The monumental Romanesque U.S. Courthouse in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, embodied and validated the federal government's faith in westward expansion. The U.S. Government purchased a two-lot parcel dedicated to the construction of a Federal building in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on July 22, 1891. South Dakota's first senator, Richard Pettigrew, introduced a bill to fund the structure, recommending that native Sioux quartzite be used for its construction. W.J. Edbrooke, Supervising Architect of the Treasury and architect for the original portion of the building, designed it to house a post office on the entry level and a courthouse on the second floor. Originally constructed between 1892 and 1895, the building was expanded in 1911 and again in 1931.
In the early 1890s, South Dakota was a young state that had recently witnessed a major conflict between the U.S. Army and Native Americans at Wounded Knee. The construction of a Federal building at Sioux Falls was intended to create a sense of stability and permanence among the newly arrived settlers.
Since its construction, the federal building has been a landmark in the downtown area, where it occupies most of an entire city block. In May 1995, the Centennial Observance of the building was held to celebrate 100 years of service to the federal government. During the celebration, the building was rededicated and a historical marker, provided by the Minnehaha County Historical Society, was unveiled. At the same time, the building was officially renamed as the U.S. Court- house. Historic memorabilia, photographs, and art were displayed throughout the building.
The original 1892-1895 building was a two-story structure with an attic and basement built in the Romanesque style. Popularized by master architect H.H. Richardson in the late nineteenth century, the Romanesque style was widely emulated by other architects throughout the nation. The character-defining Romanesque features of the U.S. Courthouse, an excellent example of the style, include handsome, wide (Romanesque) arches; rough-hewn stone finishes accented with smooth stones; and heavy, monumental massing.
The exterior walls are primarily of rose-colored quartzite (also known as jasper), which was shipped by train from nearby Jasper, Minnesota. Like granite, quartzite is durable with a similar texture and workability. Unlike granite, however, the surface of quartzite has a slightly translucent appearance. A smoothly finished quartzite that looks much like terra cotta was used for the trim and voussoirs (wedge-shaped stones in the arches).
Belt courses encircle the building, delineating the interior floors. A distinctive cornice, which echoes the arched shape of the windows on the first and second stories, is topped by a slate roof. The roof form is primarily hipped, crossed by central gable parapet-wall dormers and terminated at each end with octagonal turrets. Entrance to the building is gained through a large, central Romanesque arch on the Phillips Street facade.
In 1911, under James Knox Taylor, Supervising Architect of the Treasury, the building was extended 30 feet to the east, and the third floor was added. Substantial interior alterations, compatible with the original design, were also completed. The post office lobby was extended, and a new marble stair was placed in the southwest portion of the original building, replacing the turret stair. An elevator was installed adjacent to the stair lobby. The new public hallways, lobbies, and stairs featured marble baseboards, treads, and landings, and terrazzo with a marble border served as flooring.
In 1931, a two-story wing with a full basement was added to the rear (east side) of the building under the direction of James A. Wetmore, Supervising Architect of the Treasury. Like the 1911 alterations, this addition was sympathetic to the original building. The same quartzite stone was used, and cornice and fenestration patterns found in the existing structure were repeated in the addition. Handsome decorative elements and finishes in these areas included marble wainscot and trim, marble and terrazzo flooring, and brass elevator doors and frames. The basement and first floor are organized around a central corridor flanked with offices. The second and third floors have offices located around the perimeter as well as within the central core of the building. The large, second-floor courtroom, and another on the first floor, remain.
Interior modernizations have occurred during the course of the building's history, including alterations made in 1968 when the post office relocated to another building. However, many features remain, including the 1911 iron and marble stairs, the oak-paneled courtroom, and two small vaults with mural scenes painted on the doors.
In 1974, the building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
1892-1895: The building is constructed.
1895: President Benjamin Harrison appoints Judge Alonzo J. Edgerton as the first judge to occupy the courthouse.
1911-1913: The first major addition, including a 30-foot extension to the east and a complete third story, is constructed.
1931-1933: A two-story wing is added to the rear.
1968: The post office relocates, resulting in interior and exterior modifications.
1974: The building is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
1995: The building's centennial celebration occurs.
Architects: W.J. Edbrooke, with additions by James Knox Taylor (1911) and James A. Wetmore (1931)
Construction Dates: 1892-1895, 1911-1913, 1931
Landmark Status: Listed in the National Register of Historic Places
Location: Corner of Phillips and Twelfth Streets
Architectural Style: Romanesque
Primary Materials: Jasper quartzite
Prominent Feature: Romanesque design elements, such as arched openings and stone finishes
The original 1892 building was a two-story structure with an attic and a basement. Walls were primarily rough-cut stone; openings were trimmed in dressed stone. The exterior windows and doors were in wood frames. Many windows were set in arched openings, often in attached sets of two and three. Belt courses wrapped the building and a cornice molding with a dentil row finished the roof line. A hipped, slate roof capped the structure. The primary facade faced west to Phillips Avenue with an entry arch at the center and octagonal turrets at each end. The remaining facades also contained large, arched elements and featured similar detailing.
