Courthouse Museum History

A book could easily be written about the history of Lake County’s historic courthouse.

While the historic two-story structure served as the courthouse from 1871 to 1968, it required a total of four elections to determine just where the county seat would be located.

Shortly after the County of Lake was created on May 20, 1861, an election was held to decide if Lakeport (then known as Forbestown) or Lower Lake (then known as Grantville) would serve as the county seat.

Lakeport won the election and a two story wooden courthouse was erected on the site of the present Courthouse Museum. This portion of a 40-acre parcel of land was owned and donated to the county by William Forbes.

Shortly after county government operations began, dissatisfaction with Lakeport as the county seat mounted, and a second election was called in April 1864.  This time Kelseyville (then known as Kelsey Creek), was added to the list; but Lakeport, again, was selected by the voters.

Despite two elections, the dissatisfaction continued during the next two years and finally a “third and final election” was set for September 1867, with only Lakeport and Lower Lake on the ballot.

The election of 1867 proved “hot” in more ways than one.  After the legislation calling the election was passed in 1866, the courthouse was destroyed by fire and all of the county’s records except for one book were lost. The first results showed Lakeport with 378 votes and Lower Lake with 365, but the figures were changed following a recount of the ballots and Lower Lake won with a margin of seven votes.

Two months later the county offices were moved to Lower Lake.  At the same time, a petition signed by 167 voters was filed with the Board of Supervisors charging that several persons not legally entitled to vote had cast ballots.

The petition was upheld and in May, 1870, election number four was held between Lakeport and Lower Lake.  Once more Lakeport proved victorious, this time by a margin of 479 to 404, and a great celebration that began with the firing of 75 rifle shots (representing the margin of difference in the voting) followed.

Early Courthouse

Early photo of the courthouse (middle right background), prior to 1895.

The two story courthouse building was completed in 1871 at a cost of $17,000.  In 1889, $50 was allocated by the Board of Supervisors for the purchase of trees and shrubbery, some of which still flourish today.

The small brick building that currently houses the Lake County Veteran’s Office was constructed at a cost of $2,000 in 1895.

Courthouse prior to 1906.
Courthouse and Veteran's Services building, prior to 1906. Note the "gumdrop" trees.

Courthouse, snow, 1907
1907. Note Civil War era canon, and new chimneys after 1906 earthquake.

The historic courthouse was used until 1968 when the new four-story courthouse replaced it.  The original plans were to raze the 1871 courthouse and construct a museum building on the site.  Much opposition was voiced regarding the leveling of this historic structure, and on October 28, 1970, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, the first courthouse in the state to be so designated.  There was also opposition to using the old building as a museum, and so the restoration question was placed on the June 6, 1972 ballot and won by a majority of 57% of votes cast.

Courthouse 1950's
The Courthouse in the 1950's. The vines are Boston ivy.

The restoration of the old courthouse was Lake County’s number one Bicentennial project, and the Bicentennial Committee received a Bicentennial plaque, one of 26 awarded to the counties of California, in commemoration of this project.

Courthouse during Lake County Centenial.
The Courthouse during the Lake County Centennial, 1978. Note the third set of chimneys and the restored roof peak.

In 1976 the Historic Courthouse qualified as a California Historical Landmark and was monumented January 29, 1978, the same year it was refurbished as you see it today at a cost of $490,000.


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