The Garfield County Courthouse in Pomeroy is an excellent example of architectural grandeur in a remote area of eastern Washington—far from population centers yet connected intimately to them through its stately design. Indeed, its size and complexity relative to its remote surroundings signify the importance of local government in rural Garfield County and its mostly original massing and detailing dominate historic downtown Pomeroy. The county is the least populated of Washington’s thirty-nine counties, and the courthouse is the fourth oldest in the state.
The monumentality of the courthouse also suggests the rich history of the area. The ancient Nez Perce Trail from Wallula, Washington, to the Great Plains passes through modern-day Pomeroy, following Pataha Creek as it winds through Pataha Valley. Pomeroy’s Main Street closely follows the trail: today part of U.S. Highway 12, the street is the principal thoroughfare through town and the Garfield County Courthouse stands prominently along it, abutting the northern part of the valley. Lewis and Clark later traveled this overland route during their return trip from the Pacific, and Benjamin Louis Eulalie de Bonneville camped near the town while conducting surveys for the federal government in 1834.
Joseph and Martha Pomeroy settled the area that became Pomeroy in 1864 when they opened a stagecoach station, raised livestock, and, later, farmed wheat in the surrounding hills of the Palouse country. The rich grain yields of the Palouse drew several hundred farmers to the area over the next two decades. Pomeroy was platted in 1878 and quickly became the commercial, cultural, and financial center for the hundreds of farms in Garfield County.
In 1884, after winning a battle with neighboring Pataha over which town would assume the county seat, Pomeroy citizens set about erecting a built environment reflecting the town’s newfound status. The original single-story courthouse, built in 1887, became the principal marker of Pomeroy’s importance. This courthouse, however, was destroyed by fire in 1900, along with half of the Pomeroy business district. Garfield County citizens, the majority of whom resided in Pomeroy, soon voted to erect a grand courthouse on the same site. To assist the rebuilding process, the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company offered a thirty-three–percent reduction on freight rates for materials.
The county hired Charles Burggraf, a Salem, Oregon–based architect, to design the new courthouse. Burggraf had already established a reputation with several courthouses in Oregon and Washington to his credit, in addition to twenty-four Oregon schools and two university buildings (at what is today Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon). August Isle from Spokane served as contractor, and quarried basalt from the Valentine area, brick from a local kiln south of the modern-day golf course, and roofing shake from the Blue Mountains—a combination of materials that was originally apparent on the courthouse exterior. A stone foundation lay below two stories of red brick (now painted white), and the third story was cladded in wood. The asymmetrical facade, differing wall textures, and contrasting vertical and decorative elements combined to create an eclectic structure that could be loosely classified as Queen Anne.
The building’s most distinctive architectural features are the two projecting towers with their respective conical and rounded tops. The rounded tower is taller and features the word “Garfield” and a unique statue of Justice, without the conventional blindfold (only twenty other such statues exist in the United States). The conical tower has a substantial ogee sill above a band of disc-shaped ornaments and three semicircular arched windows. A long, processional pathway, with intermittent steps, leads to the entrance, which features a rectangular lintel bearing the date “1901,” and, above that, a semicircular arched window around which are arranged the words “Garfield County.” While moderate changes have been made to the interior of the structure, alterations to the windows are only slight and the room configuration and brick exterior are intact.
In 2012, the building underwent renovation to repair water and weather damage, to restore fading ornamental and foundational details, and bring to it up to contemporary fire code. The renovation project was funded by Garfield County with matching funds from the Historic County Courthouse Rehabilitation Grant Program.
Beale, Robert, “Garfield County Courthouse,” Garfield County, Washington. National Register of Historic Places Inventory–Nomination Form, 1971. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.
Kuykendall, Elgin Victor. History of Garfield County. Fairfield, WA: Ye Galleon Press, 1984.
Becker, Paula. “Pomeroy.” Essay 9578. HistoryLink.org: The Free Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, September 24, 2010. Accessed October 24, 2014. www.historylink.org.