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The Benson County Court House

A history of the Court House is not complete without some background.

Researched and submitted by

Norma C. Anderson

This was approved by the County Commissioners as presented to them on October 5, 1982. Motion made by Thompson, seconded by Lauinger, and unanimously approved.


In 1880, there was no white population given for the territory, now known as Bensou County.  It was known that there were white men in the Devils Lake area. In 1883, settlers commenced to arrive in the county.

Among the first arrivals in Minnewaukan were Major T. J. Larison, W.H. Beech, Captain D. Harshman, T. M. McDonald, and Time Mahany. Many more came that same year and settled near the town.  Several buildings were erected in 1884, among them: the Trafton Hotel, the Wise or Arlington Hotel, the Lawler Block and a Block for M.D. Flint.

Benson County derives is name from B.W. Benson, a member of the territorial legislature.

Minnewaukan is the county seat of Benson County.  "The county seat for said Benson County is hereby established, and located on section fifteen (15) in Township One Hundred Fifty-three (153) Range Sixty-seven (67) in said Benson County and Territory of Dakota. Done at the village and town of Minnewaukan, in the county of Benson, territory of Dakota, this fourth (4th) day of June, Eighteen Hundred eighty-four."  This excerpt was taken from the first recorded meeting of the board of county commissioners of Benson County, Dakota Territory, June 4, 1884.

When Minnewaukan and the Mouse River County were in the same judicial district, court was held in one of the large rooms of the Arlington Hotel. Later, the county rented rooms in the hotel for the county offices.  This part was not removed when the rest of the hotel was taken away. A slant roof was built over the remaining rooms. W.H. Wise, owner of the Arlington, moved the main part of the building to Brainerd, Minnesota.  The remainder was used until the new court house was built in 1900.

Thomas J. Larison, Mortimer D. Flint, and Edward L. Yeager, were the first county commissioners and were appointed by Governor Ordway. They served until November 4, 1884, when the first general election was held. The Dakota Siftings was designated as the official newspaper at this time.

On July 7, 1884, sealed bids were received by the board for granting Ferry Franchises to the highest bidders. They were issued the following: Church and Gore, John Spaulding and McGowan and Miller.

Also, on this date, a letter was read from U.S. Commissioner A. McKenzie, for an appropriation from Benson County of $500.00 to be used in the Dakota Exhibit at the World's Industrial and Cotton Exposition to be held in New Orleans, Louisiana, December 1, 1884. The commissioners recommended that the clerk express regrets of the inability to contribute, being Benson was just starting as was such a young county.

Tuesday, November 4, 1884, was the first general election with the following officers elected: Register of Deeds: L.W. Harriman, Treasurer: F. M. Shooke,  County Attorney: C.L. Campbell, Sheriff: Fred Snore, Assessor: H.E. Hoadley, Justice of the Peace: James McCormick and H.E. Hoadley, and Constables: H. Peterson and G.L. Burdick.

Due to fire, previously mentioned, a permanent home had to be sought for the county offices and county court.  That was when it was proposed to build a new court house.

The following was taken from the minutes of the Board of County Commissioners, "A petition was presented, signed by 240 residents and taxpayers of Benson County, which reads as follows: The County of Benson in the State of North Dakota, having been organized more than four years and having more than three hundred voters, and the county seat thereof, having been duly and permanently located as provided by law, and the buildings occupied by said county for the court house and county offices, being wholly inadequate to the wants thereof and unsafe by reason of extra-ordinary risk of fire to the records and other property o the county, NOW, THEREFORE, the undersigned residents, legal voters and taxpayers, do hereby petition your honorable body to submit to the legal voters of said county a proposition for the issuance of bonds in the sum of $20,000.00 for the purpose of erecting a courthouse in Minnewaukan, the county seat of said county.  Dated July 10, 1897 and signed by 240 taxpayers."  Petition granted.

On October 5-6, 1898, the County Auditor was instructed to publish notice for issuing bonds in the sum of $20,000.00 for the erection of the courthouse.  Denominations were to be $500.00 each, to run for 20 years, bearing interest at 5 per cent.

Votes cast in the election held on the 7th of November, 1899, determined by a majority vote, in favor of the $20,000.00 in bonds to furnish and build a courthouse and jail and to purchase a site for the same. Land for the courthouse was obtained by payment to the Treasurer for all state taxes due on lots in Block 9. Owners of these lots were C.G. Brown, F.D. and E.S. Rolfe, H. A. Jones, Johnson Nickens, George M. Cumming, and D.L. Wilbur. This was the block where the courthouse stands.

On January 12, 1900, after all had presented their plans for the courthouse and all had been carefully examined by the commissioners, the plans submitted by W.G. Russell of Grand Forks were accepted, subject to change. On April 4, 1900, a warrant was accepted from the trustees of the Village of Minnewaukan for $230.00 in payment for the jail building. Said warrant was turned over the County Treasurer for collection.

On April 26, 1900, the contracts were let for building of the courthouse. On May 21, 1900, the County Commissioners and the Auditor proceeded to open the bid, with D.H. Lord's bid for $40,000.00 accepted and other bid checks were to be returned to unsuccessful bidders.

On May 22, 1900, the Commissioners adopted a resolution as follows: The Diebold Safe and Lock Company of St. Paul, Minnesota has agreed to deliver on board a railcar at Minnewaukan, six (6) style O vault doors with the following names painted over the doors: Auditor, Treasurer, Clerk of Court, Probate Judge, Register of Deeds, and Sheriff; each door to weigh 1,000 pounds, for the sum of four hundred and eighty dollars.

