Built in 1893, the Franklin County Courthouse is one of thirteen Kansas Courthouses designed by George P. Washburn of Ottawa, Kansas. Mr. Washburn was one of the best known Kansas architects of the 19th Century. The Franklin County Courthouse was the second courthouse he designed and is the oldest one still in use. Franklin County was organized in 1855 as one of the original 36 counties of Kansas. As with many counties in their early stages of growth the county seat moved among some of the early settlements in Franklin County until an election in August 1864 and the voters selected Ottawa as the offical county seat.
Once it was established that Ottawa would be the county seat, the county offices and court were housed in a variety of buildings along main street for the next several years. Finally in 1884 residents began to seek a permanent building for the county court and county offices. However it was not until 1891 when plans and funding would come together to build the much needed courthouse. After a special election in March of 1891 authorizing a 3 mill levy passed by a two to one margin, planning began for what would be one grand courthouse. County Commissioners chose local architect George P. Washburn to design the new courthouse after visiting the just completed Johnson County Courthouse that Mr. Washburn had designed. Soon afterwards L.W. Divelbliss of Olathe, Kansas was chosen as the low bidder on the project with a bid of $45,939 for the building. Once extra costs were included for vault doors, lighting rods, light fixtures, plumbing and heating and costs the total came to $66,939.25.
With Mr. Washburn serving as the building supervisor and using many local craftsmen and workers work soon began on the massive structure. The limestone used for the basement walls was shipped in from the Rettiger Quarry in Strong City, Kansas. The red brick was made by the Ottawa Brick and Tile Company and sandstone was shipped from as far as Warrensburg, MO. The interior trim was Oak with a hand rubbed oil finish and bronze hardware and fittings.
The courthouse measures 73 feet by 112 feet and includes a full basement, three floors of offices and an intricate roof design, making it a impressive site rising from the Kansas prairie. From the laying of the cornerstone on July 4, 1892 to the dedication ceremony on October 3, 1893, it took less than two years to complete the massive structure. Completing such as large building in that time frame is a testimony to the hard work and determination that is such a part of the Kansas work ethic.
Described as a "Romanesque Revival" style of architecture, the Franklin County Courthouse features stone arches above the second story windows along with a continuous stone band around the building. There are large porches on the east and west sides that feature balconies with wrought iron railings supported by large brick pillars. Finely carved figures of angels, demons, flowers, fruit and insects are an integral part of the sandstone trim. The courthouse features a hip roof with gables at the center of all four sides. It also has two cupolas with a four sided clock on the west cupola and a open bell in the east cupola. There is also a "Statue of Justice" on top of the west gable. Including a "Statue of Justice" in the design is a common theme of many of the courthouses designed by George P. Washburn.
The courthouse has been beautifully maintained and bot the exterior and interior spaces remain much the same as they did when it was built. The courthouse was used in the making of the 1989 movie "Cross of Fire" with both the courtroom as well as the exterior of the building being used.
"Into these ample halls, all shall invite our friends, and let the beauty and solidity of the structure speak of the social harmony and material prosperity of Franklin County" ~Judge A.W. Benson at the Dedication Address on October 3, 1893
Franklin County Courthouse Image Gallery