History: In 1934, the first Mesa County courthouse comes down
GJ History Columnist
On July 29, 1934, Preston Walker of the Daily Sentinel reported, “the County’s first courthouse is fast disappearing under the wrecker’s hammer and pick. Brick by brick, nail by nail, lath by lath, the setting for many of Grand Junction’s most colorful and historic episodes are tumbling.”
This piece of history located on the southwest corner of Sixth and Main streets was originally built as an opera house by an out-of-state investor a short while before Mesa County was founded in February of 1883.
At the time of the founding of Grand Junction in 1881 to 1882 by George Crawford and Richard D. Mobley, this area was part of Gunnison County. Schools, banks, churches and all sorts of businesses were quickly established. It didn’t take long to realize that this area with two rivers and a railroad needed to be formed into a county of its own.
On Jan. 13, 1883, a bill was introduced in the State Senate for the new county of Palmer, and on Feb. 17, 1883, the county was passed into law. However the name Palmer was dropped in favor of the name of Mesa.
In March of 1883, Governor Grant of Colorado appointed local county officers to serve until the elections could be held in November and a courthouse was needed to house the new county government offices and courts.
A.G. Mandel of New York City purchased the land at the corner of Sixth and Main streets from the Grand Junction Town Company in 1882 and built a two-story brick building. The building was the first “Burned Brick” building in the city. The timbers were cut from Pinon Mesa; the flooring, shingles and lath came from Gunnison and Denver; the carpentry work was done by Dickey and Currie; and all the brick came from Ackerman and Lumsden. (Note: Lumsden would be the man who would build George Crawford’s tomb in 1897)
The building was first known as Mandel Hall, and also as Mandel Opera House, and it was managed by George Crawford. The building was of the size necessary to house the new county government and was rented to Mesa County in 1883 and sold to Mesa County in 1884.
The first floor held the offices of the county assessor, clerk, and treasurer; and the second floor held the courts. On evenings and weekends the courtrooms were used by political parties, community organizations and local churches such as the Methodist Church and LDS (Mormon) Church. The LDS Church wrote in their history about having to clean out the spittoons before Sunday morning meetings.
Over the years several unusual trials were held in the courtrooms. There was the murder trial of the woman who killed her boyfriend, and the case of the local gamblers whose seized gambling equipment was burned in back of the courthouse. There was the trial of Medal of Honor recipient, Charles W. Rundle, who brought his farm dog to town and was arrested for having a loose dog. He was found not guilty because his dog was a farm dog, not a city dog. And of course there was the trial of the County Treasurer, William Quinn, who stole $15,000 from the county and was given four years in state prison. However, it wasn’t just the defendants who made the news; at one murder trial the opposing attorneys threatened each other with knives during the proceedings.
Over the years the courthouse had been broken into and thieves had gotten into the Clerk’s and Treasurer’s Offices on the first floor. At one point a thief had gone through the vault and didn’t find any money and left a note telling the treasurer and county clerk to leave money next time.
From 1883 until 1924, this two-storied building was the home to the Mesa County government. By 1920, it was apparent there was a need for a newer courthouse for a growing county. The old courthouse had seen better days with costly upkeep. A new, larger and more appropriate building was approved; and by Dec. 29, 1923, a sign was hung from the second story of the old courthouse that said “For Sale or Will Rent.” By April of 1924, the new courthouse at Sixth Street and Rood Avenue was dedicated and county government moved.
Mesa County had given the building to the Hine Desk and Fixture Company of Denver in exchange for the fixtures in the new courthouse. The old courthouse on Main Street stood vacant while remodeling took place. As partitions in the building were removed, the west wall began to sag against the building to its west and the front part of the building had to be reinforced with steel rods. In May of 1924, Shaw Motor Company moved into the old courthouse building.
By July of 1934, ownership of the old courthouse had changed to Amore Raso, who announced he was going build a new building on the site; the entire second story would be taken down, while new walls would be built on the east and north sides of the building. The new single-story building would be modern in every way for 1934.
By Oct. 28 the new Raso Building was complete with a modern glass front and was rented to L. Cook Sporting Goods. A new retail liquor store went into the Sixth Street side of the building. Affording a much needed gathering place for community groups, there was also a meeting room at the rear of the building for various organizations.
The only part of the old courthouse that still stands is the west wall containing the frame to the county vault.
Ruth Wickersham wrote in 1934 a closing line to the old Mesa County Courthouse, which should be said again.
“Something of a sense of loss the news of the passing of an old friend entered into the mind. Even a building may become a personal, intimate thing, particularly if that building has been closely associated with the birth, the growth and progress of a people. The building is historical of the county’s early settlement and has served its purpose well.”
Well said, Ruth.
Photos and information: Museum of Western Colorado, Loyd Files Research Room, Michael Menard, Dave Bailey, Marie Tipping, Judy Prosser-Armstong files Grand Junction News: Daily Sentinel: Snap Photo.
Garry Brewer is storyteller of the tribe; finder of odd knowledge and uninteresting items; a bore to his grandchildren; a pain to his wife on spelling; but a locator of golden nuggets, truths and pearls of wisdom. Email Garry at email@example.com.
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