Rehabilitating Historic County Courthouses
Administered by DAHP and the Washington Trust
The top priority of the Washington Trust’s 2005 State Legislative Agenda was the passage of an historic county courthouse rehabilitation fund. Working in partnership with the Washington State Association of Counties (WSAC), the Washington Trust was successful in its efforts to create a $5 million pool in matching funds to aid in the rehabilitation of the 29 historic county courthouses in the state. The Washington State Legislature allocated $5 million in the state’s 2005-07 Biennium capital budget and targeted $450,000 of the total for stabilization of the Jefferson County Courthouse clock tower.
Rehabilitation Needs & Benefits
The idea for this program arose from a study sponsored by the then Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (OAHP) in 2003. Artifacts, Inc. surveyed Washington’s 39 county courthouses and determined that 29 met National Register standards (Franklin County Courthouse interior dome, photo above left courtesy Artifacts, Inc.). They assessed the existing condition of those courthouses and estimated costs for rehabilitation, uncovering over $90 million in needs.
Because of the size of these structures, the cost of maintenance, and the lack of good information on appropriate rehabilitation methods, most historic county courthouses are in danger from neglect or from inappropriate alterations. This program provides an incentive for county governments to save these local landmarks and to do it in the right way. In addition to supporting rehabilitation of historic features, the fund can be used for seismic and accessibility upgrades that meet accepted historic preservation standards.
The program also provides a shot in the arm for the local economy. Historic rehabilitation creates more jobs than new construction. It relies on local suppliers and contractors for materials and manpower, assisting both local businesses and the local tax base. Rehabilitation spurs other private investment in downtown properties, which attracts more businesses, shoppers, and visitors. Dayton, in Columbia County, is a good example of what can occur in even the smallest rural communities when the courthouse – the center of community life – is returned to its original glory. That rehabilitation effort touched off a wave of reinvestment in this small southeast Washington community. Today, Dayton is a must-see stop for dining, lodging, and shopping in the Walla Walla wine region.
Current State of the Program
Since 2005, nearly $17 million has been awarded to 26 counties statewide for rehabilitation projects to historic county courthouses. This investment has worked to leverage approximately $45 million in local investment.
Specifically, the program works to achieve the following results:
- Assist counties, especially smaller, more rural counties, with much needed capital projects to improve infrastructure and preserve historic features;
- Work to create local jobs;
- Majority of expenditures pays for labor as opposed to materials – given that rehabilitation work deals largely with repairs to existing building fabric, comparatively little is spent on purchase of materials;
- Assist in preserving Washington’s civic legacy and heritage!
Access/download our Courthouse Grant Program Fact Sheet for more comprehensive information on achievements to date.
For more information about this program, please contact Chris Moore of the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation at 206-624-9449 or via email.