40 for 40: Pacific County
Pacific County Courthouse

By Holly Chamberlain previous story | next story | all stories

Established in 1869, South Bend is named for its location on a curve of the Willapa River just inland from the Pacific Coast. Its location allowed residents to take advantage of an excellent natural harbor, and early townspeople typically made their living from timber processing and shipping, and from harvesting oysters. South Bend is also the seat of Pacific County, and courthouse-related activities remain a strong economic factor in town, along with seafood processing and tourism.

Pacific County Courthouse

Pacific County’s most official edifice is dramatically set on the steep slope of Quality Hill overlooking South Bend’s harbor and historic downtown center. Is this courthouse the state’s most beautiful? With a tip of a hat to tradition, we leave that in the eye of the beholder, but many architectural critics and enthusiasts believe it to be so. Certainly, this elegant civic palace with its outstanding Tiffany art glass rotunda is a marvel of largely unaltered detail and proportion, and it was listed in the National Register in 1977.

Glass dome of the Pacific County Courthouse

Completed in 1911 to a design by Chehalis-based C. Lewis Wilson and Company, the Classical Revival-style building cost $132,000 when constructed by Northwest Bridge Company of Portland, Oregon. The wear and tear of decades, however, brought mounting needs for maintenance that cost far more – a situation common to courthouses around the state.

Enter the Historic County Courthouse Rehabilitation Grant Program, which provided some of the needed repair funds in Pacific County and elsewhere. Following the inclusion of several county courthouses in the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation’s annual Most Endangered List (including iconic courthouses in Jefferson, Okanogan and Snohomish County), a partnership ensued with the Washington State Association of Counties (WSAC) and other interested stakeholders. Through focused efforts, in 2005 advocates encouraged the legislature to create a pool of funds to be granted statewide for preservation of historic county courthouses.

That very year, the legislature allocated an initial sum of $5M from the state’s Capital Budget, officially creating the Historic County Courthouse Rehabilitation Grant Program, housed within the Department of Archaeology & Historic Preservation (DAHP). The program has enabled county governments to implement historically appropriate treatments to their courthouses in a manner that preserves and enhances the character of each. Pacific County is the recipient of three separate grants to assist with roof replacement, window rehabilitation, and repairs to the exterior masonry of the courthouse – state dollars which were matched by local county funds.

Overall, more than $17M in funding has been awarded, leveraging nearly $45M in total capital improvements to historic houses of justice. Courthouse grant funds have been a boost to the state’s economy as well: preservation projects are more labor intensive and thus require the hiring of more local workers than new construction, enabling project expenditures to stay within the local economy. Both the Washington Trust and WSAC remain steady advocates for this highly effective program, which DAHP continues to administer in a highly effective manner.

Parapet restoration at the Pacific County Courthouse   Newly restored windows at the Pacific County Courthouse

Pacific County Courthouse under renovation

This story is part of a series celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation. Please consider making a special gift to the Washington Trust in honor of our accomplishments as we celebrate this year together! Continuous stewardship is needed to protect that irreplaceable legacy for future generations – we appreciate and look forward to your ongoing participation and support.

Here's to 40 more years of saving places that matter across Washington! Please sign up for our special weekly e-newsletter to recieve stories like this in your inbox all year long.

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