Sunday, July 22, 2012

Utah County Courthouse

It has been a long travel through Provo.  If you haven't noticed, most of the city has been covered except for one gaping hole: Center Street.  Provo's Center Street may be the most historical area in Utah County, and since it is also the most overwhelming, I have avoided it untill now.

One of the most prominent buildings on Center is the Utah County Courthouse.  The history of this building is best reported by Utah County Online, which I will be using as my main source.  Here is what they say about the building:

"In 1860, $2,000 was appropriated to build a courthouse.  This was Provo's first building constructed to be used as a courthouse.  The one-store brick structure was started in 1866 and finished in 1867 at a cost of $5,092.16.  It was built on First West between First and Second North.

"It served as a jail and courthouse for five years and then was sold to the Provo Woolen Mills.  A notable event in the history of this building was the trial, conviction, and execution of Chauney M. Millard on January 26, 1869.  He was executed for the murder of two herders north of Utah Lake while people, filling the square, watched."

Here is a picture of the original courthouse from 1866 (and if you would like to see the block where the Courthouse used to stand, click here):

Courtesy of the Provo City Library

"In 1870, Provo City posted bids for the construction of a new courthouse.  The work on  this building began in 1872 and was completed in 1873 at a cost of $21,478.80.  Brigham Young was at the dedication of the Courthouse on October 14, 1873."

Here is a picture of the building from 1875 in addition to a picture of Center Street from the top of the courthouse in 1878 with the Woolen Mills in the distance:

Photo courtesy of the Provo City Library

Photo courtesy of the Provo City Library

"The building was constructed facing north on Center Street on City and County land.  The contractors were paid one-third in cash, one-third in grain, and one-third in shares of the Provo Woolen Mills stock.  By 1919, the courthouse was found to be too small for the needs of the growing city and county, and plans were then made to construct a new and larger city and county building.  It was razed between 1919 and 1920 when the present Courthouse building was begun in 1920.

"While the present Courthouse was under construction, court sessions were held on the third floor of the Knight building.

"In the early part of 1919 the citizens of Utah County and Provo City respectively voted bonds for the erection of a joint city and county building to be built in Provo.  The agreement between the two corporations was that the County should pay for two-thirds of the building and occupy a corresponding portion of it, while the city should pay one-third of the building.

"The city and County officials jointly engaged Joseph Nelson of Provo as the architect for the building...

"It was decided that a tour of the West Coast be taken to see what had been done in other communities in the way of administrative buildings.  On July 9, 1919, a party of city and county officials and the architect left for California.  Visits were made to various localities of interest from Los Angeles on the south to Everett, Washington, on the north.  This trip largely determined the type, size, and cost of the building that was to be erected....

"The work was begun in the spring of 1919 and competed in the late fall of 1926, so that the time consumed in the work is a little more than six and one-half years" at a cost of $576, 495.30.

Here is a picture of the building in 1926 and what it looks like today:

Courtesy of the Provo City Library

On the Utah County Online website, there is an interesting quote from the architect regarding the sculpture found in the pediment (the triangle part above the pillars where the entrance is).  He said, "The building is a courthouse, therefore, quite consistently, Justice stands with her balances resting upon the law, in one hand, and with her sword in the other.  The building is also to house the city and county offices, therefore, on the right hand of Justice sits a woman representing the County, supporting with one hand a shield bearing the inscription, 'County of Utah' and in the other a cornucopia, or horn of plenty, overflowing with the good things produced in the region.  Then the various arts and industries are represented at her side.  Her horticulture is represented by the fruit trees; her dairying and stock raising by the front quarters of an animal projecting beyond the tree; her lining by the pick and shovel at the side of the tunnel entrance to the mine in the mountain; and further down, her sheep raising and poultry farming, respectively.

"On the other side of Justice sits likewise Provo City, enthroned and supporting a shield with the inscription 'City of Provo,' emblazoned thereon.  She is flanked by the hard and viol, the vase, the cogwheel, a stack of books, and an artist's palette; these represent her arts, her industries, and her educational advantages."

Behind the Courthouse is one of the coolest trees I have ever seen in my life.  It is an Ulmus Americana.  The odd thing about the tree is that rather than growing up, it grows outward.  The branches are spread out over a large area and metal poles have been placed to help support the massive limbs.  When I took these pictures, there was a fence up around the tree, but generally there is not, and I've been told that County employees enjoy sitting on the benches underneath the tree.  Here are some pictures of it:

The plaque below the tree reads: "The exceedingly rare Ulmus Americana tree (also known as a White Elm or a Weeping American Elm) was planted in 1927 by Moroni Wilford (Roni) Christopherson of Spanish Fork, Utah.  Roni was an employee of Utah County for twenty-seven years.

"Sometime in 1927, the county commissioners sent Roni and Elmer Pulley to Ogden to buy trees, shrubs, and flowers for the Utah County Couthouse grounds as a landscaping project.  The nursery owner gave Roni this tree as a gift.  The tree was an experimental ornamental tree created by budding different trees together.

"Roni chose to plant his gift tree east of the new Utah County Courthouse where people could stop and admire its beauty.  The nursery owner came to Provo several times to check the tree in its growing state.  The nursery owner called the tree a Weeping American Elm."

I want to conclude this post with a bit of a picture mystery.  While surfing on a construction website, I came across the following picture of the Provo City Offices:

Someone asked where this building was located.  I thought that it was located on the corner of University Ave. and Center Street.  You can see a building to the right which is the County Courthouse and the mountains in the background clearly distinguish its location on University.  However, I am confused as to why this building would have ever been built since Provo owned a portion of the County Courthouse (unless the offices were built before the Courthouse was).  I also have yet to hear any confirmation that University and Center is the location of this building.  If you have any information, feel free to share.


  1. The "Provo City Offices" building was indeed on the southeast corner of University & Center. Provo Police Department was located in it in the early 1960s when, as a cub scout, I was first fingerprinted. When the current Provo City Center was completed at 351 W Center (the former high school site), this building was demolished.

  2. Thanks for the reply! That is what I figured, and I was guessing that someone would know since the picture looked like it was taken around the 50's/60's (judging by the cars in the photo)

  3. Another great post. Glad someone was able to help you out regarding the Provo City Offices building. That is a cool looking building

  4. This was so interesting! I loved the before and after picture of the Courthouse. In 86 years, one can buy a house in San Diego for what it cost to build a courthouse in Provo. Your description of the pediment carvings made me wish there was a close up picture of them. Sounds beautiful! The Wheeping America Elm looked so tempting to climb, but since I obey the law, I would only sit under it. Several trees in Balboa Park are also fenced in now, and I wonder if it is to preserve the tree branches. What a beautiful picture. I liked how David K. solved your mystery. Super post, Chad. Love it--and you!

  5. The Provo City Offices building seen in the last photo was originally constructed as the Post Office/Federal Building. It can also be seen in this photo:

    There are also two towers seen directly behind the old federal building; the one closest to the road is the old firehouse, while the one with the American flag flying is the old 1870s courthouse.