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A History Detective's Tour of the Adams County Courthouse

Updated: Dec 20, 2023

Sleuthing Brighton Colorado, with a full Investigative Report by the Brighton History Detective® (aka Robin Kring)

Case Number: 00018, Identify Mural Subject

Mural Location: “Historic Brighton at Founders Plaza” by Hans Joseph Geist

Subject Identified: Adams County Courthouse, Brighton Elected as County Seat

ADAMS COUNTY COURTHOUSE (b. 1906) Brighton Elected as County Seat (1904). With the act to create Adams County, Brighton was appointed the temporary county seat, and in an election held on Nov. 8, 1904, was elected as the permanent county seat. A grand Adams County Courthouse stood, at the corner of Bridge St. and 4th Ave., with an architectural expression of a combination of Classical Renaissance and Colonial Revival (or as some local historians described it, American Victorian). Its distinctive red-tiled roof and impressive 91-ft. cupola looked out over the town of Brighton, as the proud county seat of the Adams County (officially established on Nov. 15, 1904). The county seat, and its courthouse, assumed both a functional and symbolic role. More than a place of the judicial system and official place to register and retrieve official documents, the county courthouse was intended to display the pride and resourcefulness of the greater county community. Its manicured, green square was a community meeting place, where residents gathered for summer concerts and box socials, as well as important speeches. One such remembered speech, was given by William Jennings Bryan in 1923, who addressed a large crowd from the top of the courthouse steps.”

Campaigning for the County Seat

Brighton had actively campaigned for the permanent county seat honor, issuing an 8-pg. pamphlet, titled “Brighton and Its Claims for Your Vote for County Seat.” The pamphlet stated 15 reasons it should remain the county seat, among them: a large population of 800-900; a standing as the only town with banking, telephone, and Post Office facilities; and established opportunities to purchase goods in all the various lines to accommodate courts, jurors, and the general public. The pamphlet went on to state, “Brighton will be a county seat in fact, and will not be a rendezvous for tinhorns and graters from abroad.”

Some opponents to Brighton claimed the town had too many saloons. (At the time there were four saloons and five churches). Brighton pointed out the competing town of Fletcher (later named Aurora) was geographically split between two counties (Adams and South Arapahoe, and therefore, did not have a complete alliance to Adams County). Brighton won the election with 1,103 votes, compared to the total tally of 1,089 all the competing towns of Fletcher, Hazeltine, Harris (Westminster), and Adams City.

The First Adams County Courthouse and the Fire that Destroyed It

The first meeting of the Adams County Commissioners was held on Dec. 4, 1902 in the Brighton Town Hall. Among the county’s first passed acts was to rent the 19-room former Carmichael Mansion (located at 34 South Fifth Ave.) to use as the first Adams County Courthouse for $100 a month with a 2-year lease.

However, after just a year of occupancy, a fire broke out in the early morning hours on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 1904. Fire engulfed the front rooms, front hall, and upper front of the building. The roof collapsed when the side walls fell outward and one of the safes fell through to the basement. The temporary county courthouse was destroyed and the loss to Roswell Skeel (the owner of the building) was estimated at $12,000, covered with $5,000 in insurance. The loss to the county, including fixtures, records, (and the recently-completed jury room) was estimated at $20,000, covered by $2,000 in insurance. Initial reports stated that all county records were lost, however, they were later uncovered and reported to be “badly charred, but expected they could be reproduced in part.” Several hundred dollars in currency was found in the County Clerk’s safe, as well as approximately $40 in silver scattered throughout the other safe, which had fell through the first floor to the basement.

New Courthouse Facilities Secured After Fire

After the fire, the county leased a former residence of Herman Reuter (that he kept as a rental house for relatives) for $100 a month to use as the new courthouse. It was located on the southeast-corner of 3rd and Bridge streets. The County built a vault in the basement and a small brick building (at the cost of $940) near the rear of the lot to use as the county jail. The new jail structure was 22-ft. x 28-ft. with a 12-ft. ceiling and a tar-and-gravel roof. The jail cells from the basement of the first courthouse were moved to the new building. The front room of Mayor D.V. Miller (1904-1905) house was also rented to use as the office for the county clerk and recorder. Dorus and Anna Miller’s House was located in the middle of 29 Division St. (later known as Main St.).

The Brighton Blade editor, Lewis C. Grove wrote, “Adams County will arise from the ashes of its ruin to take on new lustre [sic]. Our light is low but not extinguished.”

A Grand Courthouse Erected

Brighton and Adams County each paid $750 (totaling $1,500) for land to build a new courthouse. The land selected was known as Skeel Corner, located at the southeast corner of S. 4th Ave. and Bridge Streets (known today as 22 S. 4th Ave.). The Town Board originally voted to approve City Park for the location (located where Malcolm Park is located today, between

N. 5th Ave. and 6th Ave.). However, in their next meeting on July 7, 1904, the board rescinded that decision and approved the purchase of the Skeel Corner property, reasoning the park site would require a voter approval, while the Skeel Corner was available for immediate development.

The new courthouse was designed by Denver architect John J. Huddart (1856-1930), who also designed the Boettcher Mansion in Denver (now used as the official Governor’s residence) and many public buildings in Colorado and other states. These included the nearby Brighton Armory and Fort Lupton Library. He designed 12 armory buildings across Colorado. Brighton’s courthouse would be the first of his eight Colorado courthouses, later earning him the reputation as the “courthouse architect.”

