Michigan's County Courthouses
Publication Year: 2010
Published by: University of Michigan Press
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Courthouses are symbols. Physically they stand, but figuratively they speak. They embody the purposes for which they were created: law, order, justice, the American way, and the promise of a better tomorrow. Whatever their shape, station, or locale, the ideals are the same. Each is, in its own unique way, a gem of the people. ...
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Harrisville—Alcona County prides itself as first among Michigan’s eighty-three counties, at least alphabetically. “First of ‘83’” appears prominently in its county symbol, which adorns its county buildings in the form of large wooden signs. ...
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Munising —Alger County is home to some of North America’s oldest place-names. Some derive from the native Ojibwa, whereas others are literal French and English translations of the original Ojibwa name. Munising, the county seat, comes from Minis-sing, which means “place of the island.” ...
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Allegan—Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, Michigan’s expert on Native Americans, gave Allegan its name. Some claim it is a compound of parts of different indigenous words, but it has no real meaning of its own. Another interpretation is that it denotes the name of a tribe in the Allegheny Mountains. ...
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Alpena—The art deco courthouse of Alpena County is a milestone of a monolith. It was constructed in such a way that it is quite literally one piece of concrete. Its emergence in the dead of winter proved to the world that such construction could happen in a cold-weather climate. ...
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Bellaire—The vacating of an old courthouse usually marks the end of a county ever holding court there. The building will eventually either meet the wrecking ball or get converted for some other purpose, often as a historical museum. ...
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Standish—One of Michigan’s shortest used yet longest standing courthouses sought a place in the sand in Arenac County. The image is apt because Arenac’s very name means “sandy place.” It is the combination of “arena,” where gladiators fought in the sand, and the suffix “ac,” which means “place of.” ...
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L’Anse—Depending on what authority one consults, L’Anse is French for bay, arc, cove, or handle. It describes the location of L’Anse at the head of the Keweenaw Bay. Italian mapmaker Coronelli published a map in Paris in 1688 labeling today’s L’Anse as “Ance de Kenonan.” ...
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Hastings—Though Barry County and its seat bear the names of two prominent men who made names for themselves elsewhere, it forged an identity of its own over the years. William T. Barry was postmaster general under President Andrew Jackson, and Eurotas P. Hastings ...
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Bay City—Bay County throughout its history has shunned subservience as it sought ascendancy. From casting away the name Lower Saginaw for its county seat to erecting an eight-story art deco county building, action and aim coincide as upward they point. ...
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Beulah—Like a partygoer hopping from one social affair to the next, the Benzie County Courthouse has made many stops throughout its history. It is only fitting that one of its incarnations was a former recreation and entertainment center called “The Grand.” ...
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St. Joseph—The tug-of-war for the county seat of Berrien County pulled some communities apart, drew others together, and left another in the lurch with a courthouse that would serve various functions before preservationists prevailed upon the county to notice its historic value. ...
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Coldwater—Branch County’s new courthouse captures the essence of its predecessor, which succumbed to the tragedy of fire. A band of motivated and historically minded citizens worked to erect a new bell tower in memory of the old one, finally succeeding several years after the modern facility was completed. ...
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Marshall—A number of chief justices have made their mark on Calhoun County. The seat is named for U.S. Chief Justice John Marshall, a friend of an early settler. Three plaques in the entranceway of the impressive new courthouse in Battle Creek commemorate three Calhoun residents ...
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Cassopolis—Though the historic courthouse of Cass County now stands empty, a rich and venerable history fills the land that surrounds it: from a dramatic confrontation against raiding Kentucky slaveholders in 1847 to the discovery of the only diamond ever found in Michigan’s rough. ...
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Charlevoix—The county named for a peaceful Jesuit has had some turbulent times in its history. Pierre Francois-Xavier de Charlevoix was born in 1682 in northern France. At age sixteen he entered as a Jesuit novitiate, and after his studies he taught at a college in Quebec from 1705 until 1709. ...
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Cheboygan—There is an old joke purporting to explain the origin of Cheboygan’s name. A Native American chief who fathered many sons was anxious for a daughter. He emerged from a wigwam as his newborn babe cried for the first time and said to those present, “she boy again.” ...
