Tour Ferry County's History

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Ferry Co. Historical Society
15-2 N. Kean Street
P.O. Box 287
Republic, WA 99166

Madilane Perry
(509) 775-2605

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Ferry County Courthouse: Now on the National Register


According to recent letters from Dr. Allyson Brooks, the Washington State Historic Preservation Officer, the Ferry County Courthouse is now on the National Register of Historic Places at the “ local level of significance”. This acknowledges the building’s importance in the nation’s history and makes it eligible for certain grants.

There are four criteria for placement on the National Register and the Ferry County Courthouse meets two of them: It is “associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history” and “embodies the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction or represents the work of a master”.

The “broad pattern of history” which includes our courthouse is the “New Deal” which sought to revitalize the depressed economy of the 1930s by funding public works and providing jobs. One of its many “alphabet soup” agencies was the PWA, the “Public Works Administration” (not to be confused with the “WPA”, a similar agency). Our courthouse has the distinction of being the only courthouse in the state partly funded by the PWA. Several other counties applied for courthouse construction funds but were turned down. Funding of the Ferry County courthouse was probably partly determined by the fact that Ferry was the only county in the state that was operating totally without a courthouse, the old one having burned down in February of 1935 with insufficient insurance to cover construction of a new building. The present courthouse was built in 1936 and occupied in 1937.

The “distinctive characteristics” of the courthouse are those of its architectural style. Known as “Art Moderne”, it is characterized by clean, straight lines, a preference for reinforced concrete or natural materials, and spare, stylized decoration. It was so widely used in federally funded, depression era buildings that it is sometimes referred to as “PWA Moderne”. Its architect, George M. Rasque of Spokane, qualifies as a “master”. He was active all over the Northwest from the 1920s well into the 1960s. While he designed everything from a Spokane parking garage to private homes, he is best known for public buildings, particularly schools, and for his mastery of the Art Moderne style.

Ferry County Courthouse 1939

The National Register Nomination was completed by the Ferry County Historical Society’s Madilane Perry with very substantial help from the Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation’s architect, Michael Houser. The courthouse joins three other Republic structures, all private homes, on the National Register. One of them, the J.W. and Elizabeth Slagle House, is open for small public tours on the fourth Saturday of the month from May through August from 11:30 to 3:00. The courthouse’s distinctive architecture can be admired any time during regular business hours and its exterior is always on display at the top of Courthouse Hill.

Courthouse History

Early histories of the area are silent on what sort of structure the infant county chose for its courthouse in 1899, instead they were more concerned with all aspects of gold mining. However a special edition of the San Francisco paper The Wave, published in 1899, states: "Whoever visits Republic a few months hence will find a striking feature of the town's improvement in the new Court House, which Messrs. Yeargin, Percy, and Wilmot, the County Commissioners, are arranging to build. The public business is now conducted in board shacks, the accommodations of which it has already outgrown."

Historic images show a modest two story vernacular wood structure with a full width front porch (supporting a second) and a hip roof. The character is more commercial than governmental. The architect of the courthouse is unknown but the contactor was Thomas L. Grant. In 1907 a brick two-story jail was built at the northwest corner of the courthouse.

Ferry County Courthouse circa 1899

The modest courthouse was utilized without fanfare until the morning of February 16, 1935. A fire was discovered in the early morning hours coming from the basement of the jail. By the time the fire department arrived, the jail and attached courthouse were a total loss. All that could be saved were two type writers, an adding machine and a few records from the treasurer’s office. Fortunately, after the fire was put out, the two large vaults and their content were found intact, as well as the smaller vaults in the auditor’s office and courtroom.

The loss of its administrative center left the county in the awkward position of dispersing county functions wherever there was room. The Auditor, Treasurer, County Nurse and County Agent were squeezed into the City Hall, the back room of what is now the Republic Brewing Co. The Sheriff was to operate from his own residence and the Engineer and School Superintendent shared a "small stone building" near the north end of the main street (probably the Richardson Bros. Engineering building, built in 1914, which now houses the Republic Police Department).

Despite its 2,200 square mile area, Ferry County had a very small tax base due to the fact that nearly half of the county was, and still is, part of the Colville Indian Reservation. Much of the rest of the county is part of the Colville National Forest. This leaves less than 20% of the county in taxable land. As such county funding has been chronically pinched.

The timing of the fire could not have been worse. The usual financial situation was exacerbated by the Great Depression, and the old courthouse was reportedly insured for just $23,000; not enough to build a replacement structure "during the coming summer" as the Commissioners wanted. Luckily for the County Commissioners, a new federal funding program had been put into place to help communities offset the cost of building public structures with the goal of putting people back to work.

In its August 9, 1936 edition the Republic News-Miner announced funds had been arranged to build a new courthouse. County Commissioner W.C. White, his son, Dr. H.C. White, and Postmaster John Cody had previously met in Olympia with Eugene Hoffman, Region 7 Assistant Director of the Progress Works Administration (PWA) and Governor Clarence D. Martin. The PWA was willing to fund 45% of the estimated $50,000 needed to replace the building and interior furnishings. Governor Martin pledged that the state would match the county 50-50 for the remainder of the cost.

Plaque in todays FC Courthouse

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