Also, at the same meeting, the Twin City Brick Company, filed a resolution to deliver pressed brick on board rail cars at Minnewaukan for $20,00 per thousand, according to a sample left with the Auditor.  Resolution was adopted on December 7, 1900. Proposals for furniture for the courthouse were heard with the Minneapolis Office and School Furniture Company of Minneapolis, Minnesota, being the best bid in the amount of $1,560.00

The stone mason who cut the large stone used in the pillars and trim (in with the brick) was John Lysne.  He was assisted by Henning Lysne. John was Adolph Lysne's father and Hennine, or "Hank" was his uncle. John Simon, grandfather of Kenneth Simon, helped haul rocks for the courthouse.

On January 7, 1901, D.J. Talley was hired for four months as janitor of the courthouse at $40.00 per month. This was a trial basis. On May 7th, 1901, he was hired for one year at a salary of $50.00 per month.

On February 7, 1901, the county officials and their hired office help were busy moving furnishings and records into the new courthouse. The officials to first occupy the new courthouse were: Auditor, A.A. Liudahl; Deput Auditor, Joseph W. Olson; Treasurer, Edward L. Yeager; Judge, Edward Isaacs; Clerk of Court, George Duncan; States Attorney, E. Bergland; Register of Deeds, George Dickinson; Superintendent of Schools, Torger Sinness; Deputy Superintendent of Schools, Usher L. Burdick; Surveyor, Daniel Harshman; Coroner, Dr. J.F. Warren; Commissioners, Andrew J. Kirkeide; Sidney B. Spencer; and John M. Hofstrand.

The Benson County House is a very impressive building being built of reddish brown brick and white stone. It is architecturally significant for its incorporation of the design principles of the Richardsonian Romanesque Style. The building is 60 feet wide, 90 feet long, and 96 feet to the top of the flagstaff.

The courthouse stands about in the middle of the block, which has shown much improvement over the years. Trees make a border and also line the driveways leading to and from the building. In later years a parking lot was added to the south side for the convenience of the public and also, relieving congestion while court is in session. The rooms were furnished with dark oak furniture, later replaced with more modern furniture. The doors, stairs, casings and furnishings were of light oak. Some of this has been replaced and wood paneling has been used. The floors are hard maple and tile. Carpeting has been installed in much of the interior, within the last few years.

As the years have passed there have been many officials and a great number of deputies and office workers, who have strived to give the people of Benson County, their best. A lot of work and initiative is involved for each to carry on their work. 

Benson County can well be proud of the courthouse and those who work within. It would be impossible to name everyone; there were others, but all cannot be named here. Those who served for a number of years and in what capacity, are the ones which are recognized here. All who work for Benson County are, indeed, servants of the public and endeavor to fulfill the trust placed in them by the people of Benson County.

There are some offices in the courthouse that are state and federally funded, as well as, county. One is privately owned. There is a veterans service office: Gordon Johnson was Veteran's Service Officer for 14 years and at present, it is Melvin Severinson; the County Health Nurse, Edith Pierson; Cora Backstrom, for 3 years; Irma Goranson, for 15 years; Donna Rice, for 10 years; and Carrie Iverson at the present time. The Benson County Abstract Company: K.A.L. Reynolds, better known as "Kirk", established this office. His office assistant for many years was Deanna Hanson. After many years as Abstractor, he sold to Donald L. and Carol Laber. They in turn, sold it to John Hovey, James Bekken, and Galen Ranstad of New Rockford, who are the present owners. Office Manager is Erliss Brenno and Secretary, Suzanne Schmid. During World War II (both previous and following it) was the Benson County Selective Service Office located in the courthouse. Jackie Lysne was in charge and Amy Foss was Secretary for several years. At one time, the County Welfare Office occupied offices adjoining the courtroom. Superintendent of Schools:  Torger Sinness, 7 years; N.T. Teigen, 6 years; Effie D. Hoadley, 5 years; Peter Anderson, 4 years; Adeline (Engelhorn) Ellefson, 6 years; Hilda Wisness, 6 years; D.G. Aanestad, 5 years; Lila Huffman; Peral Jorgenson; Norma C. Anderson for 13 years and at this time the Clerk is Lana Johnson.

The sheriff's residence is in the basement of the courthouse as well as the sheriff's office. For years, the jail was there, also. The facilities at the Law Enforcement Center in Devils Lake are now used when there is need for incarceration of a prisoner.

The present Board of County Commissioners are Claire Paulson, Chairman; Benno Lauinger, Bennie Thompson, Gordon Twedt, and Carroll Anderson. They met the first Tuesday of every month in their meeting room on the first floor in the courthouse.

In 1979, the Benson County Court House was named to the National Register of Historic Places, the nation's official list of cultural resources worthy of preservation. Resources eligible for the National Register consists of districts, sites, buildings, structures and objects significant for their historical, architectural, or archeological value.

Once a resource is placed on the National Register, it receives limited protection from damage or destruction resulting from federally financed, assisted or licensed undertakings on the property.

The Benson County Court House is one of the last major public buildings in North Dakota designed to express the picturesque aesthetic of the 19th Century prior to the onset of Academic Revivalism.

Despite the modifications over the years, the courthouse retains its original character to a remarkable degree.  Benson County people, can, well be proud of its Benson County Court House.

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