The Missoula County Courthouse still turns heads after more than a century and despite the addition of a – shall we say – less classical annex in 1966.
Facing West Broadway in downtown Missoula, the three-story courthouse and grounds that surround it occupy a city block. Here more than a century of law, justice and license plates have been meted out.
The courthouse with its Neoclassical-style architecture is considered the crowning achievement of A.J. Gibson’s celebrated career, though it was a rocky process.
A letter in 1908 signed “Some Taxpayers” warned Gibson, a city councilman and friend of the county commissioners, that he would be tarred and feathered if he accepted the job. Gibson ignored the threat, though he retired in mid-construction.
The finished product matches any in Montana for its grace and grandeur, according to historian Allan Mathews.
It’s marked by fetching columns, an exterior of native sandstone blocks (rather than granite), and a clock tower with clocks on all four sides. The two-ton bell inside rings on the hour and half hour.
The 1910 courthouse replaced a wooden one constructed on the same block in 1871. Part of that original one was saved and remains as a private residence on Missoula’s Northside.
In 1914, an aging Edgar Paxson completed eight murals depicting early Montana history that hung high above the courthouse stairwell for most of the succeeding century.
The murals have been temporarily removed during a major courthouse reconstruction process and are on close-up display at the Missoula Art Museum, 335 N. Pattee St., through Sept. 6.
Get to Missoula’s iconic County Courthouse on all Mountain Line routes except 8.