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Adair County Courthouse

Kirksville City, Adair County, MO

The Adair County Courthouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. []



Constructed of rustic stone on a rectangular plan (113'x86') with a medium hipped roof, the Adair County Courthouse sits in the center of the Kirksville city square. The massive structure with its three stories and an attic dominates the downtown area. In the southeast corner of the lawn is a large statue of Andrew Taylor Still, founder of osteopathy, and in the northeast corner a flagpole.

Roof — The surface of the composition roof (originally slate) is interrupted by four gables, four hipped dormers, the pyramidal roofs of four corner pavilions which cap the square towers at each corner of the structure, and a tall brick chimney. In each gable are three one-over-one light windows under a lunette panel which provide light for the attic, as do the pairs of windows in each of the dormers.

South Facade — The central feature is a projecting center block adorned with the county seal amid decorative sculpture in the lunette panel of the gable and similar sculpture in a rectangular panel beneath the attic windows. It provides an entranceway through a large Roman arch (12'x13') supported by pairs of short, thick colonettes of polished granite. A niche alongside the main portal was probably intended for a plaque or bas-relief decoration. The colonette capitals have a filigree basket, floral, and shell design. On each of the corbels supporting the corner columns of the projecting center bloc is the figure of a head resembling a Roman mask. Stone steps (now concrete) lead to a landing within the arch which provides access to deeply recessed double doors of plate glass with aluminum frames, one large pane per door, flanked by rectangular sidelights and topped by arched fanlights and two voussoirs. The third story fenestration of this central feature consists of three one-over-one light windows united under a segmental arch.

Beneath the bracketed cornices are the third story windows and fanlights, all under arches. On either side of the projecting center block are two pairs of one-over-one light windows separated by a wide stone mullion, each pair embraced by a basket handle arch and the windows in each pair separated by a true capital above, making use of a free design based on the Greek acanthus leaf found in the Corinthian style, while below is a curved, beaded section set off by smooth bands above and below. The stone lintels above the capital rest on a rectangular "cyma recta" molding. A single window below a "stilted" arch is on each flank of the square towers at the third story.

The fenestration at the first and second stories matches that at the third story level with the following exceptions: there are no arches above the windows; windows at the second story have rectangular transoms and those at the first have none; and the windows at the first story level are set in farther at the bottom than at the top because of the battered wall construction. Moreover, three entranceways, one to the right and two to the left of the projecting center block, have replaced windows at the first floor level. The glass in most of the fanlights and transoms at both the second and third story levels, and a few at the first, have been covered with aluminum sheeting to preserve heat and to prevent an excess of light from reaching the interior. Subsequently, the ceilings in the rooms, except the courtroom, have been lowered, thus completely obscuring from view the sheeted windows from within.

North Facade — This duplicates the south facade with one major exception, viz., only one entranceway, located to the right of the projecting central feature, leads to the first floor. This, a part of the original construction, led to the furnace room and a coal bin in which as many as fifty tons of coal could be stored. The entrance now leads to the gas furnace and a large informal storage area.

East Facade — Neither this nor the west facade is as ornate as those on the north and south. A slightly projecting Roman arch (10'x10') supported by pairs of highly polished granite colonettes, smaller than those on the north and south, with decorated capitals forms an entranceway directly to the first floor, but the projection rises only slightly above the first floor level.

The gable, narrower than those on the north and south, does not extend below the cornice. In the lower center three one-over-one light windows are united under a lunette panel adorned with decorative carvings. At the apex and atop each of the square corner columns is a copper finial.

A three-bay window united by a rectangular transom, part of the main structure, is above and behind the archway, with single windows below square transoms on either side. At the first floor level to the right of the arched entranceway is a single window directly below those at the second and third floor level. To the left of the arch is a door, instead of a window, leading to a men's restroom.

At the third floor level, the fenestration above the arch is like that on the north and south facades, except that there is no projection and the windows, one on either side, are single one-over-one light with "stilted" arches, as are those on the flanks of the corner towers.

West Facade — This duplicates the east facade, with two exceptions. There is no door at either side of the arch and a finial at the apex of the gable is missing.


The first story with its concrete floor and walls of plaster and wood paneling is finished, but not ornate. Two sets of stairs on the south lead to a landing just inside the south arched entranceway. A wide stairway leads to the second floor which may also be reached by similar stairs from the arched entranceway on the north. Separated stairs on the south lead to a landing midway between the second and third floors whence a wide stairway leads to the third floor. All of the stair treads, risers, and newels are of iron, as are the railings which feature simple "rams horn" curves.

