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Historic day: 1883 Stutsman County Courthouse opens to public

Guinn Hinman, left, historic sites manager for the State Historical Society of North Dakota, listens as Steve Reidburn, 1883 Stutsman County Courthouse site supervisor, points out a detail of the historic courthouse, which opens for the season today. John M. Steiner / The Sun1 / 2
A $42,000 grant from Jamestown Tourism funded the restoration of the first two flights of stairs in the 1883 Stutsman County Courthouse. John M. Steiner / The Sun2 / 2
If you go

What: Opening day for 1883 Stutsman County Courthouse

Where: 504 3rd Ave. SE, Jamestown

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, May 26

Details: The courthouse is open from 10 a.m to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, beginning Saturday, May 26, to Labor Day. Admission is free.

Steve Reidburn, site supervisor the 1883 Stutsman County Courthouse, said Saturday will be an emotional day for him.

Reidburn said he cannot help but think of the late Mary Faith Young when he looks at the work that has been done to the courthouse. Young was a local historian who started the effort locally to preserve the historic courthouse after the new county courthouse was built in 1984. The clerk’s room in the 1883 courthouse is named for Young.

“I know Mary would be really happy to see the work that has been done here,” he said. “She would have cried because she went, pardon the expression, through hell to save this building.”

Saturday will be the first day the courthouse will open to the public as a state historic site. Members of the 1883 Stutsman County Courthouse Committee will be at the courthouse to answer questions about the building and talk about the effort that went into saving the building from demolition over the last 30 years.

“What people will see when they walk up the steps Saturday is the seat of North Dakota government,” Reidburn said.

Guinn Hinman, State Historical Society historic sites manager and site supervisor for the Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile Museum, said work was just completed on the first two flights of stairs, the front doors and the jury room. She said a $42,000 Jamestown Tourism grant paid for the work.

She said the historic courthouse is the oldest courthouse still standing in the state.

“This is hands down the most beautiful building in the state,” Hinman said, “in my opinion.”

Hinman said the courthouse has funding as a historic site for 2017, but there needs to be lots of visitors this summer to justify funding beyond this year.

“It’s easier to get funding from the state Legislature if we’re well attended,” she said.

Since 2012 about $1 million has been spent to renovate the historic courthouse and about $2 million overall since restoration efforts began in the 1990s, according to Hinman.

She said the next big project for the courthouse will be restoring the second floor courtroom. The estimated cost for that part of the project is $300,000 to $500,000.

The auditor/treasurer’s room and another room across the hall need to be renovated on the first floor. She said installing an elevator to provide access to the second floor is another project planned for the future.

Finding the courthouse may be a challenge for people not familiar with Jamestown. Reidburn said there will be two portable signs set up on the 700 block of 1st Avenue South to direct people to the courthouse. There will also be a portable sign set up in front of the courthouse.

Hinman said in the near future there will be a new sign installed in front of the courthouse as well as a Talking Trails sign to help mark the spot.

Barb Lang has been on the 1883 Stutsman County Courthouse Committee since 1991. She said the opening of the courthouse to the public today as a state historic site is hard for her to describe.

“I am just so grateful to see this day happen,” she said. “If you had asked me 10 years ago if this day would come, I would have said, ‘Oh yeah, maybe.’”

Lang said there are already a couple of family reunions booked to use the facility this summer. The courthouse will also host the reception for this year’s AAUW Garden Tour.

Hinman and Reidburn said one of the goals in opening the courthouse as a historic site is having the community use the space for different events.

“Anything you can think of, we’re open (to the idea),” Hinman said. “We hope the community will embrace this building as its own.”