“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Ottawa in Franklin County, Kansas — The American Midwest (Upper Plains)

Franklin County Courthouse

Historic Ottawa Tour Stop 5

Franklin County Courthouse Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By William Fischer, Jr., July 16, 2013
1. Franklin County Courthouse Marker
This is the oldest surviving courthouse designed by George P Washburn of Ottawa. Before coming to town, Washburn had worked for the Kansas City architectural firm of Cross and Taylor where he supervised construction of Union railroad depots including those of Denver, Atchison, Peoria IL, and the old Kansas City depot in the west bottoms. He also held the position of architect for the Kansas State Board of Charities, which oversaw institutions such as The School for the Blind in Olathe, the Osawatomie hospital, and the Boy's Industrial School in Beloit.

The courthouse block had been deeded to Franklin County by the Ottawa Town Company in 1864, as a recognition of the new town's success in being designated the county seat. The block sat vacant for decades, with the grass being cut for hay. Meanwhile, the county offices were located in rental properties up and down Main Street. Many citizens feared that fire - unfortunately common in wood frame downtowns - would destroy all the records.

Efforts to get a courthouse built were sporadic. One developer offered to build the county a courthouse on the Hickory Street half of the
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block, if the county would give him the Main Street frontage to develop into commercial properties. The court nixed that effort, and local legislator P.P. Elder introduced a bill in the Kansas House of Representatives allowing Ottawa to create a mill levy to fund the new courthouse construction.

The bell and clock towers, shown below [in the photo], are distinctive architectural elements of the Franklin County Courthouse and many of Washburn's other courthouses (see list below).

The presence of the county courts is indicated by the allegorical statue of Justice at the crown of the west gable. The courts have now moved to newer quarters, but they remain within the courthouse square.

Although held before the construction of this courthouse, the most famous case tried in Franklin County was a change of venue from Douglas County. One George Maddox was charged in 1866 with having participated in Quantrill's deadly 1863 raid on Lawrence. He was acquitted and fled for Missouri on horseback after the trial.

Courthouses designed by George P. Washburn
Johnson County KS, Olathe, (demolished) 1891
Franklin County KS, Ottawa, 1893
Pike County IL, Pittsfield, (completed) 1894
Atchison County KS, Atchison, 1896
Miami County KS, Paola, 1898
Woodson County KS, Yates Center, 1899
Anderson County KS, Garnett, 1901
Franklin County Courthouse and Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By William Fischer, Jr., July 16, 2013
2. Franklin County Courthouse and Marker
Looking SE toward partly obscured courthouse
County KS, Erie, (demolished) 1904
Doniphan County KS, Troy, 1905
Beaver County OK, Beaver, 1907
Kingman County KS, Kingman, 1907
Butler County KS, El Dorado, 1908
Harper County KS, Anthony, 1908
Pratt County KS, Pratt, 1910
Chautauqua County KS, Sedan, 1917

Taken on Independence Day 1892, the photo above shows the cornerstone of the Courthouse being laid with solemn Masonic ritual. Washburn can be identified to the right of the stone, wearing Masonic regalia and holding his hat in his hand. The courthouse was funded by a three mill levy over three years.

The large and active Union veterans organization was called the "Grand Army of the Republic." It had a large meeting room on the third floor of the courthouse. Membership in the G.A.R. and an affiliation with the Republican Party were requirements for success in nineteenth century Ottawa.

The [photo] scene above, from April 1, 1911, shows the dedication of a cedar tree given to the George H. Thomas Post #18 of the Grand Army of the Republic to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the surrender at Appomattox.

The G.A.R. had a museum of sorts in the courthouse. By the 1930s, so many of the veterans had died that the organization became inactive. Its collections were then given to the Franklin County Historical Society.

Many group photos of the G.A.R.
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men were taken in and around the courthouse.

Before the current Courts Building was constructed north of the courthouse, a jail and sheriff's office designed by Washburn stood there. This hand-tinted postcard shows the former jail.

The Franklin County Courthouse, placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, is still used as a headquarters of government for Franklin County. Visitors following the Historic Ottawa Tour are urged to detour around the brick courthouse and observe the varied and intricate Romanesque Revival carvings in the white sandstone trim. Butterflies, anchors, fruits, sprites, sunflowers and human portraits can all be found in the building's stone.

If you are visiting Ottawa during business hours, take a few moments to explore the interior of the courthouse. A brochure detailing its fascinating history is available inside. The courtroom on the second floor was used to film a 1989 television movie called "Cross of Fire."

Visit the Old Depot Museum
135 W. Tecumseh
Tuesday-Saturday 10-4 • Sunday 1-4
785.242.1250 •
Erected by Franklin County Historical Society, Franklin County Convention & Visitors Bureau, and Others.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: ArchitectureGovernment & PoliticsSettlements & Settlers. A significant historical date for this entry is April 1, 1911.
Location. 38° 36.851′ N, 95° 16.124′ W. Marker is in Ottawa, Kansas, in Franklin County. Marker is at the intersection of Main Street and 3rd Street, on the right when traveling south on Main Street. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 302 South Main Street, Ottawa KS 66067, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. A different marker also named The Franklin County Courthouse (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); The Down Town Ottawa Historic District (about 300 feet away); Pickrell Building (about 400 feet away); Main Street, 400 Block South (about 400 feet away); Shepherd & McQuesten Building (about 500 feet away); Main Street, 200 Block South (about 500 feet away); Main Street, 500 Block South and City Park (approx. 0.2 miles away); Civil War Memorial (approx. 0.2 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Ottawa.
Related marker. Click here for another marker that is related to this marker.
Also see . . .
1. Franklin County Courthouse National Register Nomination. (Submitted on August 12, 2013, by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania.)
2. Franklin County, Kansas. (Submitted on August 12, 2013, by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania.)
3. George P. Washburn. (Submitted on August 13, 2013, by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania.)
Credits. This page was last revised on September 3, 2020. It was originally submitted on August 12, 2013, by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania. This page has been viewed 660 times since then and 24 times this year. Photos:   1, 2. submitted on August 12, 2013, by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania.

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Apr. 23, 2024