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The Redbud City: A bastion of justice for Shawnee

Clyde Wooldridge
Contributing writer
The first construction for the new county courthouse in Shawnee was the leveling of the ground by mule teams in the spring of 1934. The old Carnegie Library can be seen on the north side of the photo.

PLANS MADE PUBLIC FOR MODERN COURTHOUSE

Completed plans for the proposed Pottawatomie County courthouse were placed on file December 6, 1933, with the state public works board. The call was for the most modern courthouse in the state for Shawnee.

Details of the plan were pointed out by architects who made profiles of the building. The building would be constructed through the public works administration. Seventy percent of the cost was to be voted in bonds, and the remaining 30 percent would be donated by the government in an outright grant.

The sub-story, or floor below the street level, would include two huge storage vaults, capable of handling accumulated county records for more than 100 years. In addition, quarters for the sheriff, county engineer, registrar, farm agent and demonstrator would be maintained on that floor. One of the features would be a community room for public meetings.

Space on the main floor would be given over entirely to the offices that carried the burden of public work. This included the treasurer, county clerk, register of deeds, county commissioners, superintendent of schools, assessor, abstracters, and a ladies’ lounge.

The second floor would be occupied by courtrooms, judges’ chambers, county attorney’s office, witness rooms, attorney rooms, and a large lounge for the public. The third floor would house jury quarters, including a dormitory for night juries. In addition, the prison quarters for white women and juvenile delinquents would be located on that floor.

The jail would occupy the top floor. According to the plans, the prisoners would be 30 feet from the outside walls of the main building, and the prison could not be seen from outside the building. The architects pointed out that the cost of equipping that department would be nominal, because most of the equipment would come from the present county jail at Tecumseh.

TWO PROPOSALS SENT TO WASHINGTON FOR FINAL DECISION

The fate of two Pottawatomie County major federal public works projects rested with the PWA administrators in Washington, D.C. on December 13, 1933. Local officials were notified that the county courthouse and Shawnee city lake plans were sent to the national capital for final action by the Public Works board.

Approval by the state advisory board of the county courthouse project came as the campaign to vote bonds on December 19 went into its final week. The chief engineer for the state PWA board notified Robert E. Easley, county clerk, that the project was on the way to Washington, where it would confront the last barrier in the path of success. The project was accepted in short order by the state board and it was hoped that similar speedy action would follow in Washington.

County voters were set to vote on a $175,000 bond issue on December 19, which if favored, would be coupled with an outright grant of $75,000, provided national sanction was obtained. Viewed as a prime factor in bringing steady employment to all classes of workers, it appeared the courthouse project was receiving added backing daily.

T.E. Thompson, city manager, was informed by the state board that similar action was taken on the Shawnee city lake project, which was submitted to the state board several days earlier. The lake project called for expenditure of $740,000 in government funds to dam the Deer Creek bottoms and form a 1,200-acre reservoir, which would serve the double purpose of establishing a long-needed permanent water supply for the city and provide a county recreational center. A $525,000 bond issue would be 70 percent of the cost. The plan provided for a $215,000 grant from the government.

Two other projects from Shawnee were considered by the state advisory board on the same day. Thompson submitted the gymnasium-auditorium plan for an estimated total cost of $120,000. Tentative plans called for construction of the building on the northeast corner of Woodland Park (at that time).

The municipally owned light and power plant project was filed with the board and Thompson was informed it was being checked at the time. The latter provided for a city power plant, which would light city streets and furnish power for city water pumping. The estimated cost was $175,000. Officials estimated the plan would pay for itself and afford an annual savings of $15,000 for the city.

Alleviation of employment, in addition to construction of the needed properties, was a prime purpose of the program. The lake project alone would give 300 men 10 months of work.

NEW COURTHOUSE APPROVED LOCALLY AND AWAITED FEDERAL OKAY

Pottawatomie County voters looked to Washington, D.C. for final approval Wednesday night, December 20, 1933, after they sanctioned a bond issue of $175,000 for construction of a public works courthouse. With approval of the voters at the polls on Tuesday the 19th, final action on the proposed building was up to the national Public Works board. A complete tabulation of the vote showed 4,378 were for the issue, and 2,764 against.

The election was characterized by a light vote in all precincts, particularly in rural boxes, which averaged about 50 votes each. The south end of the county was generally against the issue, but the opposition was not strong enough to offset the balloting in Shawnee and vicinity in the light vote.

This was the second attempt to vote bonds for the courthouse. The first met with defeat back in August. This approval of the bond issue came as a climax to the county seat and courthouse war which was waged for more than 30 years. Charlie C. Hawk, director of the campaign for the bonds, expressed his appreciation to all workers in the campaign and to voters favoring the project.

FEDERAL FUNDS ALLOTTED FOR COURTHOUSE

The federal public works administration announced from Washington on Saturday, January 20, 1934, that $250,000 of PWA funds were allotted for construction of the building for which bonds were voted on December 12, 1933, for a county courthouse. Of the total amount, $75,000 would be an outright grant and the remainder would be financed through a $175,000 bond issue. The allotment was included in a list of 36 approved projects representing construction costing $2,930,200, which was estimated to provide 10,420 man-months of direct employment in 18 states.

Allowing time for necessary details of the bond issue, officials estimated that the contract for the new building could be let by March 15, barring any unforeseen difficulties. Construction could be launched immediately thereafter.

Ray Evans, attorney for the courthouse committee, and Robert Easley, county clerk, along with the county commissioners, were instrumental in pushing action on the project. They expressed satisfaction over the allotment and planned to take care of details immediately.

 This story about the action behind the bringing of the county courthouse to Shawnee appears in Volume Two of the six-volume history of Shawnee. It culminated a struggle of almost three decades to bring the county seat to the logical city of Pottawatomie County. The first three volumes, through 1969, are now available for purchase through me or the Pottawatomie County Historical Society. Volume Four, (1970-1989), is nearing publication and should be ready before Christmas. If you wish to purchase one of the current volumes, call (918) 470-3728, and I will arrange to get you copies.