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Lewis County Courthouse

Monticello Village, Lewis County, MO

The Lewis County Courthouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [‡]


Built in 1875, the Lewis County Courthouse, located on the Courthouse Square in Monticello (100 East Lafayette Street), Lewis County, Missouri, is of a two-story rectangular brick building with Second Empire influences. It rests on a stone foundation and has a mansard asphalt roof topped with a cupola and weather vane. The eaves are adorned with wooden dentils and brackets. The top of each wall has a double row of brick dentils. Engaged brick double pilasters add interest to each side of the building. The north and south sides of the building were originally constructed with three bays on each elevation, whereas the east and west sides contained seven bays on each elevation. The Lewis County Courthouse now has four additions, one on the east and two on the west side and a largely underground one to the southwest. The disappearance of the commercial area has altered the setting. A small frame service building sits just southwest of the Lewis County Courthouse, but it is not substantial in size or scale and is not included in the resource count. The sidewalks were replaced in 1994 and landscaping was done in 1996. This included the addition of a veterans memorial, historical marker, and a flagpole. The memorial and marker are of low profile and do not detract from the design of the courthouse; together with the flagpole, they are appropriate to the courthouse setting but not significant in size or scale and are also not included in the resource count. Despite the several additions to the building, it still conveys it original design and retains its integrity of materials, workmanship, design, location, and association. The Lewis County Courthouse remains a good example of the rare use of Second Empire elements on courthouses in small, primarily rural Missouri counties.


On October 30, 1875, the Canton Press provided a description of the almost completed Lewis County Courthouse:

"In size the building is 80x48 feet, with an elevation of 32 feet to the eaves, and surmounted with a neat mansard roof and cupola. The first story is 12 feet in the clear, and contains on the east side offices for the Circuit Clerk and County Clerk, with substantial lire-proof vaults in each for the safe keeping of the public records: on the west side are offices for the Sheriff and Collector, and a Grand Jury room, and a hall extending through the centre the entire length of the building.

The second story is 18 feet 2 inches in the clear, and contains a court room 64x45 feet in the clear, and a jury room 12x18 feet, besides hall and stairway. The court room has a broad platform or dais at the south end with an elevation 12 inches for the Bench, Bar and jury boxes, and the auditorium will furnish ample accommodations for four or five hundred. The elevation of the roof is covered with shingles painted slate color, the deck is covered with the best quality of tin."[1]

The present building's core, which consists of the original courthouse, remains largely unchanged. The main facade, or north elevation, features six bays, three on the lower story and three on the second story directly above the lower ones. The windows, both original and replacement, on this and all other sides of the building are 4/4 double hung with stone lug sills and topped with brick arches. The glass front door replaces the original and is centrally located, flanked by fixed glass side lights, and topped with an arched glass transom. On each side of the door arc engaged brick pilasters and beyond them on each side is a window. The upper story is identical to the lower with the exception of the upper door being wooden and containing a window. The upper door opens out onto a small balcony. The cupola extends up from the front of the mansard roof. It features a gabled dormer with a shutter on each of its four sides and a mini mansard roof topped with a lightening rod. The cupola was re-roofed in 1997 and no longer retains a spire.

The east side has a two-story addition that was built in 1922 and contains vaults on the lower level. This addition covers the second and third southernmost windows on both stories. The addition contains no windows on the lower story, but what appear to be two vents on its east side. On the second story, there is one window on south side, two on the east, and one on the north. There were originally three chimneys on this side, but they were removed when the heating system was updated.

The south elevation of the building is identical to the main facade, or north elevation, with the exception of the central bay. Instead of a door on the second story there are a pair of adjacent smaller windows. The door on the lower story is a glass replacement door similar to that on the north elevation.

The west elevation of the Lewis County Courthouse has been altered by a two-story addition identical to the east side, built in 1922 and containing vaults on the lower elevation. This addition covers the second and third southernmost windows on both elevations. The west side of the additions contains no window on the lower story of the north and south sides but two on the west. There are also two windows on the second story of the west elevation. The west side of the building also has a substantial addition completed in 2004. This two-story rectangular addition covers the second, third, and fourth windows from the north on this side and is adjacent to and sits north of the 1922 addition. The new addition houses the elevator and a handicapped accessible restroom. An effort was made to make this compatible, through consultation with the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), with the original building; also constructed of brick, it has the same window style as the original building, as well. The north side of the addition contains only one glass door, but the east side has two windows on the first story and two on the second story. The south side has only one window which is on the second story. A brick chimney is also visible on the south side. This chimney replaces the original three chimneys on this side. Off the southwest corner of the building is a largely underground addition which contains the mechanical systems for the courthouse. The flat concrete slab roof of it rises slightly above ground level.