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Sault Ste. Marie—The first European settlement in Michigan is Sault Ste. Marie, county seat of Chippewa County. French settlers chose the moniker in 1641 because the spot overlooked rapids (“sault” in French) and to honor the Virgin Mary. In 1750 King Louis XIV granted title to the area to Louis le Gardeur, ...
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Harrison—The early part of Clare County’s history had one prominent characteristic: lawlessness. From the arson of the county courthouse to the corrupt dealings of county officials, a future observer could not help but wonder how the Wild West got such a foothold in central Michigan. ...
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St. Johns—Evolving metamorphosis characterizes the elusive location and appearance of the many versions of Clinton County’s courthouse. But beneath the seemingly perpetual change was an abiding and permanent desire of the people to have a courthouse to call their own. Whatever its form, they always gave it the same name. ...
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Grayling —The history of Crawford County demonstrates that a river’s headwaters can be rough. Crawford’s Au Sable River flows from Grayling to Lake Huron, and the Manistee River heads the other way to Lake Michigan. The valley between these rivers has seen its ups and down. ...
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Escanaba—The Delta County Courthouse of today stands in stark contrast to the one it replaced in 1961. Its predecessor was valued at $20,000 when it was dedicated in 1882 at a time when the county had a population of 6,812. Today’s courthouse cost millions if one adds its original cost to renovation ...
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Iron Mountain—The proud home of sports figures Tom Izzo and Steve Marriuci is also home to a more-than-presentable courthouse. Dickinson County was the last of Michigan’s eighty-three counties to organize, which it did in 1891. ...
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Charlotte—Fire kissed the heels of the statue of the goddess clutching the scales of justice when the bell on Eaton County’s second courthouse struck its death knell. The damage was extensive, but the county repaired the courthouse and did not vacate it until 1976. ...
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Petoskey—The only constant for Emmet County is change. Originally part of Mackinac County, Lansing in 1840 carved out Tonedagana County. It was named in honor of an Ottawa chief who signed a number of treaties ceding parts of Michigan to the United States. ...
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Flint—There are two sides to the present Genesee County Courthouse: old and new, twentieth and twenty-first century, respectively. Such is the consequence of the decision to build a modern addition to the historic building and to meticulously restore the interior. The connection between past and present is by no means seamless, ...
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Gladwin—Major Henry Gladwin is the namesake of this county and its seat. He was the British military leader who held Fort Detroit during an uprising led by Chief Pontiac in 1763 to 1764. A large portrait of him by a local artist hangs in the courthouse. ...
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Bessemer—Farther west than St. Louis, Missouri, and wholly within the Central Time Zone, Gogebic County may qualify as the Wild West of Michigan. The most celebrated murder trial within the county reportedly was the last stagecoach robbery east of the Mississippi River. ...
Grand Traverse County
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Traverse City —The Grand Traverse Courthouse stands atop a hill where time literally and figuratively stood still. When the wrecking ball threatened, a confluence of dedicated people proved that the building could be saved cost effectively. ...
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Ithaca—Atop the many columns of the Gratiot County Courthouse, one might expect Ionic capitals. The Ionian Sea, after all, is home to the Greek island of Ithaca. But only the most ornate Corinthian capitals would do for this structure, where there is no shortage of structural and aesthetic columns to top. ...
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Hillsdale—Hillsdale County’s second courthouse was muse to one of Michigan’s poet laureates. Before his career blossomed he attended proceedings inside the building the community called the Old Stone Pile. ...
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Houghton—There is no mistaking the polychromatic Victorian building atop the hill overlooking the Keweenaw Canal. It is the Houghton County Courthouse. Its opulent style is witness to the copper boom that happened in the area in the late nineteenth century. ...
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Bad Axe—Perhaps no other county in Michigan has a more unique and memorable name for its county seat. Bad Axe proved a good place to be when the county suffered a great fire in 1881. The new brick courthouse sheltered about four hundred people from the flames, giving the idea of finding refuge ...
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Mason—The courthouse in Mason is the forgotten sister of Ingham County, which is home to the State Capitol Building in Lansing. Being in the shadow of Lansing gives Mason a unique distinction, however. In no other state in the Union is the capital city not also the county seat. ...