The main support of the center of the building consists of four arches on the second and third floors which transfer their respective loads from the top into the basement and to the foundation piers. Floral capitals of heavily glazed terra cotta used throughout this support system resemble the exterior colonette capitals. The arches on the third floor feature an egg-and-dart molding. At the center of those on the north and the south is a bearded Satyr's head, above and behind which is a floral cartouche. A banded globe is in the center of the corner spandrels. Above each of the four arches (on both its inner and outer side) on the second floor is a female head centered in a floral decoration. A narrow band of floral relief is the only decoration on the intrados.

The original terrazzo floors laid in one-foot squares in the rotundas and the landings are bordered with a "Greek Key" design.

The rotunda on the second floor affords access to various county offices on the east and west, while that on the third floor is surrounded by offices, except on the south. To the right (east) of the top of the stairs on the third floor is the circuit courtroom with satellite offices on the north. The main entrance to this most ornate room in the Adair County Courthouse, consists of two leather-covered swinging doors, with oval glass panels, guarded by a pair of wooden doors. The white, coffered ceiling is decorated with a painted wreath in the center and various molded rosettes and medallions, while the turquoise walls are plain. To the north of the room and somewhat separated from it by original paneling of golden oak are the judges' chambers and the jury room.

An original oak railing separates the spectators from those having business before the court. The golden oak jury box and judge's bench are also original.


The Adair County Courthouse is significant as a regionally important example of Romanesque style architecture, and as the seat of county government since its completion in 1899.

Adair County's first courthouse was built in Kirksville in 1843, two years after the county was organized. It was a one-story brick structure erected for approximately $1,000 on the northwest corner of the town square where the First National Bank now stands. When this first building proved inadequate, a two-story courthouse, likewise of brick, was constructed in the middle of the town square at a cost of $2,350. This courthouse, completed in 1855, was used by Colonel Joseph C. Porter and his Confederate troops during the Battle of Kirksville, August 6, 1862, in a vain effort to withstand the attack of Union soldiers under the command of Colonel John McNeil. It was destroyed by fire on April 12, 1865, three days after General Robert E. Lee had surrendered his Confederate army at Appomattox Court House near Lynchburg, Virginia.[1]

From 1865 until 1898, Adair had no courthouse; hence, officials conducted their work in rented rooms on or near the square. In 1872, 1891, 1892, and again in 1896 the county court proposed that the county issue bonds to build a courthouse, but each time the voters defeated the proposition. Finally, in 1897, the required two-thirds majority affirmative vote was given a $50,000 county bond issue to erect the present courthouse and a jail. Thereupon, the county court, after considering a number of plans, hired Kirsch & Company, an architectural firm with headquarters in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to design the three-story (including a high basement) building.[2]

Architect Robert G. Kirsch, who later designed the courthouses in the Missouri counties of Carroll (1901), Polk (1906), Vernon (1906), and Cooper (1912), was greatly influenced by the (H.H.) Richardsonian Romanesque style of architecture "with its broad arches, squat column clusters, rough-faced stone masonry, and massed hip roofs."[3] Kirsch personally supervised the construction of the massive rectangular structure of "light blue (Ohio) sandstone"[4] with its ornate clock tower, surmounted by a female figure depicting even-handed justice, which projected from the center of the building. This tower was removed in 1949, because its weight was thought to be endangering the main structure, and the figure of justice moved to the center point of the roof. One of the clock dials is in the Adair County Historical Society museum and the bell from which the hours and half hours pealed out is now in the Burdman Bell Wall on the Northeast Missouri State University campus.[5]

The county court, comprised of Presiding Judge James A. Bragg and District Judges J.S. Hickman and D.H. Crawford, let the construction contract on November 6, 1897, to Anderson & Menke who bid $46,675, a sum considerably less than the total cost proved to be. C.C. Anderson, of Kirksville, was responsible for the woodwork and F.W. Menke, of Quincy, Illinois, took care of the stonework. The contractors hired G.F. Metzger, of Kirksville, as general foreman.[6]

The cornerstone, which had been prepared by Charles H. Lee, of Kirksville, was laid on Monday, May 2, 1898, with the Masonic ceremony conducted by Andrew Fisher, of La Belle, Missouri, acting for the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Missouri, A.F.&A.M. People from Macon, Milan, Moberly, and Quincy, arriving that day by train, greatly increased the number who enjoyed the program, despite the intermittent rainfall. All doubtless shared, too, in the euphoria which followed upon Sunday's news of Admiral George Dewey's victory over the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay.[7]

