Historic Morrow County Courthouse

Photo: Courthouse

100 Court Street
Heppner, OR 97836
(541) 676-9061

The Morrow County courthouse is truly a significant governmental structure in Eastern Oregon. It has served and represented the citizens of Morrow County with a timeless style of simple, elegance and dignity. It stands as a wonderful example of finish carpentry and stone masonry skills, representing the finest tradition of craftsmanship. Call us today about our tours!

The Morrow County Courthouse was constructed in 1902-1903 to replace the original Courthouse, which was a two-story wood framed structure that had been a gift from the citizens of Heppner. The present day Courthouse stands on the same lot as the original structure. The final construction costs for the courthouse totaled $56,9690.10. The insurance value to replace the Courthouse in the year 2000 exceeds $1.5 million. The building remains in service today as Morrow County's Courthouse, making it one of the oldest continuously used courthouses in the State of Oregon. It still houses many of the same functions as it did in 1903 and, despite being declared upon opening as "all modern and first class and large enough to accommodate all future demands," the County now has offices located in several other buildings in Heppner, Lexington, Irrigon and Boardman.

The architectural style of the Courthouse is considered to be an eclectic design in the tradition of American Renaissance, the only significant example of this period in Morrow County. The exterior is characterized by a classical cornice and bi-lateral symmetry and is dominated by a central entrance pavilion with a domed cupola that encloses a clock and bell. Interestingly, many of the decorative features on the exterior, including the clock, the "bulls-eye" dormers on the roof and some of the trim stone work, are found only on the front and two sides of the building which "face" the town.

These features are not found on the back side of the building, a facade that the public was not expected to see. Similarly, all the service elements were located at the rear such as furnace chimney, coal chute, basement stair and jail annex. Ironically, the back of the building has served as the main entrance to the building for many years, particularly after the use of the automobile became common, as this is where the parking for the Courthouse was developed.

The Courthouse is built of blue basalt which was quarried locally on the Osmin Ranch in Balm Fork Canyon. The trim rock is believed to have come from the Baker region in Eastern Oregon.

The main and second floors are organized around a central hall continuing the most impressive interior element of the building, the staircase

The wide oak stair with turned balusters and large, square newel posts, rises to the East to a landing, where the stair splits along both sides and continues to the second floor. Missing from the tops of the newel posts are the decorative elements, described and illustrated in the original drawings as candelabra approximately three feet tall and, perhaps, made of wrought iron. Holes in the tops of the newel posts suggest that they were once in place, though no one seems to know when or why they were removed.

The location of the County Clerk's Office is one of the only ones that has remained unchanged and is still functioning in the space originally designed for it. There is a large, walk-in vault where County records are stored. It still contains the original metal storage boxes and storage shelves. There are a few pieces left of what is believed to be furniture original to the Courthouse. Much of it is located in the Clerk's Office and some in the Commissioners' Office.

The present day Assessor's Office was originally the Sheriff's Office. There was a significant remodel of this space in 1979 when the County discontinued use of the jail annex after 74 years. What shows up in the original drawings as five cells and two "water closets" is now office space for the appraisers. The opening from the office to the old jail has been plugged with a safe. The walls in the back were constructed extra- ordinarily thick to accommodate their original purpose.

Off the main hall are the two County Court offices, the Treasurer's Office and the Personnel Office. Although still in their original configuration, a door was added to connect the two County Court offices. The only other change in these offices is the location of the entrance into the Personnel office, which was relocated when the interior stairway to the basements was lengthened.

In the hallways there are some pictures of note on the walls. One is a wide view of Heppner in the year 1929. Another is a picture of the Courthouse taken in about 1915, when it still had the original double-door front entrance. This was later replaced by a single door and side lights. Inthe year 2000, the Heppner High School Class of 1956 donated a reproduction of those doors to restore the original look to the Courthouse entrance. There is also an oil painting of the Courthouse which was painted by Sylvia McDaniel, who was the Morrow County Treasurer for many years. Near the front door are original certificates of appointment for the first officials in Morrow County after its creation by the Oregon State Legislature in 1885.

The courtroom on the second floor appears to be as constructed in 1902 with only a couple of exceptions. The jury box and witness stand do not appear to be original, being detailed in a much simpler fashion than the other woodwork in the Courthouse. Also, the bookshelves containing the law library were added to the back of the Courtroom in 1994 in order to restore the jury room to its original use. The original plans called for wood panels in the lower half of the windows behind the judge's bench, but these were never constructed. The acoustical panels on the walls were added in the 1980's to improve the sound quality of the room, an unfortunate downside to the beautiful, coved, high ceiling in the room. The Justice Court Office also doubles as the judge's chambers for the Court judges as it is connected to the Courtroom by a private corridor. A restroom was added to this room when it was used as the jury room during the many years when the original jury room housed the law library. An original double door with transom windows connecting this room to the office of the Circuit Court next door were all filled in many years ago, but he trim work was retained. The Circuit Court Office and District Attorney's Office, curiously, have no plaster cornice or picture molding at the ceiling. A door connecting the two offices of the District Attorney was added after the original construction. There is a mysterious "window: that was filled in between the DA's Office and the restroom on the other side of the wall. The original purpose of this window is unknown.