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Ionia—Lady Justice stands atop the Ionia County Courthouse looking down over her people 120 feet below. Originally, her skin was painted white, her tunic gray, and her tiara, sword, and scales were covered in gold leaf. Alas, her gilded accoutrements lost their luster and were not refinished in the latest round of restoration. ...
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Tawas City—The original name of Iosco County, Kanotin, means “in the path of the big wind.” It derives from a Native American legend about an upset great spirit blowing through the land and uprooting trees. That same wind may have been unleashed when a small boat from Iosco carried, ...
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Crystal Falls—Any lawyer worth his or her salt will tell you that larceny is a crime against someone’s personal property, not real property. But many an inhabitant of nearby Iron River will contend that Iron County’s magnificent courthouse in Crystal Falls was stolen. ...
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Mt. Pleasant—The tribal heritage of Isabella County is apparent in its everyday business and in its primary symbol: the county seal. The seal depicts a bearded man shaking hands with a figure wearing two feathers in his hair. The oil derrick and shafts of wheat recall two important local industries. ...
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Jackson—Some notable protracted litigation in Michigan’s history finds its origins in Jackson County. Named for President Andrew Jackson, this county was organized on August 1, 1832, and attached judicially to its neighbor to the east, Washtenaw County. ...
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Kalamazoo—On the banks of a boiling river, Kalamazoo County was founded. As with any steaming teacup, there is a saucer that has both a cooling and a calming effect. The courthouses of Kalamazoo County are that saucer, points of stability for a land with a name suggesting quite the opposite. ...
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Kalkaska—Depending on one’s source, the land of Kalkaska is either fertile or fallow. Literal translation of its name means “table land” or “burned over land.” On the other hand, the county has succeeded in its own right, even in gaining the designation in 1990 of Kalkaska soil, which is located ...
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Grand Rapids —The county that is home to Michigan’s second largest city also boasts perhaps its most user-friendly modern courthouse. Television screens akin to those in an airport give the public updates on matters before the court. Citizens facing often stressful experiences as witnesses, litigants, criminal defendants, ...
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Eagle River—Keweenaw has yet to outgrow its simple and elegant wooden courthouse overlooking Lake Superior. Since the creation of the county in 1861, which is named for a native word meaning “place of portage,” the total population reached its peak of 7,156 in the Census of 1910. ...
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Baldwin—A bloody fight and a devastating fire are two epic events that forever mark the Lake County Courthouse. It stands prominently along the right of way, looking southward down the center of the commercial strip where traveling tourists and rooted residents gather. ...
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Lapeer—Lapeer prides itself on having Michigan’s oldest county courthouse still in use at the county seat and one of the ten oldest such buildings in America. Its counterpart in Berrien is older and is still used, but it is not in the county seat. ...
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Leland /Suttons Bay —As the tip of Michigan’s little finger, Leelanau County unlike most others is defined geographically by the natural boundaries of Lake Michigan. The thirty-five mile peninsula boasts over one hundred miles of coastline and the forty-fifth parallel, ...
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Adrian —There is hardly a spot in Lenawee County one cannot see from the tower atop its historic courthouse. Capping the 132-foot tower is a 21-foot pole prominently displaying the American flag all day and night. ...
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Howell—Though only rarely still used for court functions, the 1890 court in the heart of Howell is a symbol of law and order for Livingston County. Its tower rises above town and is painted on signs throughout the county’s West Complex a few miles down Grand River where circuit court presently resides. ...
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Newberry —Concerned citizens stepped in when Luce County threatened in 1974 to tear down its two historic landmarks: the courthouse and the sheriff ’s residence and jail. They formed into the Luce County Historical Society and turned the latter structure into a museum, which has operated since 1975. ...
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St. Ignace—Mackinac County’s art deco courthouse of 1936 inherited a rich tradition. The story begins with the name of the county. The French changed the original Native American word “Mishinnimakinong” to “Michilimackinac”—which was later shortened to Mackinac. ...
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Mt. Clemens—High atop the Clinton River on parcels of choice land stand the triad of buildings that are the seat of the government of Macomb County. Their predecessors stood upon the same land, selected by and named for Christian Clemens, an early settler. ...
