Burleigh County was organized in 1873. It was named for Dr. Walter Burleigh. Burleigh was a physician, Indian agent, trader and delegate to the 39th & 40th Congress. Dr. Burleigh was born in Waterville, Maine in 1820. Dr. Burleigh was an ardent Republican and strong supporter of Abe Lincoln's campaign for President in 1861. Through his support of Lincoln and his strong political ties, Burleigh was named Indian Agent of Dakota Territory (Yankton S.D.). His tenure as Indian Agent was noted for graft, corruption, and nepotism. With his election as a delegate to Congress Burleigh was able to control all Federal patronage to the territory.
The railroad brought Dr. Burleigh to this area, as he was awarded the contract to grade the N.P. Railroad from 50 miles east of Bismarck to the River. Dr. Burleigh used his personal knowledge of where the railroad would cross the river, and established a town - Burleighton. The Railroad, disliking this use of inside info and because of the lowland flats - approximately a mile and a half to two miles south of present Bismarck - flooded each spring, ordered the rail line to be moved to the bluffs where it presently is and through what quickly became Bismarck. The railroad line was completed to Bismarck June 5, 1873.
Burleigh was a transportation hub. Until the railroad reached Montana, Bismarck was a primary port of call for river boats carrying cargo from St. Louis to Fort Benton, Mont. Bismarck became a center of long lines of stagecoaches and supply wagons in all directions.
From 1873 until 1875 Burleigh County rented the building it operated out of. In 1875, the Commission went to the people to obtain $20,000 to build a courthouse and jail. The original courthouse was built on the same location that the present courthouse occupies. The jail was erected with logs.
On July 25, 1931, a new courthouse, jail, and sheriff's quarters were dedicated. This new building replaced those built in 1875 at a cost of $300,000.
The 1st floor courthouse annex was built in the early 1960's with the 2nd & 3rd floors completed in 1984.
In 1992 the new detention center and parking ramp was completed (approx $4 million).
The Courthouse is an example of ART DECO architecture - simple, functional and enthusiastic. Other examples in of art deco architecture in Bismarck are the State Capitol Building (started 1934) and the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit (finished 1945).
The original design of the Courthouse was first planned with classic Greek columns, but midway through construction the design was changed to its present art deco. The building, like the capitol, is constructed of Indiana limestone. Aluminum spandrels emphasizing the windows and the stairway rail unite the interior and exterior.
Murals in the vestibules depicting state and local history are the work of local artist Cell Gannon; Minneapolis artists painted artwork in the rest of the building, also depicting history and wildlife of the state.
The entrance murals depict the history of Burleigh County from primeval prairie through the Pioneer period. Above the wainscoting on the first two floors the walls are covered with canvass on which have been placed paintings of birds and animals native to Burleigh County.
Courtroom 204 is the former County Commission meeting room. This room features murals depicting the Flora and Fauna of the state as well as domestic scenes.
Main Courtroom (301) is finished with ornamented plaster beams, fluted Gotticino marble plasters and door trim. The wainscot is of inlaid walnut and ebony as are the seats, the judge's bench, the jury box and the rail and tables. At the west end of the courtroom and over the judges' bench is a mural painting of justice, surrounded by the principals in a trial. Note that justice is a man -- in most depictions justice is a woman.
Over the years many visitors from across the county commented that this is the most beautiful courtroom they have ever seen.
Kevin J. Glatt
Former Burleigh County Auditor