Minnesota Architecture: Grant County Courthouse

Kristina Erickson of Herman brings us today’s nomination for our Celebrating Minnesota Architecture series. It’s a building that people in her home town wanted so badly, they were willing to steal for it, but alas, it stands in Elbow Lake.


Grant County Courthouse

Photo: Calvin Beale

Here’s Erickson’s nomination for the Grant County Courthouse.

The Grant County courthouse is a grand structure that sits on a hill overlooking Elbow Lake and it’s the first thing you see when you turn into town from the south. Being a resident of Herman I must bring up the rather tumultuous past of the recognized seat of Grant County. At the time Herman was a far bigger town and many thought it should be the county seat – disagreement ensued and in the end residents from Herman rigged an election and made off with the court records in the dark of night. At the turn of the 20th century the current structure was built and is still in use today. The high ceilings and cool, echoing halls give one a sense of the past and occasion to remember those who have passed through the doors and the events that the courthouse has overlooked throughout its years.

Indeed, this USDA research site includes the following story about the battle for the county seat between Herman and Pomme de Terre Village:

Although Grant County was formed in 1871, it was not officially established until 1873 when the governor appointed three commissioners to organize the county. These three were Henry Sanford, K. N. Melby, and S.S. Frogner. Their first task was to choose a county seat and elect officers. The only two settlements that amounted to anything at that time were Herman (which already had rail service) in the southwestern part of the county and Pomme de Terre in the northeast. Mr. Frogner wanted Herman to be the county seat; Mr. Melby wanted Pomme de Terre. Mr. Sanford, caught in the middle, privately suggested to Mr. Frogner that a neutral site should be chosen and that it would then be easier to get the county seat moved to Herman at a later date. At least it wouldn’t be in Pomme de Terre.

The men chose Elbow Lake as the county seat. It was located next to Sanford’s land, nearer to the center of the county than either of the other two choices. It was not until 1878 that a courthouse was even built. Elbow Lake remains the county seat although it was not without a fight. In 1881 Herman was able to get the state legislature to name Herman the county seat if residents of the county voted in its favor. In a special election, it appeared that Herman had won. Although the voting was being appealed, a group from Herman raided the courthouse in Elbow Lake and took all the records to Herman. A courthouse was quickly built there. When an investigation found out that a number of ineligible votes had been cast in the Herman area and that the votes of one of the northeastern townships had not been counted at all, the final vote was overturned and Elbow Lake was again declared the county seat. A number of men from the Elbow Lake area in turn raided the Herman courthouse one night, returning all the records to Elbow Lake.

The present court house, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, was built in 1906.

Thanks to Kristina Erickson for her nomination. Got a building in your neighborhood or town that you think is worth celebrating? Send along a photo and your nomination to mcombs@mpr.org.