Created in 1869, White Pine County's government seat was originally located in Hamilton. A 40-by-60-foot brick courthouse was built in 1870 for $55,000. The building served the county until it burned down in 1885. Previous quarrels over relocation of the county seat raised suspicions of arson.
In 1887, the seat of government moved to Ely. Due to a depressed economy, county officials opted for construction of a temporary courthouse with a limited budget of $10,000. Commissioners hired Morrill John Curtis for the design and Jacob C. Moon for the construction.
A 34-by-70-foot, one-story wooden structure with a stone foundation was built on land donated by the Canton Mining Company. An otherwise modest structure, it was adorned with pedimented details along the main entrance and windows.
A copper-mining boom at the turn of the century allowed the county to construct a long-desired monumental courthouse. In 1908, contractors R.E. Dodson and G.W. Wells received a $49,699 contract for a new facility, along with an additional $3,384 for the structure's copper dome.
Constructed in 1909, the courthouse is a combination of Neo-Classical and Italianate styles. The two-story structure of dressed ashlar is detailed with a single-story cupola, along with a pedimented gable and second-story balcony above the main entrance. To compliment the park-like setting, the county added a small lake to the front in 1910. A further addition of a jailhouse in a contrasting contemporary design was completed in 1925.