40 for 40: Ferry County
Ferry County Courthouse

By Madilane Perryprevious story | next story | all stories

Judging by road density and population, Ferry County can still be counted as Washington State's "Frontier." Late Euro-American settlement beginning in 1896 resulted from inclusion of the entire area that is now Ferry County in the second Colville Indian Reservation. Following late 19th century rumors of gold discoveries near the international boundary, the "North Half" of the Reservation was returned to the public domain in 1892 and opened to non-natives, for mineral entry only, in 1896. This resulted in the staking of thousands of mining claims and the founding of all of Ferry County's existing towns, including Republic, the county seat and the only incorporated city. The North Half was opened in 1900 for homesteading. The "South Half" continues to be part of the reservation, and inhabited by both non-Indians and the descendants of the twelve Native American groups that make up the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.

When Ferry County separated from Stevens in 1899, Republic was still a raw mining camp, but was the largest settlement. Early histories of the area are silent on what sort of structure the infant county chose for its courthouse after the initial “board shacks,” being more concerned with all aspects of gold mining, but a more substantial structure was built c. 1899. What was probably that structure burned in 1935, leaving the county in the awkward position of distributing county functions wherever there was room, and trying to put together funding for a new courthouse.

Funding a new structure proved difficult, given insufficient insurance coverage for a replacement, and the economic challenges of the Great Depression and Ferry County’s small tax base (nearly half of the county on the Colville Indian Reservation and much of the rest part of the Colville National Forest). County officials met in Olympia in 1936 with Public Works Administration (PWA) head Eugene Hoffman and Governor Clarence D. Martin. The PWA was willing to fund 45% of the estimated $50,000 needed, and the governor proposed that the state match the county 50-50 for the remainder. The insurance on the old building was enough to provide the county's share. Spokane architect George M. Rasque was chosen to do the design and Harding and Schreiner of Walla Walla were retained for the construction.

The Ferry County Courthouse, probably the first structure in Republic designed by an architect, has a unique status as the only county courthouse in Washington built with funds from the PWA. The rectilinear, reinforced concrete building's PWA Moderne style is characterized by stucco exteriors, flat roofs, and continuous bands of windows. What little exterior decoration exists is incorporated in the structure's surface in the form of column-like vertical bands of fluting flanking the main door, similar bands between the horizontal rows of windows, and a raised, shield-like plaque above the main doors. Additional decorative elements above the top row of windows recalls Assyrian or Egyptian winged-sun motifs.

Dedication was held on August 15, 1936 with speakers Governor Martin and Superior Court Judge William Compton Brown. While the county's enforced thriftiness has prevented most destructive alterations since then, it has also hindered maintenance. Once again, however, government funding provided a solution. The Historic County Courthouse Rehabilitation Grant Program, administered jointly by the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation and the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, provided funds in 2014 through the Historic Courthouse Program for extensive roof repair, installation of  an up-to-date heating and air-conditioning system and replacement of the 1992 vinyl-framed windows. Additional repairs to this unique structure are planned and will enable it to continue its original function for many more years.

This story is part of a series celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation. This story highlights many of our programs and shows just how much need there is for strong preservation connections across the state. If you would like to support our work and spur more positive outcomes for Washington's historic resources, please consider making a special gift to the Washington Trust to support the advocacy work we do. Continuous stewardship is needed to protect that irreplaceable legacy for future generations – we appreciate and look forward to your ongoing participation and support.

The Washington Trust it current accepting submissions for its 2017 Most Endangered Historic Properties List. Please contact Jennifer Mortensen at jmortensen@preservewa.org with any questions!

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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