This map shows the original boundaries of Wasco County.

A brief history of the 1859 Wasco County Courthouse
The Dalles, Oregon

In 1854 The Dalles was designated by the Territorial Legislature as the county seat of one of the largest counties ever formed in the United States. Wasco County extended from the crest of the Cascade Mountains to the Great Divide in the Rockies and encompassed 130,000 square miles. The Dalles was the only community within that area that was on the maps at that time.

Oregon became a state on February 14, 1859. The east boundary of Wasco County became the current state line -- still a large county. Over the years 17 counties were formed from the 1859 tract.

The Dalles was a residential community of about 600 people in 1859. Up to that time, local saloons were commandeered for court proceedings and Fort Dalles provided jail space for the town in the guardhouse. To ease pressure, a bond was voted in the amount of $2,500 to erect a courthouse that would have jail space, the sheriff's office, and a court room on the second level which would also provide a meeting space for the community.

The first Wasco County judge,
Orlando Humason

Built in 1858-59
Construction was begun in 1958, under the supervision of Judge Orlando Humason, who was the first county judge and also the chairman of the Board of Commissioners. Humason is known as the "Father of Wasco County." A member of the territorial legislature, he drafted the legislation for the creation of Wasco County. He was also a local merchant, road builder, entrepreneur, city official, soldier, attorney, husband, and father. He served as Wasco County Judge from 1858 to 1860.

When construction was finished, the officials inspected the building and promptly refused to accept it until the contractor had "put on the hardware." Evidently the doors were there, but did not lock!

Photo of the first Wasco County Courthouse

The building was located in The Dalles, Oregon, at 3rd and Court Streets, facing east. It was flush with the wooden walk and the only access to the upstairs courtroom was to exit the downstairs, climb the steps, and enter the upper door, then on the north side of the building. What is now the porch represents the sidewalk, but after a short time a cover was built over the sidewalk so that getting prisoners upstairs could be done without complete exposure to the elements.

This courthouse in The Dalles was once the the seat of government for Wasco County, which was once one of the largest counties ever formed in the United States .Wasco County, organized in 1854, covered 130,000 square miles from the crest of the Cascades to the continental divide in Rockies, encompassing an area that extended into what are now Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, and included all of Eastern Oregon, part of present Yellowstone National Park, and the west slope of South Pass by which emigrants crossed the Rockies. Between 1843 and 1846 The Dalles was the end of the overland Oregon Trail. For a number of years, The Dalles was the only inhabited place in this 130,00 square mile domain important enouth to appear on the maps of that era.

Community meeting place
This small courthouse was used as a public meeting place, church services, as well as the seat of law for the county.

The jail door was solid, but not enough to keep prisoners behind bars. Prisoners sometimes kicked their way through the walls.

The First Congregational Church of Dalles City, which first came into being in 1859, held their first church services in the courtroom, under the ministry of Rev. William A. Tenney. Rev. Tenney and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. E. S. Joselyn of White Salmon, Washington, Mr. and Mrs. Z. Donnell, E. S. Penfield, and W. D. Stillwell were charter members of the original church.  These eight people gathered together in an upstairs room of the courthouse. The prisoners in the jail cells below would join in singing hymns, although their lyrics were bawdy adaptations more suited to saloons than solemn church services. The church's second pastor, Reverend Thomas Condon, an avid geologist, established national and international recognition of the significance of the John Day Fossil Beds, went on to become the state's first geologist.

In 1859, when Oregon became a state, Wasco County was reduced to the area from the Idaho border to the crest of the Cascade Mountains. The territory was further divided into 17 other Oregon counties.

The Second Wasco County Courthouse

Wasco County built a new, larger brick courthouse in 1882. The second courthouse was built at 3rd and Union and still stands today. The building has been a long-time meeting place for the Masonic Lodge, and for years housed a funeral parlour. The 2nd courthouse building is currently being remodeled into a brew-pub.

With the construction of the second courthouse, the original courthouse was used as City Hall until 1909, when the present City Hall was built. Temporarily, the original courthouse building was moved to the site of the Elks Temple (3rd and Court) and business was conducted there until the new building was completed. Matt Schoren then bought the building and moved it east on 3rd street next to his blacksmith shop. He added on to it and used it as an apartment house where it stood for the next 52 years.

Brady's Grocery Store across the street, where The Dalles Chronicle now sits, needed parking in 1961, which put the little building in jeopardy once again. A group of citizens insisted that the building be saved and moved it to city property near the Lewis and Clark monument on West 2nd Street. There it languised until the city declared it a nuisance and proposed to destroy it.