A. B. McDonald won the contract to build the new 6,568-sq. ft. building for $41,725. Construction was completed May 10, 1906 and county officials started conducting operations in the new courthouse on May 19. The two-and-a-half-story brick building had a raised basement (with windows), giving it the utility of three levels and totaling 6,586 square feet. This included the high-peaked roof half-level, that contained four jury rooms under separate dormers. The building’s exterior walls were constructed of locally-produced brick, red pressed-brick on the exterior walls and green glazed-brick on the exterior of the raised basement. The coordinating red-tiled roof was topped with a 91-ft. cupola.

Similar front and back entrances were built on the west side of the building (facing 4th Ave.) and the east side (facing 5th Ave.). Each contained a pediment feature above the entry door and concrete steps, flanked by brickwork, leading up to the first-floor entrance. There were also descending steps on each side, leading under the stairway to a basement level entry. The west entrance, considered the front of the building, contained a paved path across a manicured landscape and prominent lettering under the gable identifying the building as “Adams County Court House.”

Entering from either side of the building, the visitor climbed steps to enter a vestibule area that led to a magnificent rotunda area. Just east of the rotunda was a wide staircase crafted of polished maple-finish that traversed up to the second and third floors, as well as an alternate path down to the basement. The second floor (main level) contained the County Courtroom, Clerk of the County Court, Judge of the County Court chambers, the District Courtroom, two Clerk of District Court offices, District Attorney Office, an Attorney Consultation Room, and Judges Chamber.

Jurors traveled up the staircase one more level to the third floor, located directly under the pitched roof. This level contained four separate dormer rooms (each with a windows facing north, south, east, or west) that served as jury rooms.

The County Jail was housed in the basement of the courthouse. The two jail cells were moved from the outside the Reuter temporary courthouse (originally moved early from the basement of the Carmichael Mansion) to the men’s ward. The Women’s Ward of the jail was built next to the Undersheriff’s office. There was also a private cell and two water closets (opening to their gender-specific ward). Vertical security bars covered the outside of the basement windows on the northwest, north, and northeast sides of the building.

The basement also housed a coal room, boiler room, storage room, janitor’s room, and the surveyor’s office. There was also a private jail and Sherriff’s area. Six safe vaults were installed, two on each floor. Although there were two private water closets (for the District Attorney’s office and the Judge of the County Courts chamber), there were none on the first or third floors. Instead, visitors―including jurors serving on the third floor―had to travel to the basement where a separate Gent’s toilet room and Women’s toilet room, each contained six toilets and a double-sink.

The 1939 Version

In 1939, the courthouse was enlarged, and architectural style remodeled, with a 1938 Public Works Administration (PWA) grant, one of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal programs. A new architectural firm was selected, as John J. Huddart had died earlier in 1930. Parry & Jones designed the new courthouse remodel with a more “modern” Classical Revival-style elements. The prominent cupola and pitched, red-tiled roof (with original jury rooms) were removed and replaced with a flat roof. A massive portico with four white (un-fluted) Tuscan columns rising to a pediment at the roof line (each topped with an unadorned frieze) was added to the front (west side) of the building. Inside the portico, above the main entrance, a white wrought-iron balconet with ornamental railing was placed under the base of a glass-block window.

The planned 5,277 sq. ft. addition nearly doubled the size of the existing building (now totaling 11,863 sq. ft.), adding 60 ft. 10 in. to the front (west side of the building) and matching the buildings width of 86 ft. 9 in. To create a blended exterior, the architect copied the design of the exterior for the addition, including the original windows (topped with distinctive stone keystones and lintels) and used the same local materials found on the original portion – red pressed-brick for the walls and green glazed-brick on the foundation.

This version still stands today and the building is currently used as Brighton’s Historic City Hall. It was placed on the Colorado State Register of Historic Places on Aug. 31, 2006.

Growing County Courts Find New Homes

The county courts and administration activity grew too large for the historic Courthouse and they moved to separate (and interim) courthouse and administration buildings, and are now located at 110 Judicial Dr. and 4430 South Adams County Parkway. The City of Brighton administrative offices occupied the historic Adams County Building at 4th and Bridge St. from 1977-2010, later moving to a former county building at 500 S. 4th Ave. The historic courthouse building currently houses the City of Brighton Museum and other miscellaneous organizations.

©2022-2023 Robin Kring, including excerpts from A History Detective’s Tour of Adams County Courthouse and A Postcard History of Brighton

Discover More About the Artist and the Detective

Learn more about the Artist, Hans Joseph Geist, behind the Historic Brighton at Founders Plaza mural, in the Brighton History Detective® dossier, The Case of the New Mural and its Artist (Hans Joseph Geist). See more of Hans art at: Art by Hans Geist on Facebook.

Find more Investigative Case Reports, by Brighton History Detective®, each revealing the identity of one of the 20 intriguing Brighton characters and places, painted on the mural. Investigate the sleuthing and writing stories of yesteryear, mystery, and intrigue on the Clear Creek Publishing Authors Blog site, including: New Fiction, Victoriana, Event Planning Extraordinaire, Colorado History, and Cemetery Chats.

The Historic Brighton at Founders Plaza mural is located on the southwest corner of Main St. and Bridge St., in Brighton, Colorado. The mural is a project of the Brighton Cultural Arts Commission, whose mission is to increase arts and culture awareness and promote cultural and scientific opportunities in our community. It has been made possible with funding from the SCFD and Brighton Lodging Tax Grants.

®Brighton History Detective is a registered trademark of Clear Creek Publishing.

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