The interior of the Lewis County Courthouse has been altered substantially. Drop ceilings have been installed and carpet has been added. Paneling now covers the plaster walls. The door to the courtroom retains the original arched glass transom and the stairway banister also appears to be original with its turned posts.

The courthouse square is a variation of the Shelbyville Plan. The setting for the Lewis County Courthouse is now extensively altered. There is no historic commercial area surrounding the town square and few commercial buildings of any vintage. The Lewis County Courthouse now shares the square with two buildings. The circa 1960 sheriff's office and jail sits south and west of the courthouse, on the southern edge of the square and just west of the site of a historic jail (no longer extant). The Lewis County Courthouse annex, which houses the assessor's office, the juvenile officer, and the University of Missouri Extension Office, sits on the square to the east of the courthouse. Built about 1975, the building originally housed welfare and family services offices; the county bought the building about 1990. A small white service building sits near the underground addition. Because this building is neither substantial in size or scale, it is not included in the resource count, although it is within the property boundary. The sidewalks were replaced in 1994, and landscaping was done to provide flower beds and benches in 1996. The northwest side of the building now features a ramp leading to the glass door in the handicap accessible addition of 2004. A veterans memorial was built on the east corner of the north side. The west corner of the north side has a historical marker. There are still several large trees on each side of the building. The trees help conceal the additions when the courthouse is viewed from the front.

Although the Lewis County Courthouse has four additions, all on its two side elevations, it still retains its integrity of materials, workmanship, design, location, and association. These additions have enhanced and extended its use by providing vaults for the circuit and county commission clerks and by rendering the building and its services handicapped accessible. This helps the building meet the space and accessibility needs of the public while still retaining its historic integrity.


The Lewis County Courthouse, 100 East Lafayette Street (Courthouse Square), Monticello, Missouri, is significant in the areas of architecture and politics/government. Constructed in 1875, the Second Empire-influenced building is the third courthouse constructed by the county. In the area of architecture, the Lewis County Courthouse is a good example of a vernacular courthouse to which Second Empire details have been melded. A relatively rare example among Missouri courthouses, the Lewis County Courthouse is one of only six Second Empire style courthouses identified by Marion Ohman in The Encyclopedia of Missouri Courthouses, and one of only three of the style remaining in the state. In the area of politics/government, the Lewis County Courthouse has served as the seat of justice and governmental administration in the northeast Missouri County continuously since 1875. The period of significance extends to 1954, the arbitrary fifty-year limit.


On January 2, 1833, Lewis County, named for Meriwether Lewis, was organized from part of Marion County. Stephen Cleaver and Joshua Fensel were appointed commissioners for locating a county seat. While a seat of justice was being selected, the first two terms of the Lewis County Court were held at the home of John Bozarth. The next two terms were held at houses in Canton. In the meantime, Cleaver and Fensel selected a site in the west half of the northwest quarter of Section 6. Township 61 North, Range 7 East, and sixty acres were donated for a town site by Andrew P. Williams. The county seat, named Monticello in honor of Jefferson's home, was laid out in the fall of 1833, but it was not surveyed until a year later.

The county court named Judge J.A. Richardson commissioner of the seat of justice and directed him to select lots upon which to build a jail, a church, and a schoolhouse. The streets of the new county seat were also named, with those running north and south christened Jackson, Perry, Washington, Decatur, and Water, and those running east and west named Clay, Lafayette, Jefferson, Greene, and Benton.[2]

J.B. Buckle was selected as contractor for the first Lewis County courthouse, which was a one-story, one-room log building that cost $210; of that amount, the new county officials had to borrow one hundred dollars. The building was sited about one hundred yards west of the present courthouse, and it was completed in time for the sixth term of the county court on June 2, 1834. In 1839, the court appropriated $3,200 for the second courthouse. The two-story, brick courthouse was located on the courthouse square, with its facade facing west, but no illustrations survive.[3]

On February 24, 1875, the county court ordered "that a new Courthouse be erected upon the lot or tract of land upon which the present court House stands in the Town of Monticello." The court appropriated $ 10,000.00 for the new building and appointed Luther J. Vandiver, cashier of the Monticello Savings Bank, to superintend the "erection of the Court House and Clerk's offices buildings." Vandiver was ordered to submit the dimensions of the building and a list of materials by March 9.[4] On March 9, Vandiver submitted plans and specifications that were adopted by the court, which ordered Vandiver to advertise for sealed proposals to be submitted to the county clerk by the fourth Monday in March.[5] The plans adopted specified a two-story brick 48x80, the first story with 12 feet elevation and the second 18 feet. The first floor will contain offices for the Circuit and County Clerks, with fire proof vaults, grand jury room, and offices for Sheriff and Collector. The second story will contain two rooms for the petit jury and a court room about 48x56 feet in size.[6]