The Post Office was located on the basement and first floors. Patrons entered through a grand portal from the main entry on the west into an L-shaped lobby. Service counters lined the eastern wall and were framed by ornamental cages of wood and wrought iron. The courtroom and offices were located on the upper floors. The courtroom was graced with wood-paneled walls and a coffered ceiling. Wood trim was used throughout the building for chair rails, door and exterior window edging, as well as baseboards in offices. A main stair was located in the northwest corner turret which provided access to the basement, first and second floors. A separate stair connected the second floor to the attic level.
In 1911, under the supervision of the Architect of the U.S. Treasury, James Knox Taylor, the building was extended thirty feet to the east and a full third floor was added. A corbelled cornice capped the exterior walls supporting a new hipped roof. Substantial interior alterations also occurred. The Post Office lobby was extended at both ends and a new marble stair was installed in the southwest portion of the original building to replace the turret stair. An elevator was installed adjacent to the stair lobby. The new sections of public hallways, lobbies and stairs continued the use of durable marble as baseboards, treads and landings while terrazzo with a marble border served as flooring. Toilet rooms were altered with the addition of marble wainscot and terrazzo floors. All of these alterations were executed in a manner that was compatible with the original design of the building.
In 1931 a two-story wing with a full basement was added to the rear of the building under the supervision of James A. Wetmore. This addition was designed to be compatible with the existing structure. The same quartzite stone was used and the cornices and fenestration patterns established in the existing structure were continued. An elevator, stair and lobby were built in the northeast portion of the new structure. These areas included marble wainscot and trim, marble and terrazzo flooring, and decorative metal frames around the metal elevator doors.
A series of alterations in 1968 removed significant materials and affected the historic integrity of the building. The most notable change was to the first floor. All of the distinctive cages in the Post Office area were removed and the space was subdivided into small offices using non-descript partitions. Throughout this floor the original trim was removed or obscured and new flush doors and metal frames were installed. The first floor corridor was remodeled with all new finishes unlike any found elsewhere in the building. Dropped ceilings were installed throughout the building including the second floor courtroom. Exterior wood windows and doors were replaced with ones in anodized aluminum frames. Even though the building experienced these unsympathetic changes many original features survive and overall the structure retains its integrity as a historic resource.
The building occupies half a city block. The primary entrance faces west to Phillips Avenue and a secondary entrance exists on the north facade along 12th Street. A loading dock and service entrance are found along the south side of the 1931 addition. The remainder of the site is paved. Sidewalks abut the structure on the west and north, and a service lane runs along the south. Parking spaces for building tenants are located adjacent to the south service lane and in lots at the rear of the site.
Presently the building houses federal offices and courts. The basement and first floors are organized by a central corridor with offices opening off either side. The second and third floors have offices located around the perimeter as well as within the central core of the building. The large, second floor historic courtroom remains and new courtrooms have been constructed on the first and second floors. The fourth floor has offices on the west side and the remainder of the space is used for storage. The attic contains storage space.
Overall the building has continued to evolve and adapt and has demonstrated that it can continue to serve a variety of functions.
South Dakota became a state on November 2, 1889. On December 29, 1890, the U.S. Army’s 7th Cavalry Regiment entered a Lakota Camp to disarm the residents when a scuffle ensued. When a shot was fired, the Army soldiers panicked and began shooting indiscriminatingly at the Native Americans in the camp. By the time the chaos was over, at least 150 men, women and children of the Lakota tribe had been killed and 25 Army soldiers had also died (assumed to have been killed by friendly fire due to the chaotic situation). After such a horrific incident, the construction of a federal building in Sioux Falls was intended to create a sense of stability for the young state and act as a beacon of permanence and sophistication to attract and keep their new settlers.
On July 22, 1891, the U.S. Government purchased a two-lot parcel on the corner of 12th Street and Phillips Avenue for the construction of a federal building. The bill to fund the structure was introduced by Richard Pettigrew, South Dakota’s first senator. W.J. Edbrooke, Supervising Architect of the Treasury, designed the building to house the post office on the first floor and a courthouse on the second floor with the main entrance on Phillips Avenue. A basement for storage was also part of the original design. The exterior is in the Richardsonian Romanesque style with its wide arches, rusticated stone accented with smooth stone finishes, and monumental massing. The building was constructed between 1892 and 1895 at a cost of $152,000.
