From its founding in 1852, Richland Center was a mill community where wheat farmers brought their grain and traded it for goods. But only after a railroad branch line arrived from Lone Rock in 1876 did the community boom. Railroads linked hinterland communities like Richland Center to markets in Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Chicago, and the East. Farm families brought their wheat and, later, dairy products to market and left town with mass-produced goods. In this way, farm and city developed in tandem.
Richland Center was also the county seat. Its Richardsonian Romanesque courthouse occupies a square bordering the business district. Allen of Madison gave the two-and-a-half-story building a pronounced weightiness. Anchoring the building is a raised basement of quarry-cut stone, a squat tower with a conical roof, and a taller, square clock tower crowned by a pyramidal roof. Between these two visual weights, the brick walls are enlivened by a stone entrance arcade that springs from paired columns of polished marble topped by foliated cushion capitals and by stone trim around the windows. Adjacent to the courthouse is the Romanesque Revival sheriff’s office and jail (1904) designed by Lew F. Porter of Madison.