be completed in 1920. A 16-year-old from Gull Lake broke two ribs in a construction-related accident.

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“A white rabbit making its home at the new courthouse under planking on which a large gasoline hoist rested, gave birth to eight rabbits. The men engaged in construction work at the county building have grown fond of the rabbit and petted and fed it,” according to the Aug. 27, 1920, edition of the Brainerd Daily Dispatch.

At the entrance to the courthouse on Laurel street, there are two bronze memorial tablets dedicated “In Honor and Memory of Those Who Served in Defense of Their Country” and reciting the names of county officers and commissioners, general contractors and architects.

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A Brainerd Then and Now sign, showing Laurel Street from the 1920s, hangs across the street from the subjects seen in the photo, namely the Crow Wing County Historic Courthouse and the Crow Wing County Historical Society Museum and Library Saturday, April 10, 2021, in downtown Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

The historic courthouse along with its adjoining jail are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It no longer is the place where the county courts are located but many county-related offices are housed in the building and the county board meets at the courthouse.

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at frank.lee@brainerddispatch.com . Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchFL .

I cover the community of Wadena, Minn., and write articles for the Wadena Pioneer Journal weekly newspaper owned by Forum Communications Co.
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A look through the Brainerd Dispatch archives with Terry McCollough combing the microfilm for tidbits of history through the decades going back to 1923.
A look through the Brainerd Dispatch archives with Terry McCollough combing the microfilm for tidbits of history through the decades going back to 1923.
A look through the Brainerd Dispatch archives with Terry McCollough combing the microfilm for tidbits of history through the decades going back to 1923.
A look through the Brainerd Dispatch archives with Terry McCollough combing the microfilm for tidbits of history through the decades going back to 1923.