Work on the building proceeded smoothly and according to plan during the following ten months. The contractors used local labor insofar as possible, but Kirsch himself saw to every detail of the construction. On February 24, 1899, the Kirksville Democrat announced that the county court had received the courthouse from the contractors. Five weeks later, March 31, 1899, the county officers moved into their new home.[8]

Some Adair County citizens were unhappy because of the cost, approximately $60,000, had exceeded the original estimate. Moreover, no funds were left to construct the jail called for in the bond issue. Nearly everyone agreed, however, that architecturally, the Adair County Courthouse was "the pride of all North Missouri."[9] Time has not altered that evaluation.

For almost seventy-eight years, the Adair County Courthouse has contained most of the county offices as well as the offices of some officials not part of the county government. The only county officials with quarters outside the courthouse today are the prosecuting attorney, the public administrator, and the sheriff. For more than fifty years, the southeast corner of the first floor served as Kirksville's city hall, the city court, and the city police headquarters.[10] This corner was later occupied by the motor vehicle registration office, not a county agency, but which still has space in another part of the first floor. Other space occupied today by agencies not administered by county officials include that used by the Adair County Historical Society, the Northeast Missouri Regional Planning Commission, the State Probation and Parole Office, and a Veteran's Affairs Office.

The south facade of the courthouse has always been considered its front. There, the stone (now concrete) steps leading to the entranceway, were used for many years by the sheriffs for foreclosure sales, political orators when a crowd could be assembled on the nearby lawn, photographers for taking group pictures, and patriotic organizations for programs on Armistice Day and Memorial Day. Occasionally, a young man would drive his automobile up the steps to demonstrate his skill and the superior quality of his machine, a performance that ceased when a central iron handrail was installed.[11]

For seventy years hitching posts were along all sides of the courthouse lawn, but were removed in order to make parking places for cars. Also, for many years there were two wells on the lawn, one to the southeast and one to the northwest of the courthouse, from which storekeepers and nearby residents carried drinking water. The wells are still there, but both have been capped by cement.[12]

A major change in the interior of the structure was made in 1923 when the county court, fearing that significant county records might be lost in case of a fire, ordered the construction of a tier of fireproof vaults, one on each floor, in the northwest part. Another change was the conversion of space in the northeast corner of the first floor from a coal bin in which more than fifty tons of coal were stored each year into a large informal storage room in which a gas furnace is located.[13]

With the exception of the tower removal, little change has been made in the external appearance of the Adair County Courthouse itself. However, the beauty of its setting has been somewhat marred by the loss of beautiful shade trees, the reduction of the lawn area by ten feet on each of the four sides, and the construction of a concrete parking lot on the north one quarter of the grounds.[14]


  1. Eugene M. Violette, History of Adair County (Kirksville, Missouri: The Denslow History Company, 1911), pp.56-58; Paul O. Selby, "The Adair County Courthouse," in A Book of Adair County History (Kirksville, Missouri: The Kirksville-Adair County Bicentennial Committee, 1976), p.105.
  2. Violette, Adair County, pp.59-61; Kirksville (Missouri) Journal, September 23, 1897.
  3. A Courthouse Conservation Handbook (Washington, D.C.: The Preservation Press, National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1976), p.10.
  4. Kirksville (Missouri) Democrat, May 1898.
  5. Selby, "Adair County Courthouse," p.105.
  6. Violette, Adair County, p.61; Kirksville Democrat, November 12, 1897.
  7. Kirksville Democrat, May 6, 1898; Violette, Adair County, p.61.
  8. Violette, Adair County, p.63.
  9. Kirksville Democrat, February 24, 1899.
  10. Selby, "Adair County Courthouse", p.108.
  11. Ibid., p.107.
  12. Ibid., p.112.
  13. Ibid., p.108.
  14. Ibid., p.112.


Kirksville Democrat. May 1898.

A Courthouse Conservation Handbook. The Preservation Press, National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1976.

Selby, Paul O. "Adair County Courthouse," A Book of Adair County History. Kirksville: The Kirksville-Adair County Bicentennial Committee, 1976.

Violette, Eugene M. "Adair County," Kirksville Journal. September 23, 1897.

________, History of Adair County. Kirksville, Missouri: The Denslow History Company, 1911.

David D. March, Professor of History, Northeast Missouri State University, Adair County Courthouse, Kirksville, MO, nomination document, 1977, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Street Names
Washington Street West