Announcement of plans for building a new Lewis County Courthouse was not greeted with enthusiasm by all county residents. On March 6, "CITIZEN" wrote the editor of the Canton Press to urge the relocation of the county seat from Monticello, "inaccessible as she is and always will be..." According to CITIZEN, the appropriation of $10,000 in bonds for the construction of the new courthouse actually represented only $9,000, after 10 percent was deducted for cashing the bonds. Added to that amount, $3,000 in public subscriptions were pledged for the new building, for a total of $12,000. However, CITIZEN contended, Lewis County was "one of the wealthiest and most productive counties in the state" and was "comparatively out of debt." Its population was almost twenty thousand and it was blessed with "three of the best institutions of learning in the State..."[7] As alternatives to keeping the courthouse in Monticello, according to CITIZEN, the citizens of Lewistown, located near the geographic center of the county and on a railroad, were willing to pledge $25,000 for the building of a courthouse, at no cost to the county. In addition, the citizens of La Grange, also more accessible than Monticello, vowed to do as well as Lewistown, or better. Finally. Canton was "ready and willing to build a court house that would be an ornament to Lewis county for this and the next generation. One not costing less than $40,000."[8]

On March 23, the county court opened the sealed proposals for building the new courthouse. The county awarded McAllister & Company the contract "conditioned for the finishing of all the materials, labor and cost, build and fully complete said building vaults and appurtenances at their own expense of every nature, need and description whatever according to the specifications now on file in the County Clerk's office..."[9] The contractor was to have the material salvaged from the old courthouse, clerk's office, and other offices in the building. They were also allowed any local subscriptions or contributions that might be secured.[10] George H. Roberts was appointed surveyor for the new building.

Although the contract was awarded to McAllister & Company, according to the Canton Press, all payments recorded in the Lewis County County Court Record were made to McAllister and Barnes. According to Ohman, the architect for the courthouse was J.T. McAllister, probably James Thomas McAllister, listed in the 1870 and 1880 census as a carpenter in Monticello. In 1875, he would have been about 33 years old. Another James McAllister who was also a carpenter was listed in the 1870 census, but who was 69 years old; he may have been J.T. McAllister's father. McAllister's partner was probably George Barnes. In both the 1870 and 1880 census, Barnes was a carpenter. In 1875 he would have been about 57 years old. In 1870, he lived near Canton, but by 1880 he was living in Monticello.

The design submitted by McAllister & Company was for a plain, two-story, rectangular brick building, distinguished only by its mansard roof surmounted by a stubby cupola. One of only six courthouses built in Missouri with mansard roofs, the building was a vernacular rendition of the Second Empire style.[11] Introduced in the United States about 1860, the Second Empire was most prevalent for about two decades, although examples continued to be constructed, with decreasing frequency, for about two more decades. According to Ohman, mansard roofs became a popular feature on Missouri courthouses after the Civil War. Especially after 1871, with the example of the Philadelphia City Hall, pattern books featured versions of the style that might have been copied by carpenters such as McAllister. With a nod to the practical, the mansard roof was favored because of the usable attic space it could provide.[12]

According to Ohman, the first mansard roof courthouse constructed in Missouri was the 1869 Bates County Courthouse (demolished 1899). In addition to Lewis County (1875), she also noted Dent County (1870) as one of the six examples of the type in the state. However, the three other examples were not named, but appear to have been: Howell County (1882-1933), Osage County (1872-1922), and Ste. Genevieve County (1885). In addition, she also identified a number of "more elaborate towered courthouses" on which the mansard roof was used as a decoration. This included Atchison County (1882), Howard County (1887), Laclede County (1894-1920), Nodaway County (1881), and Pettis County (1884-1920). Three more courthouses were remodeled into a form resembling Second Empire, although they lacked the more ornate details: Callaway County (1885 remodeling of 1856 courthouse; demolished 1938), Oregon County (1903 remodeling of 1871 courthouse; demolished 1939), and Webster County (1880 remodeling of 1868 courthouse; demolished 1939).