City Council voted to have the bulldozer there on a certain date. One of the leaders in the effort to save the courthouse was Alf Wernmark, a shoemaker who had come to The Dalles from Denmark as a child. He had a brother who became a state senator, but Alf made his mark on local history. He stood in front of the bulldozer and simply out-waited it.

The group made a deal with the Council: a preservation committee would be formed. They would have a limited amount of time to find a new location and move the building, and another limited time to have the building fully restored and ready for public visits. They would fund the project themselves. If they defaulted, either on the time commitment or the quality of the restoration, the city would reclaim the building and restore it.

Current Wasco County Courthouse, located on 5th & Washington

Among the original incorporators were Wernmark, Lewis Nichols, Christine Keith, and Roman Bertrand. Others instrumental in the early work of saving and restoring the building were Jim Ellett, Ed McKune, Don Williams, Jean krier, and many others. The Dalles Area Chamber of Commerce granted a 20 year lease for the lot to the west of the Chamber building. Soon $30,000 was raised. Al Staeli, a restoration architect from Portland, was engaged. Volunteers helped with construction and fundraising. In 1976 the building was completed and dedicated and placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The following years saw others contribute to the building and the history programs it would house. Paul Kuiper was hired through a federal program and created a number of slide-tape programs with the help of historians Fritz Cramer and Jim Weeks. History Forum programs began in 1980 and have become a mid-winter tradition. Tapes of the lectures have been saved, as have oral history tapes collected by Marilyn Eriksen and others.

Bill Martin ran a bingo game at the Elks' Club that helped pay off a construction loan and put the operation on a solid financial footing. Walt Ericksen took over the bingo from 1984 to 1992, moving it to Vogt Hall and raising an endowment that underwrites the continued operation of the courthouse.

When the 20-year lease with the Chamber ran out, proposed terms for a new lease were too costly for the budget. At that time, the winter of 1996, Mill Creek flooded the old site, demolishing boardwalks and filling the crawl space with silt. A 50-year lease was negotiated with Wasco County for the present lot on West 2nd Place, a higher and dryer location. It cost $37,000 to complete the relocation -- more than the original restoration. Eric Gleason and friends preserved and restored the old shet/root cellar/ wash house that was on the property.

The courthouse has been moved several times until coming to rest at its present location, on the street directly behind The Dalles Area Chamber of Commerce building. The building has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Original Wasco County Courthouse is listed on the National Register of
Historic Places
Click for larger image

In October, 1975, the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors voted to provide a site for the Courthouse on Chamber property. Thus did the roving Original Courthouse find a permanent home at last. Ellett Construction Company moved the building, voluteers built a foundation, a labor grant provided workers, and the community supported with donations. On July 4, 1977, Senator Mark Hatfield and other dignitaries dedicated the restored Original Courthouse at an official ceremony. The same year it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Because the preservation of the building has been such a well-supported community project, it has always been available without admission. A donation is requested in-lieu of rent for private use of the facilities.

--text taken from material issued by the Original Courthouse, including information written by Marilyn Ericksen and Karl Vercouteren


--Wm. McNeal, "History of Wasco County"

1st Courthouse

     Few towns in the U.S. can boast of having 3 court house buildings still in existence. The old wooden city hall was formerly the first courthouse in Wasco county, erected in 1858 to serve an area of 130,000 square miles, the largest county ever to exist in the U.S! The contract for the erection of the old wooden courthouse at 3rd and Court streets (Court being named for the courthouse) was let in 1858 and construction completed the next year. The contractor was W.C. Wallace and most of the lumber came from the J.H. Mosier mill at Mosier, being floated to The Dalles on river scows or flatboats by Mr. Mosier although some of the lumber came from the Cascade mill at Cascade Locks. The framing was hewed out by broad-ax and all the materials were worked by hand, including the shingles. J.M. Marden made the doors and windows. The Dalles was known as Wascopam then and its population in 1858 was 600. Orlando Humason, Father of Wasco County, occupied the county judge's office and supervised the erection of the first courthouse. Joseph G. Wilson was district judge from 1861 to 1870; L.L. McArthur to 1882.

