On June 23, 1911, Judge Sol G. Smith (b. 1839) convenes Pacific County Superior Court's first session in the county's new courthouse (in 2011, 300 Memorial Drive) in South Bend. The two-story, white-stuccoed, domed edifice offers expanded space for county offices and, more importantly for South Bend, firmly entrenches the oft-moved Pacific County seat in South Bend, discouraging neighboring Raymond's aspiration to remove the seat to its own burgeoning town.
Competing for County Seat
South Bend, on the Willapa River in Pacific County, had reason to fear losing the county seat, which had only come to the town in 1893, after moving between three previous towns, Chinookville, Pacific City, and Oysterville. Raymond, a newly established town just upriver from South Bend, had grown exponentially in its first five years and had captured much of the area's commercial activity, along with having several sawmills.
After an initial boom ignited by the location of the Northern Pacific Railway terminus at South Bend in 1889, the Panic of 1893 and an ensuing economic recession severely limited South Bend's development. Additionally, the South Bend Land Company gave a large tract of riverfront land to the railroad to secure the terminus. This left little space for sawmills and other industries in the narrow river valley.
After the turn of the nineteenth century, with Raymond growing at about triple the rate of South Bend, Raymond residents began to suggest moving the county seat again. South Bend residents countered that effort by planning a new, larger, more impressive county courthouse.
The county's first offices in downtown South Bend, in the Bristol and Leonard building, had only served government needs temporarily. In 1894 the Northern Land and Development Company, the Northern Pacific's real estate arm, donated a block of its property in the uptown area for a courthouse. Located on Quincy Street, the new wood-frame building, built by W. B. Murdock of Murdock & Stanley, served the county's needs, but proved inconvenient because of its distance, over a mile, from South Bend's commercial district.
In 1909 voters approved the annexation of the Lexington Addition near downtown, on Quality Hill. The land's owners donated one block to the county with the stipulation that a new $50,000 county courthouse be built on it. County commissioners accepted the lot and proceeded to make plans for a new building.
A vocal contingent of Pacific County residents objected to spending the money to build a new courthouse. To appease dissenters who argued that South Bend benefited disproportionately from having the county business conducted in their town, a group of South Bend business owners pledged to purchase the old courthouse building for $10,000 and signed a document to that effect. But when it came time to fulfill that promise after the new courthouse was built, the document had disappeared. Only a handful of the signers came forward despite the exhortations of one of them, South Bend Journal publisher Frederick A. Hazeltine (1867-1938).
A Building Surpassing Hopes
The county hired C. Lewis Wilson and Company, an architecture firm in Chehalis to design the building. He chose a Beaux-Arts Classicism style, with columns along its front, a symmetrical design, and a large central mass. The building has a spectacular 29-foot art glass dome over a rotunda, which is lit from behind via windows in the lantern that covers its exterior. The natural light has since been supplemented with electric lights installed in the attic space around the dome. Wilson also designed the Franklin County Courthouse in Pasco in a similar style.
The builders considered using stone quarried from a site in Baleville, just across the river, but a deal with the quarry owners did not work out. Instead, they used concrete, with stucco on the exterior and a faux marble finish added to interior pillars.
On June 23, 1911, Judge Sol G. Smith (b. 1839) convened the first session of the Pacific County Superior Court in the new courthouse. A South Bend Journal article extolled the building's design, decoration, and spaciousness, saying it, "surpasses the hopes of all who have watched its construction for both beauty and convenience" ("New Courthouse").
Not everyone in the county shared in the enthusiasm. The editor of the Willapa Harbor Pilot, Edwin M. Connor (1877-1942), called the building the "Gilded Palace of Reckless Extravagance"("The Gilded Palace Story").
The courthouse grounds remained undeveloped for several years after the building's construction. On Memorial Day in 1920, the grounds were dedicated to the memory of Pacific County residents who lost their lives in World War I. On the 4th of July that same year, South Bend renamed Vine Street, which connected the courthouse with the riverfront, Memorial Way. Twenty-four pine oaks, each representing one of the lives lost, were planted along the sidewalk between Memorial Way and the courthouse entrance. These trees were later replaced by cypress trees with bronze markers.
In 1925, the South Bend American Legion dedicated a flagpole and a memorial tablet in honor of the John C. Fremont Post No. 69 of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of veterans who served in the Union Army during the Civil War. They added two cannons alongside the flagpole in 1927, but had to remove them in 1942 when the government requested their return.
During the 1940s, the cypress trees had to be removed because they had become diseased. After World War II, two marble stones placed near the flagpole honored Pacific County citizens lost in each world war.
Preserving and Remembering
In 1942, local artist Bert Bockstadter painted murals in the interior of the vestibule depicting Pacific County scenes. The paintings depict South Bend, a wharf, a cabin on a river, and the North Head Lighthouse at the mouth of the Columbia River.
In 1977, the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Renovation work completed in 1980 repaired the dome's art glass interior. Further work, in 2009, repaired the exterior lantern and reinstalled the building's missing parapet and balusters along the roofline, which had fallen off in a windstorm decades earlier.
In 2011 the courthouse continues to house Pacific County courts and offices.