History of the Courthouse
The Reno County Courthouse building construction was started in 1929 and finished in 1930. This was in the period of economic collapse for the United States. Amazingly, the building was erected at a cost of $386,500 for the initial design and cost of construction. Furnishings were added to be able to occupy the premises at a cost of $126,600. This made a total cost originally of approximately $513,000.
The building is of art deco design and was erected using buff colored brick and Bedford limestone. There are only three other courthouses in Kansas of similar design. The size of the original building was 152 feet wide and 144 feet deep. In 1971, the Law Enforcement Center was added and is approximately 168 feet by 137 feet deep. There were two elevator shafts built originally but only the one was functional in 1930. The other contained only the shaft and not the mechanism. The building is actually six stories high (approximately 100 feet). The only thing housed in the sixth floor dome area is the mechanism for the elevators.
One of the pleasing views of the whole courthouse building takes in the front and emphasis should be given to the copper bearing, steel lead light fixtures that flank the doorway. The steps leading to the doorway are of limestone.
It should be noted that the building itself is not completely fireproof but there are some steel storage files with steel roller curtains for some of the records. Records in the Register of Deeds Office date back to 1872. All old school records of Reno County schools that have been closed are filed in the Register of Deeds Office.
Of note in the first floor entry area is the brass plated United States Postal Box. Mail deposited in this box was picked up daily until recently.
Another interesting detail is the two elevator doors that stand on the eastern wall of the vestibule; the northern door retains the original bronze with the etchings of "Industry, Wisdom, Strength, and Justice". These words are inscribed for the following reasons:
- Industry - denotes the figure of the bees as being industrious (as our county residents are industrious)
- Wisdom - wise like an owl
- Strength - stair-steps leading to the top - keystone shape, stones locking together for support
- Justice - scales of justice being of equal weight
The northern elevator retains the original floor dial, is hand operated with interior walls of stainless steel, and a rolling prisoner gate in the rear that was used to transport prisoners to the jail which was housed on the fifth floor until a new law enforcement facility was built in 1971. At that time, the fifth floor was then altered to accommodate expansion of the Public Works Department and other departments.
The pyramid design is found all over the building and is obvious from the first floor area as you observe the following:
- Walnut burl panels that are evident on the main floor of the courthouse
- Lights are of similar design throughout all the floors; note specifically the large chandelier in the third floor courtroom
- Same marble stepping stone effect around all the elevator doors plus the water fountain
- Bronze newel posts are the same on the stair railings as on the balcony and mezzanine
- Walnut burl woodwork throughout the building has a Japanese inlay as evidenced in the first floor counter area, eastern courtroom on the third floor
- The baseboards on the first, second, and third floors are all of marble
There were no rooms finished on the fourth floor when construction was completed in 1930. This floor was left for expansion. All that made up the fourth floor at that time was the area just in front of the elevators. The Juvenile Court, (Division IV Courtroom), offices, law library, and small jury room for the east courtroom of the third floor are all housed now on the fourth floor. The district attorney handling juvenile cases maintains an office on the fourth floor.
Third Floor Courtroom
The two courtrooms on this floor deal with criminal, domestic, and civil cases. Division I is the eastern courtroom (odd numbered cases), Division II is the newer of the two rooms, added in 1960s, and the even numbered cases are assigned to it. Division III and its courtroom is housed on the first floor where hunting, fishing, and county traffic fines are taken care of.
The beaming in the courtroom hall and the eastern courtroom appears to be unfinished mahogany. It shows elaborately carved floral and vegetable motifs that suggest 15th Century Spanish carvings. The beams in the hallway of the courtroom still retain their original painted colors, but the beams in the courtroom have been painted gold and mustard. These have been painted because when the jail was housed on the fifth floor, plumbing had been plugged and overflowed into this area, badly defacing the beams and portions of the ceiling.
Courtroom & Hall Murals
An artist from New York, Vincent Aderente, painted the murals in the hall and in the courtroom. The paintings in the hall are symbolical of the settlement of the plains by the American Indians and the white pioneers. A wagon train traveling across the Great Plains is further evidence of this era.
The courtroom mural overlooks the judge’s bench. This mural depicts a judgment scene with a sitting female justice, flanked by a female mercy and a female execution. A mere mortal awaiting judgment stands on the other sides of mercy and execution.
Another interesting original in the courtroom are the tapestries on the walls. The eastern window coverings were of this same design and material but have deteriorated to the point of having to be replaced.
If you notice the electrical outlets on the beams, these were the places for the first air conditioners in the courtroom; small, electrical fans placed on shelves for air movement. There are also vents that were used for heating originally and then the conversion to air conditioning.
The speaker system was not installed until in the 1960s. The bar at the front of the courtroom contains a metal gate that has the State Seal of Kansas on it. Only a lawyer who has passed the bar is eligible to pass through the gates. Exceptions can be the jury, bailiff, court reporter, and witnesses.