Work of some sort had begun on the new Lewis County Courthouse by April. On April 27, the county court instructed the clerk to draft a warrant for James T. McAllister and George Barnes for $3,200.50 for the first payment on the contract for construction of the courthouse.[13] On June 27, McAlester and Barnes were allowed $38.00 for oak joists taken out of the courthouse.[14] Additional payments through the fall of 1875 indicated steady progress was being made. A payment of $3,250.00 was authorized to McAllister and Barnes on August 24, and on September 27, another payment of $800.00 was made.[15]

On October 25, the county court ordered a warrant for $250.25 for expenditures for extra work on the courthouse, drawn in favor of Vandiver,[16] who provided a complete accounting of expenses.

In its October 30 issue, the Canton Press provided a detailed account of the construction of the Lewis County Courthouse to that point. "The new Court-house at Monticello," the newspaper reported, "is rapidly approaching completion and from present appearances will be ready for occupancy before the close of the present year."[17] The courthouse was "a substantial structure of imposing appearance and convenient arrangement, reflecting great credit upon the architect and superintendent as well as upon all concerned in its creation." An extended description of the new building was included. A cupola rose above the mansard roof of the 80 feet by 40 feet, two-story building. Since dormer windows had been omitted from the final plans, for a savings of $80.00, the attic space was not utilized for offices or other purposes, such as a lodge meeting hall. The first floor housed the offices of the County Clerk, Circuit Clerk, and Sheriff and Collector, as well as a grand jury room. The second floor housed a 64 feet by 45 feet court room and a juryroom.[18]

On November 28, 1875, the court paid McAllister and Barnes an additional $1,250.00 of the appropriation for construction of the courthouse.[19] On December 27, 1875, James Bates was paid $175.00 for additional brick work on the courthouse,[20] and the following day McAllister and Barnes were allowed $275.00 for removal of old furniture and the provision of new furniture for the courthouse offices.[21] By the end of December, the Lewis County Courthouse was complete and open for business. However, not all the business conducted was welcomed by the county government. School was being held in the building, and, in January 1876, the county court ordered that "so soon as Miss Bradley's school, now being kept in the courthouse, is discontinued, the sheriff shall keep the door of said house locked, nor suffer any school to be taught there in the future."[22] Miss Bradley had been conducting school in Monticello since 1835.

On January 24, 1876, McAllister and Barnes were paid $650.00, the balance of the appropriation for building the courthouse, and Vandiver was allowed one hundred dollars "for services and expenditures as Commissioner for superintending the building of Court House..."[23] On February 29, a warrant for $1,188.85 was issued to McAllister and Barnes for the cost of benches for the court room, for the assembly of the benches, and for fastening them to the floor; for the judge's stand; and for the balance of two hundred dollars owed on the courthouse contract.[24] By March, the finishing touches were being applied to the building. On March 27, McAllister and Barnes were allowed $6.85 for putting drawers in the tables in the courtroom.[25]

With the completion of a new courthouse, Monticello's position as county seat remained secure, and no serious challenge to relocate it ever emerged. However, the town never experienced the growth its founders may have envisioned. In large part this was probably due to the bypassing of the town by the railroads. By 1871, the St. Louis, Keokuk and Northwestern, later the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy was completed through the county, but it passed no closer to Monticello than Canton and La Grange. The Quincy, Missouri and Pacific, later the Quincy, Omaha and Kansas City, reached La Belle in 1872, and a number of Lewis County towns grew up along its tracks, including Maywood, Durham, Ewing, Tolona, and Lewistown. No railroad, however, ever laid its tracks through the county seat.

The 1878 atlas provided a partial view of the commercial prospects of the county seat, which were meager. The Monticello Savings Bank and the post office faced the courthouse across Lafayette Street. The Lindell Hotel sat northeast of the square, at the intersection of Lafayette and Perry streets. South of the courthouse was the Southern Hotel, and west of the square was the Monticello House, probably a hotel or boarding house. The town plat also showed a public school, a Christian Church and a Baptist Church, and the Monticello Seminary.[26] The Seminary was established in 1872 by the Methodist Episcopal Church. South, but it had closed its doors by 1887.

In 1887, Monticello had a general store, two grocery stores, two drug stores, a bank, a hotel, three churches, a public school, and a population of 400.[27] By 1897, when another Lewis County atlas was published, commercial buildings almost filled the block north of the square, facing Lafayette Street. Scattered buildings that may have housed businesses were located on the other three sides of the square, but the vigorous commercial development that usually characterized courthouse squares was largely absent.[28] In 1913, the population had declined to only 350 and had remained almost unchanged "for the last quarter of a century, owing to the growth of the river and railroad towns of the county, which had the effect of diverting trade."[29] However, by 2000, the town had lost ground, and the population was only 126. Despite this decline. Monticello remained the Lewis County seat, and the 1875 Lewis County Courthouse continued to serve as the tenter of justice and administration for the northeast Missouri County.


