PRIMGHAR, Iowa | One of the most impressive structures in Siouxland, the O'Brien County Courthouse in Primghar, hosts its 100th birthday celebration on June 16.
The bash promises fun with self-guided tours, lawn games, root beer floats and a trivia contest.
When it comes to O'Brien County historical trivia, questions and answers fascinate. I didn't know that Primghar was nothing but a prairie when folks in 1873 decided to move the county seat from O'Brien, Iowa (near Peterson, Iowa), to the exact center of the county. The site became Primghar, a name taken from the first letters of eight men involved in platting the town.
In 1879, folks from nearby Sheldon, Iowa, sought to have the county seat relocated to Sheldon. The petition was rejected as 392 voted in favor of Primghar, clipping 386 votes for Sheldon, a 6-vote margin.
In 1882, raiders from nearby Sanborn, Iowa, sought to move the county seat to their community. They came to Primghar with wagons, crowbars and more, forcing their way into the courthouse around midnight. Folks in Primghar answered by cutting the Sanborn harnesses and removing nuts from wagon wheels. The raid stalled and the court records ultimately stayed in Primghar. A wagon wheel from the raid is displayed inside the courthouse's east entrance.
The century-old courthouse is a marvel, its exterior featuring No. 1 Buff Bedford stone. The interior, which showcases 80 windows, is done in English vein Italian marble, imported. Office floors are battleship linoleum, the rest of the flooring an inlaid tile, including a second-floor centerpiece that shows the original O'Brien County seal, inlaid in hand-cut colored tile.
"The 20-feet columns on the exterior weigh 10 tons apiece and there are 12 of them," said Fay Schall, who has researched construction of the courthouse. Schall noted that the architect, of Smith & Keffer of Des Moines, died during the construction process and did not see his finished work, said to be his crown jewel.
The courthouse came with a dormitory suite, with shower and bath, large enough for one sequestered jury. Blueprints are placed on the walls on each floor, currently.
There's a small stage in the assembly room, believed to be used for eighth-grade graduation ceremonies a century ago as the county's superintendent of schools maintained an office here. That area is now used for various meetings.
The meeting room for the O'Brien County Board of Supervisors uses a meeting table that's original to the building, as are seats for the general public. Schall's research discovered that the county allotted a $10,000 furniture allowance for quartersawn white oak furniture that was "plain, but heavy and substantial."
A newspaper editor at the time, Schall read, wrote "the furniture should last a good, long while."
"It certainly has," Schall answered.
A wow factor tops the building in a glass dome that was taken apart and addressed by Bogenrief Glass Studio of nearby Sutherland, Iowa, two years ago.
"We put a new roof over the dome while it was being done," said Barb Rohwer, O'Brien County auditor since 1989. "It was a $100,000 project."
Susan Smith, O'Brien County recorder, said this birthday celebration, and the work leading up to it, has given her a new appreciation for the workplace she shares with 31 county employees. Smith is gathering items for a time capsule she's putting in an urn to be located under glass, not stone, which is where the 1915 time capsule was placed as the courthouse was being built.
"It's buried with the cornerstone," Smith said of the 1915 time capsule. "We cannot get to it."
This incredible place, and its cornerstone, obviously, were built to last.