By Jessica Gorman
The original Webster Parish courthouse was built after the creation of the parish in 1871. By 1903, it had been “declared unsafe and unfit for repairs.” Conditions were such that some who had offices in the courthouse had begun to consider refusing to continue working there.
That same year, a petition was circulated and presented to the Webster Parish Police Jury led by J. Y. Burton. The petition asked the police jury to call an election for a five-mill tax for five years to fund the construction of a new courthouse. The election was held on 23 June 1904. The vote was 222 in favor of the tax with 106 opposed.
With approval of the tax, a building committee was appointed by the new police jury now led by W. G. Stewart. The committee members were E. E. Fitzgerald (Minden Lumber Company), J. W. Martin (Globe Lumber Company), and J. M. Miller (Minden merchant).
Construction began in November 1904. It was quickly realized that more extensive excavations would be needed to provide a deeper, broader foundation than originally thought necessary to provide stability for the building. The laying of the cornerstone was conducted 28 February 1905 by Minden Masonic Lodge No. 51. That cornerstone is now housed at the Dorcheat Historical Association Museum.
Construction was completed in August 1905 at a cost of $48,859. The new courthouse was described as “a majestic monument to Webster Parish and the civic pride of her good citizens.” The building was two stories. On the first floor, in the center, was a rotunda. It was used for police jury meetings and was where town court was held. Also on the first floor were the offices of the circuit clerk, coroner, superintendent of education, sheriff, tax assessor, and an office shared by the mayor and town marshal. The vault housing the parish records and a separate room for the police jury records were also located on the first floor.
In the center of the second floor, was a circular courtroom with a large balcony. There were also offices for the judge, district attorney, constable, and justice of the peace, as well as rooms for the grand jury, petit jury, witnesses, and for jurors needing to stay overnight.
The dome of the courthouse, covered in sheet copper, contained a large clock with four faces. Some thought the clock was a waste of money and when the dome was replaced after the 1933 tornado, the clock was removed.
After construction of the current Webster Parish Courthouse in 1953, the 1905 building served as Minden City Hall until construction of the Civic Center.
(Jessica Gorman is the Executive Director for the Dorcheat Historical Association Museum, Webster Parish Historian, and an avid genealogist.)