Lincoln County Courthouse

Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Old Lincoln County Courthouse, Pioche, Lincoln County, Nevada.

Courtesy of the Nevada Historical Society.

The Lincoln County Courthouse in Pioche dates to 1872. Mismanagement of the construction contract and of the subsequent debt raised the cost of the structure astronomically. It is subsequently known as the "million dollar courthouse."

Established on February 25, 1866, Lincoln County lacked a permanent courthouse until 1871 when it acquired a building site in Pioche. Construction began on an Italianate 40-by-60-foot brick building designed by T. Dimmock and Thomas Keefe.

The construction contract went to Edward Donohue with a payment of $16,400. For an additional $10,000, John H. Steel designed a jail directly behind the courthouse. Because of rising costs associated with changes in design, officials dissolved the building contract and hired individual contractors to finish the work. The two buildings consequently cost $75,000 upon completion in 1872.

The courthouse exterior of brick and rubble exhibited plain pilasters and a balcony on the second floor. The interior contained a fanlight above the entrance and a lavish courtroom.

Interest on the construction debt compounded over the years until the county paid it off in 1939. Local lore maintained the cost had reached seven figures, giving it the name, "Million Dollar Courthouse." Historian James Hulse estimates the final cost at about $800,000.

In 1937, new lead-zinc production in Pioche provided the county with the resources to finance plans for a structure designed by Las Vegas architect A. Lacy Worswick. Modest in both size and ornamentation, the Lincoln County Courthouse employs the Art Deco style. With its white-concrete exterior and flat roof, it presents a functional appearance, though it contains a courtroom of large scale that is similar to early courthouses. Construction costs did not exceed $50,000, as officials sought to avoid the mistake made with the first courthouse. The debt for this courthouse was settled in under twenty years.

Further Reading

Ronald M. James. Temples of Justice: County Courthouses of Nevada. Reno, NV: University of Nevada Press, 1994.
James W. Hulse. Lincoln County, Nevada: The History of a Mining Region, 1864-1909. Reno, NV: University of Nevada Press, Page(s) 1971.

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