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History of the Morrison County Government Center

The first meeting of the Board of Commissioners was held in the Northern Hotel at Little Falls on May 1, 1856.  A short time later, plans were underway for the first courthouse.  It was to be a wood frame structure in the Greek Revival style, located on the courthouse square, an area set aside for that purpose on the original plat of Little Falls.  Due to a failed contract with builder William Sturgis, completion of the courthouse was delayed until 1867.


The 1890’s brought prosperity to the region.  A new water power dam on the Mississippi led the way for development of the Pine Tree Lumber Company, Hennepin Paper Company, flour mills, brick factories, and increased agriculture.  A stately courthouse, constructed of granite and locally manufactured brick replaced the wood structure.  The old wood-frame courthouse was moved twice before it found its final resting place on Second Avenue S.E., where it was used as a church and for commercial purposes.  C.A. Dunham was selected as the architect for the new building and on June 6, 1890, a contract was signed with Foster & Smith of Minneapolis to erect the Romanesque style structure.  By July, 1891, the building was completed.  One hundred and nineteen years later, this magnificent building, with its turrets, detailed chimneys and clock tower still graces the courthouse square.  The county now rents the building to non-profit community organizations.

Law and order accompanied the establishment of county government.  A succession of jails accommodated the need to house prisoners.  In 1931, the county jail was condemned by the State of Minnesota.  Toltz, King, and Day of St. Paul were selected to design a new jail.  In the spring of 1991, that jail building, which had housed prisoners for 60 years, was demolished to make way for a parking lot.

By the 1960’s, agencies such as Public Health, Social Services, and the Highway Engineer had outgrown their offices in the courthouse.  A two-story structure, which became known as “the Annex”, was erected at the corner of Broadway and Second Street.  The agencies moved into their new offices in August, 1961. 

Changing government practices and increasing space requirements made the courthouse inadequate.  On August 13, 1969, plans drawn by Stegner, Hendrickson, and McNutt were approved and construction began on the Administration Building.  The two-story brick building housed the County Recorder, Auditor, Treasurer, Assessor, License Bureau, Planning and Zoning, and Extension Departments.

In the late 1980’s, condemnation by the State of Minnesota again created the urgency for a new jail.  Space requirements for Social Services had also grown, and plans took shape for the new Government Center.  The new Government Center houses the Jail, Sheriff’s Office, Courts Rooms, Court Administration, County Attorney, Community Corrections, U of M Extension Service, Administration, Motor Vehicle, Social Services, Maintenance and Meeting Rooms.  The building was designed by Robert Ogdahl of Architecture One.  Its modern rectangular design is in contrast to the Romanesque architecture of the old courthouse, but certain architectural features, including tile work in the main foyer, tower designs, and oak woodwork carry out themes found in the old building.  Accented by a tower leading to the reception area the main entrance to the building faces First Avenue Southeast.

With the exception of the County Highway Department, all County Departments are housed in a single set of interconnected buildings.  The original courthouse square in downtown Little Falls remains the seat of Morrison County Government.

Copyright 2009 Morrison County, MN ~ All rights reserved. Photos provided by Kirk Lindberg, OneStoneStudio.com