Hidden History: 1883 Stutsman County Courthouse

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Visit the 1883 Stutsman County Courthouse in Jamestown, take a stroll through its hallways, and you’ll feel as though you’re taking a step back in time. And as you’re transported back in time, you’ll learn all about the Stutsman County Courthouse’s storied past.


“It took 10 months to construct the building which is monumental, I think, and they moved in in August,” said Steven Reidburn, site supervisor of the 1883 Stutsman County Courthouse. “And it was then that it became a territorial building and when North Dakota became a state, which was in 1889, they had already had a statehood convention. The first held upstairs in our courtroom so we consider this the birthplace of North Dakota.”

The birthplace of North Dakota is home to many unique features.

“Every time I come to work I see something I didn’t see before. There’s 26 different patterns on the pressed tin. The floors are original,” said Reidburn.

The building functioned not only as a courthouse, but also as school superintendent, treasurer, and county auditor offices. It also had a jail on the basement level.

Throughout the courthouse there are interactive exhibits that invite you to imagine what it was like to live and work in 1883. But though it has a vibrant past, the future of the 1883 Stutsman County Courthouse was once in question.


As the years went by, the Jamestown community outgrew the courthouse. There was talk of tearing down the 1883 Stutsman County courthouse and replacing it with a parking lot. But some in the community fought to save the building.


“Mary Faith Young told them ‘No, you’re not going to tear down that building because you’re eroding our past and it needs to remain,'” said Reidburn. “And she organized a committee that were up in arms and told the county commissioners, ‘No, we’re not going to.’ And it was really controversial in Jamestown because half the citizens wanted to save it. The other half said ‘Tear down the old building'”.

The battle to keep the courthouse standing made its way all the way to the state Supreme Court.


“The county lost, the citizens of Jamestown won, and the building stands,” Reidburn said.

A battle over the courthouse won in the state’s highest court. And all these years later, the building occasionally returns to its original purpose.


“They had all these new courtrooms built next door. During the pandemic, they were too tight, too small. And they needed a place where they could spread out the jurors, prospective jurors. So they asked if they could use our courtroom for their jury trials,” said Reidburn.

A rebirth of sorts for the courthouse considered by some as the birthplace of North Dakota.


Today, hanging on the wall of the courthouse hallway is a photo of the original Stutsman County courthouse gang. Next to it is a recreation taken just a few years ago, a reminder that history has its place side by side with the present. And sometimes that history even comes full circle.

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