The material chosen for the exterior was based on Senator Pettigrew’s suggestion of the native Sioux quartzite, also known as jasper. The quartzite was shipped by train to Sioux Falls from Jasper, Minnesota. Quartzite is similar to granite in its durability, texture and workability, but it differs as quartzite has a slightly translucent appearance. When smoothly finished, as can be seen in the Courthouse’s trim and voussoirs, quartzite looks similar to terra cotta. With the heavy massing of the Romanesque style and the durability of the quartzite, Edbrooke and Pettigrew achieved the monumental appearance they had hoped while creating a sophisticated building for its time.
In 1911, Supervising Architect of the Treasury, James Knox Taylor, designed the expansion of the building 30 feet to the east along 12th Street and the addition of a full third floor. Interior alterations included the extension of the Post Office lobby, the replacement of a wood stair in the northwest with a marble and iron stair in the southeast, installation of a revolving door at the west entry, and the installation of an elevator adjacent to the stair lobby. Interior finishes were also updated as the new public hallways, lobbies, and stairs received marble baseboards, treads, landings and terrazzo flooring with a marble border. In the second floor courtroom, oak paneling trim and the elaborate judge’s bench were installed and stained a dark shade and oil varnished. All of the original plaster was replaced. The original finishes in the courtroom included a low oak wainscot and deeply coffered ceilings. It was also square in plan. The 1911 additions expanded the courtroom and enhanced its formality. A chandelier was installed in the coffered ceiling and sconces were located along the walls. Some of the 1892 oak trim in the courtroom and throughout the building was kept and still remains today. Originally finished with a dark stain and an oil varnish coating, the trim today has a lighter color due to stripping and applications of a clear polyurethane coating, similar to the judge’s bench. Also, all but two of the restrooms were upgraded in 1911. The original restrooms (still seen today on the basement and third floor) have marble sink tops, ceramic tile floors, plaster walls, and bead board stall partitions. In 1911, most were upgraded to contain vitreous china pedestal sinks, terrazzo floors, marble stall partitions and marble walls. Taylor and his crew carefully considered the original style and design of the building so that the additions and changes made were compatible with the original building.
The two-story wing with the full basement was added in 1931 to the east of the building. James A. Wetmore was the Supervising Architect of the Treasury at the time and he similarly focused on retaining the original character of the 1895 structure. The same quartzite was used on the façade and the same style of cornice and fenestration was carried around the addition. With this new addition, the building now measured 188’-8” x 301’-8”, adding 101’ x 88’ to the 1911 size. The interior finishes were also designed to replicate the 1911 style and included a new formal entrance with an elevator lobby in the basement opening out to 12th Street. The courtroom also received some attention at this time with a light green coat of paint on the plaster walls above the paneling and cream painted on the ceiling.
The Post Office moved to its own building in 1968 and subsequent changes to the Courthouse included the closing of the 12th Street entrance and the removal of its associated steps. On the north, or 12th Street façade, the original doorway with its pair of exterior wood pocket doors was sealed over when the existing aluminum door was installed. At the Phillipps Avenue entry, the revolving doors were replaced by the existing aluminum doors with a simplified transom, the side doors turned into windows, and the iron gates removed. The first floor was remodeled with office partitions and suspended ceilings were installed in most of the spaces on all floors. The 1911 courtroom had linoleum and carpet installed over the original fir flooring and the historic jury box and rail were replaced.
In 1972, the judge’s suite on the second floor in the southwest corner, the law clerks’ offices and the library were remodeled with birch plywood paneling, black vinyl baseboards, suspended ceilings and marble sills. These finishes replaced the original oak baseboards, chair rail, and window surrounds.
The Courthouse was entered into the National Register on May 2, 1974. In 1975, minor remodeling occurred on the second floor. In 1981, new mechanical equipment was installed in the third floor and the affected spaces were remodeled. The judge’s suite in the northwest corner of the third floor was also remodeled. Between 1982 and 1983, the historic courtroom and its surrounding spaces were remodeled: a portable witness stand was made by Jordan Millwork in a similar style to the original judge’s bench, the original bar dividing the gallery section from the courtroom was moved back approximately four feet, the courtroom was carpeted, and the rooms nearby were converted into office spaces, a library, and study carrels. In 1985, renovations continued on the historic courtroom, but this time the project was focused on returning the space to its original appearance as much as possible. The suspended ceiling was removed, the ductwork concealed beneath it was redirected through registers at the perimeter of the room, the main jury box and rail were replaced in-kind, and the original chandelier that was removed at some point was researched to provide a template for the new light fixtures.
Since its construction, the building has been a landmark in downtown Sioux Falls. Its monumental architecture and local importance have served the community for over 115 years. In May of 1995, the building was celebrated for 100 years of service to the federal government and was rededicated as the U.S. Courthouse. A historical marker, provided by the Minnehaha County Historical society, was unveiled and historic photographs, art and memorabilia were displayed throughout the building.