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County Capitols

The Courthouses of South Dakota

Functionality, style, and survival: the building of South Dakota's courthouses
County Capitols

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$29.95, Paperback
ISBN: 978-0-9852905-0-4
 

“Rusch’s County Capitols provides a useful and interesting survey of the courthouse in South Dakota. His clear writing, organization, and use of footnotes make the book an excellent starting point for people interested in the history of county seats and the development of courthouse design in the Great Plains. Readers from Nebraska, Minnesota, and other neighboring states should not overlook this book. The stories behind many of the courthouses are characteristic of broader patterns in the establishment of county seats across the region, and the architects who designed these buildings were often from nearby states, thereby granting the book regional application despite its focus solely on South Dakota.”—Nebraska History

"County Capitols: The Courthouses of South Dakota is as much about the history of these storied edifices as their architecture. . . . communities competed fiercely for designation as a county seat . . . [County Capitols] makes an excellent addition to South Dakota state history shelves."—The Midwest Book Review

"The systematic organization of County Capitols makes the basic data for researching South Dakota county history and historic courthouses readily available for general readers, preservationists, and historian and facilitates comparisons among Midwestern states. . . . Publications about Middle American county courthouses are few. . . .South Dakota is fortunate to have County Capitols."—The Annals of Iowa

“What is appealing about county courthouses is that even though many were designed by the same architect or constructed in the same architectural style according to similar building plans, each one is unique.”—Jason Haug

The histories of many South Dakota towns revolve around two prizes that each community hoped to acquire: a railroad and the county seat. If either of these important attributes could be brought to a town, the likelihood for growth increased. As a result, the building of South Dakota’s sixty-four courthouses was a matter of functionality, style, and survival.

Dreaming of great things for their communities, the pioneer town-builders who settled the prairie spaces of southern Dakota Territory took extreme measures to ensure that their towns would become commercial and industrial centers. Land speculators who owned many of the town sites also actively schemed to enhance the attractiveness of towns so that they could sell their lots at a profit.

Using county records, period newspapers, and other archival materials, Arthur L. Rusch shows how the “courthouse fights” between rival communities turned into outright battles, including bidding wars, midnight forays to steal county records and even buildings, and the destruction of courthouses—all in the cause of community survival.

As town leaders became secure in their community’s designation as the county seat they built courthouses to reflect that status. In an opening essay, Jason Haug outlines the development of these county capitols and their architectural styles over time.