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Manistee—The predecessor to Manistee County’s current courthouse must have been much beloved, for its cornerstone was saved after a ruinous fire and permanently affixed to the lobby of the new building. Even more telling, when the sheriff rushed in during the fire to release the eight prisoners, ...
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Marquette—Hollywood came to the Marquette County Courthouse in 1959. Director Otto Preminger captivated the area with an all-star cast—Jimmy Stewart, Ben Gazzara, George C. Scott, and Lee Remick—to film scenes for Anatomy of a Murder. The film was later nominated for the Oscar ...
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Ludington—The boy governor who led Michigan against Ohio in the Toledo War would probably approve of the red brick courthouse in the county named for him. It is formidable, perhaps even fortlike at first blush. From it, Mason could have defended any Buckeye incursion, though it is doubtful ...
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Big Rapids—The mighty Muskegon River is the lifeblood of Mecosta County. It carried the first wave of settlers in the 1850s. In the coming decades it brought with it the lumbering industry. The lumbermen named the county seat Big Rapids for its location near the largest of the many rapids on the river. ...
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Menominee—Some call the cupola atop the Menominee Courthouse and the spire of the nearby Holy Spirit Church the “gateway to northern Michigan.” The cupola is certainly hard to miss, presiding over the Michigan side of the Menominee River since the building was completed ...
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Midland—At the confluence of the Chippewa and Tittabawassee Rivers, many a fine thing bubbles up from the bygone-era brine below Midland County. Among them is the distinctively designed Midland County Courthouse. ...
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Lake City—What turns from a foul mouth to a muskrat? The answer is the county seat of Missaukee County, if one employs playful manipulation of location names in deciphering the riddle. ...
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Monroe—Michigan’s second oldest county has its share of humorous and dramatic stories connected to its courthouse, from early examples of street justice to a recent unsolved arson within the building. ...
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Stanton—Most counties in Michigan by their names honor homegrown figures, be they Native American or Anglo-Saxon in origin. Montcalm County instead commemorates a French figure who died defending French interests in the French and Indian War. ...
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Atlanta—The ravage of fire has on more than one occasion fallen upon Montmorency County. It dodged the promethean scourge once in 1942 when records were hastily removed from the burning courthouse only to see virtually all of them lost the following April when the temporary facilities burned down. ...
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Muskegon—A black-and-white photograph captures the sight of the able-bodied of Muskegon evacuating furniture, documents, and other things from its burning courthouse in 1891. Amid the fuzzy moving figures and apparent garage sale scene on the courthouse lawn is a stoic statue of a Native American chief, ...
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White Cloud—Newaygo County has no shortage of accounts of the origin of its name or of notable murder stories over its history. That history began with its formal organization in 1851. Earlier, it was part of Kent County. ...
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Pontiac—There is a land of oaks, landlocked yet dotted with lakes. The narrow trail from Detroit to Saginaw that first took root here began an exponential growth that is reflected on a smaller scale in the march of Oakland County’s courthouse: from a modest windswept wooden frame to a sprawling modern complex, ...
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Hart—The former Oceana County Courthouse left a hole in the community, literally. The new courthouse was constructed around it so that the county could operate seamlessly through the transition. It was then razed and in its footprint remains a courtyard surrounded by the successor. ...
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West Branch—The ubiquity of the image of Chief Ogemaw in the county named for him suggests a deep and abiding respect and love for him as a figure. A casual walk through the Ogemaw County courthouse unmistakably reveals the great presence of his memory. ...
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Ontonagon—One truly must intend to go to Ontonagon, for it is not exactly on the road to anyplace. Situated in the northwest corner of the Upper Peninsula on the south shore of Lake Superior, it stands in relative isolation, a fact not lost on its 10,000 or so inhabitants. ...
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Reed City—The footing for Osceola County’s courthouse has been less than sure at times. Politically, there have been numerous efforts both successful and unsuccessful to move the county seat. Physically, there was an actual move after a relocation vote carried, a partial accidental collapse of the courthouse, ...