From 1854 to 1859 there was no courthouse in Wasco county nor any jail. This small frame structure was the first courthouse between the summit of the Cascades and the summit of the Rookies. It provided for an office for the sheriff on the first floor, with a jail at the rear and the courtroom upstairs. The county clerk's office was next door. The cost was not to exceed $2500. The court room was used as a town meeting hall for religious, political and civic bodies to meet in. Inmates of the jail on the first floor soon filled the walls of the building with millions of bed-bugs, lice and other vermin until the presence of the crawling creatures on the fine "Sunday go-to-meeting clothes" of the ladies made it an objectionable place for public gatherings on warm days and hastened the erection of early Dalles churches. The Camera Club picture of the first courthouse and that of the Pioneers' Association was taken by Julius Valarde.

2nd Courthouse

When Wasco County built its second courthouse at 3rd and Union in 1883 at a cost of $23,000, the first wooden courthouse was used as Dalles City hall and jail until 1909 when the present city hall was erected. During the city hall construction period the old courthouse was moved to a vacant lot next to the Elk's Club and used as a city hall in that location. After the completion of the new city hall the old courthouse was moved to 320 E. 3rd where Matt Schoren, its new owner, remodeled it into a dwelling and later into a lodging house as it appears today.

The 1883 courthouse, a fine brick structure costing $23,000 was built by N.J. Blagen as a 2-story structure with county offices on the first floor, jail in the rear and a large court room on the second floor. It had a full basement and was heated by warm air wood-burning furnace. The belfry contained the "town clock" which tolled off the hours for the sleepy village. The brick came from the J.H. Blakeney brickyard, out on Brickyard road next to the Odd Fellows cemetery. The large drying kilns of the Blakeney brickyard made most of the brick for the permanent brick structures of that period that we see in The Dalles today. There were other smaller brickyards "up on the bluff" but this was the largest brick manufacturing establishment in The Dalles.

Third Courthouse

3rd Courthouse

     The growth in population, expansion of county business and cheapness of good materials prompted the acquiring of the old Baptist church property at 5th & Washington for $8000 to erect a new, bigger and better courthouse on. C.J. Crandall, husband of Lulu D. Crandall early Dalles historian, was the architect. He and Louis Scholl were s the best two architects in the city's history as the monuments they left to their memory will testify to. A.E. Lake was county judge and he established a sinking fund for the new courthouse which was erected in 1914 at a cost of $159,000 at a fraction of its replacement value today. Its Corinthian architecture design with granite foundation, beautiful white brick, broad picture windows, marble halls and fine furniture have withstood 38 years, of use and weather and is still one of the most beautiful buildings in the Pacific northwest. County business has long since outgrown the building but taxpayers refused to approve an office annex before World War 2 when costs were reasonable and so today about ½ of Wasco county business is transacted in privately owned rented quarters.


     Wasco county was organized by an act of the territorial 1egislature in 1854 and included everything in the Territory of Oregon between the summit of the Cascades on the west and the summit of the Rookies on the east from the California border on the south to the Columbia river on the north embracing some 130,000 square miles and was the largest county in the U.S. between 1854 and 1869! Cascade Locks, Mt. Hood, Crater Lake, Klamath Falls, all of southern Idaho to Rock Springs, Wyo., north to Yellowstone Park (which was in Wasco county) and to and including Butte, Mont. west and including Grangeville, Idaho, just south of Walla Walla and Wallula to the Columbia river and back down the Columbia to the Cascades was all in Wasco County!

Wasco county was taken off of Clackamas and Champoeg counties. We once thought Clackamas was larger than Wasco at the time Clackamas county extended to the Canadian boundary and included nearly all of Washington; northern Idaho and a part of Montana from Butte north, but Wasco county was ¼ larger; and even when it ran on up to the imaginary 54-40 or fight parallel in Canada, which was never recognized by treaty, it was never any larger than Wasco county.

Feb, l4, 1859 Oregon became a state and Wasco county lost Idaho, Wyoming and Montana.

In 1862 Baker and Umatilla counties was cut off Wasco. Grant was taken off in 1864; then Union and Lake in 1874; Crook and Klamath in 1882; Morrow and Gilliam in 1885; Malheur in l887; Harney in 1888; Sherman in 1891; Wheeler in 1809; Hood River in 1908; Deschutes and Jefferson in 1916 until now it contains only 2387 square miles. Had the proposal to take Nesmith county off Wasco in 1906 materialized, and Antelope made the county seat we would have lost all the territory south of the Deschutes river 1188 square miles and would have been reduced to 1199 square miles. We always count the 500 square miles of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation as a part of Wasco county too.

--text, errors and all, from William McNeal's "History of Wasco County"


The Original Wasco County Courthouse
410 West Second Place (behind The Dalles Area Chamber of Commerce Visitor's Center)
The Dalles, Oregon 97058
Phone: (541) 296-4798