The iconic “old courthouse” sits alone on 5th and C Streets in Hawthorne. Once the hub of activity for the hustling and bustling Mineral County, the building has sat empty but this week marks the 90th anniversary of Mineral County taking full possession of the building that was once the heartbeat for the center of Hawthorne.
In 1911, when Mineral County was formed, the county had been paying on a number of bonds and the last of those were paid off this week. In 1887, when Mineral was part of Esmeralda County, a bond sale was issued to cover the debt on the newly erected courthouse and practically all bonds were taken by T.B. Smith of Smith Valley. When the county divided and Mineral was formed, Mineral Assumed a share of the bond debt and since then has been paying its portion to the treasurer of Esmeralda County in Goldfield. The final debt paid was $939.10 and the check marked the wiping out of the entire debt of the historic building.
In March of 1883, the Nevada State Legislature approved “an act to remove the county seat of Esmeralda County from the town of Aurora to the town of Hawthorne.” The legislature also approved the sale of bonds to raise funds for the construction of the courthouse “in a sum not exceeding thirty thousand dollars.”
The fine people of Aurora fought the move, at every turn, even to the point of trying to have the act declared unconstitutional, but their efforts were futile. The effective date of transfer of office was set for July 1, 1883 with public sentiment swayed towards a brick building and the specifications were subsequently changed.
The construction of the courthouse was opened for bid shortly thereafter and A.C. Glenn, brother of M. M. Glenn was appointed to supervise the building of the historic courthouse.
On Aug. 13, with M. M. Glenn as chairman and W.T. Mattingly and D.H. McNett serving in their commissioner capacity joined by Joseph W. Bleakly, county clerk and E.W. Taylor, deputy district attorney in attendance, the bids were opened and C.N. Snow & Co. was the lowest bidder at $24,000 and was awarded the project, subject to posting a $12,000 bond. The next day, without explanation, Snow appeared in front of the commissioners and withdrew his bid.
A few hours of frustration ensued as well as heated discussion amongst the commissioners before they agreed to award George W. Babcock, the next lowest bidder for $29,125 ($792,179.79 in 2019 monies).
Groundbreaking began two days later and with it dirt was thrown not only in construction but also politically.
On Sept. 8, the cornerstone was placed with almost everyone in Hawthorne in attendance. Inside of the cornerstone was placed a copy of the building specifications and plans, various coins, pictures, name cards and more.
As progression on the courthouse continued, so did the drama within the political walls of Esmeralda County. The plans and specifications, which were supposed to be kept in the office of the county clerk, were found by District Attorney D.J. Lewis in the possession of A.C. Glenn, the supervising architect.
Defending his brother, chairman M.M. Glenn would be reported to convince his fellow commissioners that the architect “had the right to retain the plans and specifications as he was an officer of the county,” The Walker Lake Bulletin would report in their Oct. 10 edition. The Bulletin would go on to say that the chairman was displeased by the idea of his brother needing to surrender the papers.
The point that the district attorney tried to bring to the commissioner’s attention was that “every citizen of the county had a right to see them [the plans] and determine himself whether the work was done in the manner agreed upon,” the Bulletin continued.
The power play over the documents lasted server days with various excuses from A.C. Glenn as to why he wouldn’t bring the documents back to the clerk’s office. He claimed to have “misplaced them” but days later, returned a ‘copy’ of the specifications and with that, an investigation over misuse of power against his brother M.M. was launched.
Found in the specifications were deviations from the original and accusations of collusion between M.M. Glenn, A.C. Glenn and Babcock began to quickly spread throughout the county. A.C. Glenn would find himself fired by the board. A result of his own actions.
The modifications had been approved solely by A.C. Glenn “without any authorization from the Board of County Commissioners, the law or anyone else,” the Bulletin reported.
Babcock, wanting reimbursement, presented the commissioners a bill for $9,000 for “additions”. Babcock found himself under pressure by both political and citizen heat and withdrew the bill. Work continued under new supervising architect D.R. Munro.
On Dec. 5, 1883 the keys were turned over the commissioners. The Bulletin reported, “The contractor proposes to have the courthouse finished today and will turn it over to the commissioners, ‘f they will receive it’.”
And receive it – they did. And with that, more drama.
In January of 1884, the Esmeralda County Grand Jury directed by District Attorney Lewis brought a suit against Babcock to recover $875 paid to him in an illegal claim during construction. But Esmeralda County Commissioners plowed forward and ordered all county property to be transferred to the new building and for the treasurer and recorder to move into their new offices.
The officials moved into their new building while the Grand Jury moved forward and filed their report. Within the report, were allegations that the foundation of the new courthouse was one-third the specified size; the vault doors made of the 1/8 boiler steel intended; there were no water pipes, sinks or valves in the new kitchen or jai; and that the ceiling joists were not anchored to the building. The Grand Jury warned that the foundation was already settling and that piers be put in to counteract the tendency. These were just a few of the issues listed in the report.
Commissioner W. T. Mattingly resigned – some say out of sheer frustration of the growing scandal and R.F. Doren stepped in to fill his position.
A.C. Glenn would enter into a new line of work, a dance teacher, only a few blocks from the courthouse mess at the Sutton Hall.
Speculations, problems and unauthorized modifications surrounded the building of the grand courthouse continued and M.M. Glenn, brother of the dance teacher, would be charged with malfeasance in office and moved to California, leaving unpaid debts behind. Mineral County Historian Harold Fuller would write about this year’s later, stating that the “unpaid debts were to mark his fall from grace.”
Another Grand Jury report from May 1884 would state that M.M. Glenn would not be paid for the month of April and “that the necessary steps be taken to remove him from an office which he has disgraced since his election,” Fuller wrote.
Mineral County would be carved from Esmeralda County and since that year would be paying on a number of ponds which were paid off this week in 1930.The two-story building was built in an Italianate design with buttressed sidewalls, arched window and door openings and a bracketed cornice along the roof line. Central gables cap at the four elevations in the courthouse with an entry porch in a pentagon, semi-circular shape.
In 1930’s the building had an alternation through the National Emergency Recovery Act to include a concrete vault and the removal of the roof’s cupolas, which was determined to be too heavy for the courthouse.
In 1969, Mineral County officials authorized the construction of a new county complex. A.S. Johnson Construction Company would begin working on the 9,000 square-foot building at the cost of $331,629 ($2,269,056.22 in 2019 monies). After construction was completed, the old courthouse would be used for storage – once the heartbeat of Mineral County, it stood empty.
Time would begin to take a toll on the building and after years of countless political squabbles, the grand building has begun to change to history. With the help of Georgana Mayne, former Director of the Mineral County Museum, the courthouse has been anchored squarely to the ground, generations of debris has been removed and underneath the dust and history, a wonderful building still remains.
The county has opened the building for self-guided tours throughout the years so that people can take a step back into historic times.