by Kay Kruse-Stanton
Remodeled Lincoln County Courthouse retains historic charm
while facility receives long-overdue functionality improvements
hen the Lincoln County Courthouse opened in
September 1903, it served not only as the
administrative center for the region – it was a
source of pride. Merrill, Wisconsin, the county seat, had
been incorporated only 20 years before. The region had few
buildings that presented such an architectural statement.
In fact, the editor of a newspaper at the time wrote, “The
Lincoln County Courthouse is without any exaggeration the
finest edifice of its kind in this state.”
It’s no wonder that the building is now on the National
Register of Historic Places and that it has remained a
symbol for the region.
But the courthouse is undersized by today’s standards,
constructed when County government’s role was relatively
small and about half as many people lived in the area. So
few court cases were heard in 1903 that the novelty of court
activity drew curious spectators. Today, the two judges
serving the County have full calendars every week, and a
family court commissioner shares the space on Mondays.
The building also did not have a secure, separate entrance
for law enforcement to escort detainees to court. Prisoners,
visitors, and employees all passed through the same public
spaces on their way to courtrooms.
After nearly a decade of analysis and planning,
Lincoln County has solved the administrative space
problems and has provided a secure means of moving
detainees into courtrooms – all while preserving the historic
character of the courthouse. It wasn’t an easy task,