  1. "The New Court-House." Canton Press. October 30, 1875, p.2.
  2. History of Lewis, Clark, Knox and Scotland Counties, Missouri (St. Louis: Goodspeed Publishing Company, 1887), pp.37-40 and 216-217.
  3. Ibid., p.218; and Marion Ohman. Encyclopedia of Missouri Courthouses (Columbia: University of Missouri — Columbia Extension Division, 1981), n.p.
  4. Lewis County Court Record, volume 5, pp.94, 97, and 180. In the 1870 census, Luther J. Vandiver was 36, his occupation was listed as dry goods, and he owned real estate valued at $1,000. He was born in Warren, Missouri, in 1833. He taught school for five years and was principal of the Monticello School from 1859 to 1861 before entering the mercantile business. In 1869, he helped organize the Monticello Savings Bank, and he became cashier in 1871. In 1884, he left that position and moved to Canton, where he managed the White and Emerson farms. History of Lewis, Clark, Knox and Scotland Counties, Missouri, p.847.
  5. Ibid., p.97.
  6. "Letting of the New Court House." Canton Press, March 17, 1875, p.2.
  7. "The New Court House." Canton Press, March 6, 1875, p.3.
  8. Ibid. The 1887 county history noted an attempt to relocate the courthouse to Canton "a few years since" had failed (p.219).
  9. Lewis County County Court Record, volume 5, p.102. Spellings of McAllister are various, including McAlister and McAlester.
  10. "Letting of the New Court House." Canton Press, March 17, 1875, p.2.
  11. Marion Ohman, Encyclopedia of Missouri Courthouse (Columbia: University of Missouri — Columbia, Extension Division, 1981), n.p.
  12. Marion Ohman, A History of Missouri's Counties, County Seats, and Courthouse Squares (Columbia: University of Missouri — Columbia, Extension Division, 1983), p.72.
  13. Lewis County County Court Record, volume 5, p.110; and History of Lewis, Clark, Knox and Scotland Counties, Missouri, p.62.
  14. Lewis County County Court Record, volume 5, p.143.
  15. Ibid., pp. 159 and 169.
  16. Ibid., p. 184.
  17. "The New Court-House." Canton Press, October 30, 1875, p.2.
  18. Ibid.
  19. Lewis County County Court Record, vol. 5, p. 198.
  20. Lewis County County Court Record, vol. 5, p. 213.
  21. Ibid., p. 206.
  22. History of Lewis, Clark, Knox and Scotland Counties, Missouri, pp.217-218.
  23. Lewis County County Court Record, vol. 5, p. 214.
  24. Lewis County County Court Record, vol. 5, p. 229.
  25. Lewis County County Court Record, vol. 5, p. 244.
  26. Historical Atlas of Lewis County, Missouri (N.p., 1878; reprint ed., K. Wilham, Genealogical Research and Publishing, 1978), p.17.
  27. History of Lewis, Clark, Knox and Scotland Counties, Missouri, pp.182 and 219.
  28. Atlas of Lewis County, Missouri (Keokuk, IA; Western Atlas Company, 1897), p.5.
  29. Walter Williams, ed., A History of Northeast Missouri, 3 vols. (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, 1913), 1:389.


Atlas of Lewis County, Missouri. Keokuk, IA: Western Atlas Company, 1897.

Conard, Howard L., ed. and comp. Encyclopedia of the History of Missouri: A Compendium of History and Biography for Ready Reference, 6 vols. New York: Southern History Company, 1901.

Historical Atlas of Lewis County, Missouri. Philadelphia: Edwards Brothers, 1878.

History of Lewis, Clark, Knox and Scotland Counties, Missouri. St. Louis: Goodspeed Publishing Company, 1887.

Lewis County County Court Record. Volume 5.

"Letting of the New Court House." Canton Press, March 17, 1875, p.2.

"The New Court House." Canton Press, March 6, 1875, p.3.

"The New Court-House." Canton Press. October 30, 1875, p.2.

Ohman, Marion. Encyclopedia of Missouri Courthouses. Columbia: University of Missouri — Columbia Extension Division, 1981.

________. A History of Missouri's Counties, County Seats, and Courthouse Squares. Columbia: University of Missouri-Columbia. Extension Division, 1983.

Williams, Walter. Ed. A History of Northeast Missouri, 3 vols. Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, 1913.

‡ Steven E. Mitchell and Mary Aue Mitchell, for the Lewis County Commission, Lewis County Courthouse, Lewis County, MO, nomination document, 2004, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Street Names
Lafayette Street East

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