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This four-story colonial style courthouse designed by Joseph Wohleb was built in 1930 for an estimated cost of $150.000. The gray Tenino sandstone building includes columns, pediments, concrete walls with smooth facings, broad inviting granite steps leading up to ornamental portico and a decorative balcony overhead. The building is open to the public.

Old Courthouse after 1904 addition

The first courthouse built in 1889 can be seen as the right half of the building. The 1904 addition can be seen as the left half of the building.

Courthouse in 1940's

Wheel, Building, Car, Vehicle

1929 Courthouse under construction

Plant, Building, Window, Sky

In April 1888, Mason County chose Shelton as the location of the county seat. A block of land was donated to the county by David Shelton for the courthouse site. Local contractors Charles and Elijah Dunbar started construction in October 1888 using lumber that was towed by tugboat from the Tacoma Mill. The courthouse was completed in the spring of 1889 for $2,847. The simple two-story wood framed structure measured 48 x 48 feet and was made of whitewash wooden clapboards with a simple porch with an open cupola topping the structure. The jail was adjacent to the courthouse on the second floor of Sheriff’s residence and escapes from the jail were common.

The county population quickly grew, and in 1904 additions were made to the courthouse, nearly doubling the building’s size.

In 1920, the courthouse was showing signs of deterioration. The building was heated by a wood stove with long stretches of stove pipe, had poor lighting, poor wiring, and crumbling brick vaults. It had become a firetrap, so the county began to set aside funds in the budget for a new courthouse.

It was in December 1928 during the trial of Arthur Schafer for the brutal killing of Mr. and Mrs. Joe Kirk when the county knew quick action was required to replace the courthouse. The second-floor courtroom was filled with people on the benches as well as standing in the aisles. There was so much noise and commotion that no notice was made to the floor joists groaning and creaking under the weight of the crowded room. Ida Loughnan, Mason County Auditor, sitting in office directly below the courtroom could see the dangerous conditions of her sagging ceiling and jammed door. She quickly notified the judge of the eminent danger, who cleared all standing and non-essential people from the courtroom and continued the trial. After the trial, some seats were removed and repairs were made to the foundation, however no large gatherings were again allowed in that building. 

The county paid $900 to F.L. Morrill of Centralia, WA in June 1929 to move the old courthouse building 108 feet east and 55 feet south to make room for the new courthouse on the existing lot. Special care was required to not knock over the existing brick chimney. Business continued in this building during construction of the new courthouse. On April 8, 1930, the county sold the old courthouse to J. Jemison for $1.50 with a provision that he removes it entirely from the lot in 6 weeks. After being moved, it was eventually torn down. Shortly after that, the old jail and Sheriff’s residence sold for $225 to J.L. Parsons who moved it across the street and turned it into an apartment building.

In 1929, county commissioners William Daniels, D.C. Nevitt, and T.W. McDonald took the first steps in planning the construction of the new courthouse by hiring architect, Joseph Wohleb. Other local buildings architected by Joseph Wohleb include the old Shelton General Hospital, Irene S. Reed High School, Shelton Memorial Building, and the Govey building. After completion of the courthouse, Joseph Wohleb was the architect on several more buildings in Shelton, including the Mason County Title building, Shelton Junior High School, and houses for Frank Reed and Sol Reed.

The first shovels of dirt were turned on July 15, 1929, by Mrs. Mary “Babutalth” Adams, granddaughter of Chief Seb3tka of the Squaxin Tribe, and “Buck” Shelton, the first native white son of Shelton.

The county awarded the general construction contract to E.P. Brewster of Chehalis, WA. The new courthouse building walls are substantial with concrete eighteen inches thick. At the time of construction, it was the largest single building in Shelton and highest in concrete, except for the pulp mill. The basement housed a diesel oil furnace, storage for county and employee cars, with a gasoline pump installed in the driveway. The first floor held the offices of the treasurer, auditor, assessor, county nurse, and others. Also, there was a vault space for the Sherriff’s private liquor stock and confiscated illegal liquor stored as evidence during prohibition. The second floor contained retiring rooms for the judge and jury, offices for the clerk, attorney, sheriff, engineer, and school superintendent. On the third floor was a very secure jail with access by elevator and stairs secured by steel doors.

On November 7, 1929, in the presence of county officials and workers, a metal box was placed in a cornerstone niche by county auditor Loughnan with the expectation that it would remain in place at least one hundred years. The Mason County Journal published the contents of the box on 11/7/1929.

Construction was completed in 1930 and the courthouse dedication was held on May 5, 1930, at 2:00 PM. It is estimated that 1,000 citizens attended the event. County and city schools closed, Shelton businesses closed for part of the afternoon, the Olympia Post Band performed, Dr. W.M. Beach was the master of ceremonies, and the principal speaker was former county commissioner Frank Binns.

Today, the jail is no longer on the third floor of the courthouse. In the 1970’s the jail and county government expanded into nearby buildings.

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