Struggling to tame the wild land in which they settled, Montana’s early settlers worked to establish Euro-American concepts of governance in their growing communities. Montanans moved quickly after the creation of the 1889 Montana Constitution, passing county-wide bond measures financing the construction of courthouses that would both provide and celebrate law and order. Symbols of democratic ideals, the finished products were often the finest buildings in their communities, functioning as offices for law enforcement, government officials, and county services.
Showcasing their importance to the community, courthouses were frequently built in imposing Classical styles, richly adorned with stained glass, domed towers, and marble columns. The Deer Lodge County Courthouse in Anaconda finished in 1900 in the Neoclassical style, is made of dressed sandstone and crowned with an ornately decorated, two-tiered domed tower. The 1888 Jefferson County Courthouse in Boulder uses the Richardsonian Romanesque style to assert the frontier community’s expectations of prospering through the ages. The building’s asymmetrical design, octagonally-crowned tower, and rough-cut stone walls evoke medieval influences, emphasizing the frontier community’s permanence.
After 1910, as larger counties split and reorganized to create today’s fifty-six counties, communities with limited budgets struggled to build courthouses as grand as those constructed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Daniels County Courthouse, built in Scobey in 1913, was originally a saloon and brothel. The courthouse typifies the early days of Montana with its Western false-front façade and a second-floor balcony. Yet the courthouse still functions as the heart of its community and county, housing essential government offices and civil courts. Witnesses to the state’s rich history, courthouses remain the crown jewel of most Montana county seats, continuing to stand as symbols of justice and democracy.