Rehabilitating Historic County Courthouses
The Historic County Courthouse Rehabilitation Grant Program is generously supported by funding from the Washington State Legislature. The grant program is housed within the Washington State Department of Archaeology & Historic Preservation (DAHP), and managed under contract by the Washington Trust.
The program provides matching grants to assist counties in preserving their courthouses. Since 2005, the program has provided 69 grant awards to 26 county courthouses statewide, totaling $21 million in grant funds that have leveraged more than $53.5 million in overall capital improvements. These grants support local economies and help preserve these diverse and valuable local landmarks.
Specifically, the program works to achieve the following results:
- Assist counties, especially smaller, more rural counties, with much-needed capital projects to improve infrastructure and preserve historic features;
- Work to create local jobs;
- Majority of expenditures pay for labor as opposed to materials – given that rehabilitation work deals largely with repairs to the existing building fabric, comparatively little is spent on the purchase of materials;
- Assist in preserving Washington’s civic legacy and heritage!
The application period for the 2023-25 twelfth grant round of the Historic County Courthouse Rehabilitation Grant Program is now open until Sunday – 11:59PM PST – July 24, 2022.
Application Walkthrough hosted by WA State Association of Counties (WSAC)
Administered by DAHP and the Washington Trust
The top priority of the Washington Trust’s 2005 State Legislative Agenda was the passage of an historic county courthouse rehabilitation fund. Working in partnership with the Washington State Association of Counties (WSAC), the Washington Trust was successful in its efforts to create a $5 million pool in matching funds to aid in the rehabilitation of the 33 historic county courthouses in the state. The Washington State Legislature allocated $5 million in the state’s 2005-07 Biennium capital budget and targeted $450,000 of the total for the stabilization of the Jefferson County Courthouse clock tower. The Historic County Courthouse Grant Program is a program of the Washington State Department of Archaeology & Historic Preservation (DAHP). Management of the grant portion of the program is provided by the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation under contract with DAHP. The Washington Trust for Historic Preservation is Washington’s only statewide non-profit advocacy organization dedicated to historic preservation.
The idea for the Historic County Courthouse Grant Program arose from a study sponsored by the then Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (OAHP) in 2003. Artifacts, Inc. surveyed Washington’s 39 county courthouses and determined that 29 met National Register standards (since then, an additional 4 courthouse were identified as eligible, bringing the total to 33). They assessed the existing condition of those courthouses and estimated costs for rehabilitation, uncovering over $90 million in needs. Since the completion of the survey, an additional four county courthouses have been deemed eligible for the program.
Because of the size of these structures, the cost of maintenance, and the lack of good information on appropriate rehabilitation methods, many historic county courthouses are in danger of neglect or from inappropriate alterations. This program provides an incentive for county governments to save these local landmarks and to do it the right way. In addition to supporting the rehabilitation of historic features, the fund can be used for seismic and accessibility upgrades that meet accepted historic preservation standards.
The Historic County Courthouse Grant Program also provides a shot in the arm for the local economy. Historic rehabilitation creates more jobs than new construction. It relies on local suppliers and contractors for materials and manpower, assisting both local businesses and the local tax base. Rehabilitation spurs other private investment in downtown properties, which attracts more businesses, shoppers, and visitors. Dayton, in Columbia County, is a good example of what can occur in even the smallest rural communities when the courthouse – the center of community life – is returned to its original glory. That rehabilitation effort touched off a wave of reinvestment in this small southeast Washington community. Today, Dayton is a must-see stop for dining, lodging, and shopping in the Walla Walla wine region.