The current structure on the Mount Vernon, Mo., square replaced two previous buildings
MOUNT VERNON, MO. – The historic courthouse located on the Courthouse Square in Mount Vernon, Mo., was built in 1900. It is a rectangular, 2 1/2-story Romanesque Revival stile limestone building which measures 101-feet-by-81-feet and 2 inches. It features a central clock and bell tower upon which a statue of Lady Justice stands.
Lawrence County was organized Feb. 14, 1845, and named after Capt. James Lawrence of the Chesapeake in War of 1812. Lawrence was a naval officer from the War of 1812 and immortalized for his battle cry, “Don’t give up the ship!”
The present courthouse is not the first. The first was a frame, two-story, 18-by-30-foot building. It was built in 1846. The county appropriated $400 to build it, but later added $200. Final costs being about $700. Matlock and Sanford contracted the building. By 1854 or 1855, the building was no longer being used as a courthouse and investors moved it to the north side of the square. Over the years, the old building housed millinery, carpentry, blacksmithing and wagon repair shops. Later, it became apartments, but was razed between 1916 and 1918.
A contract for the second courthouse was awarded in 1853. It served Lawrence County for more than 40 years, but was gutted by fire in 1900. This courthouse was originally planned as a two-story structure; however, a local lodge made an agreement with the county and a third story was added. The new building had a stone foundation, sills and lintels measured 50 by 60 feet. Stephen M. Walcott of Newton County, completed the courthouse for about $7,000 in May 1855.
A new tin roof was put on in 1869-70. The cornice was painted and landscaping done. In 1893, the commission reported the building unsafe.
On June 1, 1900, Lawrence County held an election for a new courthouse and it passed. The county authorized a $50,000 indebtedness to build a new courthouse. When the proposition passed, the townspeople were so happy, they built a temporary stand in the park and had the band play, “Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight.”
A plan drawn by George McDonald was selected by the court. The contract was first let in July 1900 to J. D. Armstrong for $48,875. However, he forfeited the bond and T. A. Miller of Aurora, Mo., received the contract for the 84-by-104-by-82-foot-tall, stone building on Nov. 28, 1900.
The biblical inscription on the stone, “Be sure your sins will find you out,” is from Numbers 32:23. A year after construction began the building was complete.
Lawrence County, Missouri is a Class 3 County operating under a three-member County Commission. Most county offices are located in the Historic Courthouse at 1 E. Courthouse Square and the Lawrence County Justice Center at 240 N. Main St. in Mount Vernon.