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Mio—Judging by its architecture and the oversized sculpture on its lawn, the Oscoda County Courthouse of 1888 almost looks like a birdhouse. The bird of choice for Oscoda is Kirtland’s warbler, a small and endangered yellow-breasted songbird that only nests in northeastern Michigan. ...
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Gaylord —The courthouse of Otsego County looks much like a Swiss chalet with its peaked roofs, stucco brick, heavy timber, and other architectural characteristics. The effect is intended by this self-described Alpine town. ...
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Grand Haven—Ottawa County welcomed its new courthouse in 1894 with a wedding on its steps. Decades later, the building’s tower stubbornly resisted demolition, snapping at least two cables that attempted to pull it down and proving that a tie that binds is difficult to disturb. ...
Presque Isle County
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Rogers City—“Almost an island” may be the literal translation of Presque Isle, but the name may as well be synonymous with struggle. Standing in relative isolation on the shore of Lake Huron in the northeastern tip of the Lower Peninsula, conflicts with the elements and between political factions ...
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Roscommon—Depending wherefrom one looks, the Roscommon County Courthouse presents many faces. The bulk of the exterior is a light-colored brick. But the front entrance is a dark and shiny polished stone. Elsewhere the front of the building is lined with variously sized and shaded masonry work ...
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Saginaw —Colorful characters abound in the history of the courts of Saginaw County. From the accused and convicted to the judge and juror, these individuals enliven the story of the courthouses of Saginaw. ...
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Sandusky—A number of symbols on the county flag tell part of the story of Sanilac County. Approved in 1984, the design features a golden background with blue figures depicting the Port Sanilac lighthouse, wheat, a cow, a hunter, a fish, and a boater. ...
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Manistique—Were it not for a typo, the county seat of Schoolcraft County would be Monistique. Founders intended to name the city after the Monistique River, whose name is from Onamanitikong, a native word for vermilion. ...
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Corunna —Shiawassee County, or at least the architect of its courthouse, has a penchant for Corinthian columns, the most ornate of the ones then available. Apart from the four massive pillars dominating the front entrance, there are smaller counterparts in the tower, on the doors themselves, in plasterwork, ...
St. Clair County
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Port Huron—If, as some philosophers believe, one can never step into the same river twice, one wonders if it is possible to hear the same bell ring more than once. In Port Huron, there is a spot where these abstract questions are in plain view. ...
St. Joseph County
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Centrevill e—While a number of Michigan counties had their records held ransom by warring sides in the context of county seat disputes, St. Joseph stands alone as the victim of a criminal record heist for ransom. The county paid, had its damaged records unearthed from the ground for return, ...
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Caro—If local lore is accurate, there was a time that all of Tuscola County’s records could fit along with two men in a canoe. It happened in 1866, after voters approved the move of the county seat from Vassar to Centreville, which later changed its name to Caro. ...
Van Buren County
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Paw Paw —A bas-relief likeness of Martin Van Buren looks out from above an entrance to the courthouse in the county named for him. He gazes across the street to the park where four posts mark the contours of his building’s predecessor, which was vacated and moved onto Main Street. ...
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Ann Arbor—In an arbor in a far-off land stands a court whose contours its predecessor shaped while making way for parking, a perennial problem in this now-congested county seat. Washtenaw’s name derives from Washtenong, the native name for the Grand River. Apart from grand, some believe that the word means “land beyond.” ...
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Detroit—Michigan’s oldest and most populous county lays important claim to Michigan’s past, present, and future trajectory. One might rightly consider it, now and then, Michigan’s capital county. Inexorably, it had, has, and will have an important hand in the development of Michigan. ...
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Cadillac —The Battle of Sherman had little to do with the Civil War or the general by that name, though the town was named for him. The battle instead had everything to do with where Wexford County would have its county seat and build its courthouse. The political maneuvering and eventual physical confrontation ...
The Michigan Supreme Court
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Lansing—It is altogether fitting and proper that the journey should end at the Michigan Hall of Justice, where Michigan’s court of last resort is anchored. The Michigan Supreme Court is the lodestar in the firmament containing the other courts described herein. It binds all these courts together jurisprudentially ...
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List of County Courthouses
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List of County Web Sites
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Page Count: 216
Illustrations: 248 B&W photos
Publication Year: 2010