History of Washington County Missouri Courthouses

courthouse.JPG (15527 bytes)

Potosi_Court_House1.JPG (17566 bytes)

Construction began in February, 1849 & completed in 1850.  During the Civil War in Washington County when Confederate troops captured Potosi in Sept., 1864 this courthouse was bombarded by cannon fire.  In 1870 the trial for"The Most Outrageous Crime Ever Committed in Washington County" was held here.  The present courthouse stands on the same site at the corner of High & Missouri streets in Potosi.

Built 1907.  Esther M. Carroll has spent many, many hours here doing research. The tower roof is a favorite roosting place for pigeons. Note the "Liars Bench" in the lower left corner. Many tall tales have been spun on this bench so if you want to sit here with the locals you might want to bring boots & a shovel as the b. s. can really get deep sometimes! Photographed:  20 Jan. 1999

1st COURTHOUSE: Construction began in October, 1814. It's location was approximately two blocks north of the present courthouse. It was supposed to be a two story structure with two one story wings, however the building was never completed. Only one story was finished - the main building for a courtroom and two wings for county offices. According to the specifications, the building was to be a two-story frame structure with two wings, each one story in height. It was to have a large porch in front with brick pillars extending from the foundation to the roof. Eventually the wings for county offices and the first story of the main building for a courtroom were finished. The second story, however was never completed. The building stood until 1849 when it was torn down and some of the material re-used in the construction of a new courthouse.

2nd COURTHOUSE: Construction began in February, 1849. It was a two story brick structure standing on a stone foundation at the intersection of High and Missouri streets. There was a hall and stairs on the first floor, and the courtroom and two jury rooms on the second floor. It housed offices for the county and circuit court clerks, probate judge, grand jurors and the sheriff and collector. The building was completed in April, 1850 and public records were moved in.  In 1906 this building caught fire and burned, literally, from the top "down". Some people believed that the fire was started by a pigeon which carried a smoldering cigar butt into a nesting area in the roof. Before the building was completely destroyed the officials were able to carry the records out safely.

3rd COURTHOUSE: The present Courthouse, at the corner of Missouri and High streets, was constructed in 1907 on the same site as the second one. It has county offices in the basement and first floors and a large courtroom on the second floor.

WashCoCourthouse01.JPG (13404 bytes)

Washington County's 3rd Courthouse - Picture sent to me by Bettye Warner.  She got it from an old postcard.

WashCoCourthouse02.JPG (15171 bytes)

Washington County Courthouse makes cover of Missouri Bar Journal! Mar.-Apr. 2001 edition. Photo by: W. Dudley McCarter, St. Louis.  Sent to me by Bettye Warner.

Esther,  I may have sent you this before but I just came across it again.  I think this article deserves to be on your Washington County page or "critters" page somewhere.  "Oscar the Fish Saves Courthouse" is the kind of story that will one day become a local legend!  I wonder if a monument was ever dedicated?  Bettye Warner


By: Leroy Sigman ~ Daily Journal Staff Writer
Daily Journal, Dec. 19, 2002

POTOSI -- In a way, you might say oscar made the supreme sacrifice early Monday morning for the good of the citizens of Washington County, or at least that is the way Prosecuting Attorney John D. Rupp sees it.  Oscar was not the run of the mill heroes. In fact, oscar was not really his name -- it was his species. He was an oscar chichlid, a neotropical fish that comes from Africa.

An overloaded electrical circuit caused a fire early Monday morning in Rupp's office on the second floor the County Courthouse. According to what Rupp was told, the fire had a good start and in another few minutes would probably have spread throughout the courthouse.  This oscar, who actually was never given a name, lived in an oversized aquarium in Rupp's private office. As the fire spread through his office, the heat became so intense it caused the aquarium glass to break. The flood of water from the fish tank extinguished most of the fire.  What was left after the aquarium broke was mainly a smoldering fire which was discovered shortly after 5 a.m. by County Clerk Janet Adams. It was still giving off considerable smoke and thus was attacked by the Potosi Fire Department with significant intensity.  It took firefighters only minutes to extinguish the remaining fire, but there had already been extensive heat, smoke and water damage to portions of the courthouse. The most extreme damage was to Rupp's office.

Rupp said it was nearly two hours after the fire had been extinguished that someone pointed out to him that oscar was still flopping around in the debris on the floor of his office. The prosecutor scooped him up and quickly got oscar into water.  The rescue had come to late, it turned out. Twenty four hours later the valiant fish flipped its fins for the last time. This oscar had given his life to save the Washington County Courthouse.  Oscar was not the typical fish you normally find in most aquariums. Rupp obtained him from Wal-Mart in November of 1995, about one month after he had been appointed prosecutor by Gov. Mel Carnahan.  The fish's first home was a small aquarium in Rupp's office but, with his veracious appetite, oscar soon outgrew that limited space. Rupp purchased an even larger aquarium and said recently it appeared he would have to get an even larger one but there would not be room for it in his office.

Oscar was an impressive, if not ominous, sight to behold swimming in the large tank, sometimes even seeming to stare at those outside. His appearance was even a bit intimidating to the point a person would be reluctant to stick a finger in the water. That might be the downside of the hero because Rupp admits a number of smaller fish had contributed to oscar's growth.  Rupp indicated he feels a little guilty that it took two hours to realize oscar was still alive, but he really doubts that is what contributed to the fish's eventual demise.

"Can you imagine how hot the fire had to be to break the aquarium glass?"   Rupp asked. He thinks oscar's fate was probably sealed at that point, when you boil down to it.

While he does not think it will be done, Rupp feels there should be a monument placed on the courthouse.

CourthouseParkBench.jpg (14603 bytes)

Parkbench next to courthouse ~ photographed Dec. 2006

HPIM0710.jpg (19472 bytes)

This building across the street from the courthouse was razed in April, 2006 to make another parking lot for the court house.   Photographed:  April, 2006

Courthouse Parking Lot.jpg (20234 bytes)
New courthouse parking lot.
Photographed June, 2006.

CourthouseChristmasTree2006-02.jpg (13842 bytes)

Courthouse Christmas Tree 2006

Courthouse Santa1.jpg (29757 bytes)

In December Santa visits with local children on the courthouse lawn.

Washington County Sites Index

Southeast Missouri Sites Index