County Courthouse

Courthouse Beginnings
Ozaukee County was formed from Washington County in 1853 with Port Washington being chosen as the new county seat. Shortly thereafter, a two-story courthouse with a raised basement level was built in Port Washington on the southwest corner of Main Street and Wisconsin Street. This first courthouse was completed in 1854.

On November 11, 1862, the courthouse became the scene of the famous Port Washington Civil War Draft Riot. Attorney William Pors, the draft commissioner, was attacked by protesters of the draft and was thrown down the courthouse steps. He escaped with his life to Milwaukee. Governor Salomon immediately sent troops to Port Washington and the riot was quelled the next day.

By the mid-1890s, the original courthouse had deteriorated and it was becoming too small for the needs of growing Ozaukee County. On November 24, 1899, the Ozaukee County Board passed a resolution stating that the courthouse was unsafe for conducting court and that bonds should be issued for the building of a new courthouse.
Old Picture of Ozaukee County Courthouse

County Seat Controversy

While the intent of the County Board was to build the new courthouse in 1900, a controversy over the location of the county seat postponed the issuing of bonds. On February 12, 1900, the County Board received a petition signed by 1,364 residents of Ozaukee County demanding that the county seat be moved to Cedarburg and that the new courthouse be built there. From this petition a bitter fight broke out between residents of Port Washington and Cedarburg each vying for the new courthouse.

After months of controversy, the County Board voted to retain Port Washington as the county seat. It was also decided that the old courthouse would be torn down and that the new courthouse would be built on the same site. In late 1900 the old courthouse began to be dismantled. Court for Ozaukee County was held in the “Opera House” located on the corner of Wisconsin Street and Grand Avenue, now the site of the Port Washington Municipal Building.

Bonds to fund the construction of the courthouse were issued for $45,000. The well-known Milwaukee, and long time Waubeka resident, architect Fred Graf was hired and the construction firm of Wurthmann and Vollmar of Cedarburg was contracted.
Ozaukee County Courthouse
Constructing the New Courthouse
In June of 1901 plans were underway for the laying of the cornerstone of the new courthouse. The Merchants Advancement Association of Port Washington stepped forward to plan and finance the cornerstone celebration. On Saturday, June 29, 1901, Port Washington welcomed visitors and dignitaries from the county and beyond. The cornerstone festivities began with a grand parade through the streets of downtown Port Washington. Numerous local societies and organizations participated in the parade. The Cedarburg Band and Zimmermann’s Band of Port Washington provided music.

The parade was followed by the cornerstone ceremony held on the courthouse grounds. Speeches were given by Mayor Rose of Milwaukee, Honorable Mr. Fink of Milwaukee, and Fred Dennett, owner of the Wisconsin Chair Company of Port Washington and mayor of Sheboygan. A special poem for the cornerstone laying was written and recited by N. E. Becker, the well-known Luxembourger poet of the Town of Fredonia. Becker was then serving as state assemblyman and was chairman of the Town of Fredonia when the new courthouse was proposed in 1899. Becker read the poem in the Letzebuergesch dialect.
Courthouse exterior
Port Washington’s mayor, Mr. Biedermann, presided over the cornerstone ceremony. As part of the ceremony, county officials declared the stone to be square, plumb, and horizontal. The cornerstone was then declared as “placed” and a gun volley from the German Landwehr Verein completed the ceremony.

The Time Capsule
The cornerstone was purchased from the famous Bedford Stone Quarry in Indiana. The stone weighs three tons and is 4.5 feet long, 3 feet high, and 2.5 feet wide. The names of the members of the County Board and the name of the architect, Mr. Graf, were inscribed on the cornerstone. The inscriptions were chiseled by Mr. Walter Tingley of Milwaukee.

A large hole measuring 16 inches long by 11 inches wide by 12 inches deep was cut into the cornerstone. This hole became the receptacle for a tin box filled with historic items, in today’s nomenclature – a time capsule.
Courthouse exterior
Following the laying of the cornerstone, work continued on the courthouse throughout 1901. The beautiful, Romanesque building was completed on March 29, 1902. The total cost of the edifice including furnishing was $55,637. Various county offices found a new home in the spacious, state-of-the-art courthouse. Circuit court was held in the large courtroom on the 2nd floor. This room now serves as the County Board meeting room.
Outgrowing the Courthouse
By the late 1950s, it was obvious that the county had outgrown the 1901 courthouse. The 1960 county budget included a new building fund. Planning for the new courthouse annex continued through the 1960s. Bids for the annex were opened on August 30, 1967 and the total of the low bids was $1,717,814. This did not include furniture and equipment costing approximately $140,000 and architect’s fees of $118,000. Plans were also made to remodel the 1901 courthouse and the existing jail building. Bonds were issued for $2,200,000. The courthouse annex was completed in 1969 with occupancy occurring on April 7, 1969.

On December 12, 1976, the 1901 Ozaukee County Courthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places through the US Department of the Interior. Local Port Washington historians, Anna and Viola Ubbink, can be credited with promoting the National Register status of the courthouse.
View of the courthouse from the parking lot.
Opening the Cornerstone Time Capsule
The 1901 courthouse quietly remained an everyday fixture in Ozaukee County and Port Washington until early 2001. In anticipation of the 100th anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone, plans were set into motion to celebrate the legacy of this majestic, old building. Its years of faithful service and its stalwart beauty needed to be re-appreciated.
As a part of this anniversary year’s celebration, the cornerstone was opened on May 9, 2001. County Highway Department workers toiled for hours to open the stone and eventually they found the time capsule hidden within. The next day, May 10th, the time capsule was opened and its contents saw the light of day for the first time in 100 years. The tin box, lined with copper, contained 117 items placed in it by county officials and residents 100 years ago.

The time capsule contained newspapers, paper documents from organizations and churches, business cards, 1901 stamps and coins, a small metal plaque memorializing the contractors Wurthmann and Vollmar, commemorative ribbons from the cornerstone celebration, 4 historic photographs, an original copy of Becker’s poem, speeches from the ceremony, and the script for the laying of the cornerstone ceremony. All these items appropriately reflect the people and the culture of Ozaukee County 1901.
Men removing the cornerstone time capsule.
While these items will be placed back into the cornerstone after today’s celebration, it is only fitting that our current generation also leave behind some mementos of our modern day experience as citizens of Ozaukee County. Another time capsule, reflecting this 100th anniversary celebration, will be placed near the cornerstone with the first time capsule. It will be our historic legacy to the generations yet to come.

May the courthouse building we celebrate today and its tradition of service to the citizens of Ozaukee County be alive and well in the year 2101.
Opening the time capsule seeing the old documents inside.