Carlinville’s Million Dollar Courthouse

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The Million Dollar Courthouse is located in Carlinville, Illinois. Building on this beautiful courthouse began in 1869 and was completed in 1870. They built an architectural wonder, but it sunk the county 1.3 million in debt and would 40 years to pay it off.

Millondollar courthouse.
Andrea showing Allie and I around the courthouse.

My daughter Allie and I loved our tour that Andrea Duncan, a retired school teacher and local volunteer provided. This has long been on my list to tour. I am pleased to cover this during local tourism week. What a wonderful site to share showing such glorious history in my own backyard.

The Story

Million Dollar Courthouse
The outside of this imposing structure. Allie and I took a minute to pose!

This is the 3rd courthouse constructed in Macoupin County. The other two courthouses were outgrown because of the need for document storage. The second courthouse, two-story brick affair, is where Abraham Lincoln tried cases along with his later competitor Stephen Douglas.

The plan to build a 3rd courthouse was taken up by a four man commission. The courthouse architect was E.E. Meyer, who began the project in 1867. Elijah Meyers designed three state Capitals -Mississippi, Colorado and Texas.  The Carlinville Courthouse, dubbed Million Dollar Courthouse was one of his first commissions.  With the following scandal, luckily, it was not his last!

The Anti-Courthouse Movement

To build the courthouse, money was to be raised through taxes and bonds. There was to be a $50,000 cap. 

There was trouble from the very beginning. The public was kept in the dark. “From the beginning there was an anti-courthouse feeling.  There were no blue prints that the public could see.  They didn’t answer questions,” Andrea said.

Most astounding of all she recounted, is that once they started building the courthouse the public was shocked when they saw how large the foundation really was. The commissioners answer, rather than explain was to “build a wooden fence so they couldn’t see.”

The Courthouse Building

The fence remained until it was too late for the public to do anything about it. Progress kept going until the project was finally was halted in 1870 when the total cost hit $1.3 million. The top floor courtroom was never completed. Large statues on top of the Corinthian columns were also cut out of the plan.

Million Dollar Courthouse
The courtroom resembles a church it is amazingly beautiful.

However, the result of the build ended with the second largest courthouse in the U.S. Currently the largest one is in New York and Andrea said there is rumor that this courthouse is going to be torn down. If so then the Carlinville Courthouse may be the largest in the near future. 

The completed courthouse is quite tall standing 191 feet from the bottom to the top. It is built in the shape of a Swiss Cross.  The building inside is made mostly from cast iron and is considered the first fire proof building in the US. 

The outside of the courthouse is built of magnesium limestone quarried in Lemont, Illinois. Delivered by rail, and a spur, the rest of the journey was by wagon and a team of oxen.

The Carlinville Courthouse is recognized as the most magnificent courthouse in Illinois. The 2nd floor courtroom looks like a church and sports lovely pews, stained glass windows, a lovely dome and doors that are 21’ tall. There are many other features that make this courthouse a must see!

The Scandal

Much has been written about the courthouse scandal. I have an upcoming article in Senior News & Times which will outline much of what happened. Judge Thaddeus Loomis is thought to have skimmed funds and materials which may have been used to build the Loomis Hotel, a four-story building that still sits on the square in Carlinville.

Million Dollar Courthouse
Judge Loomis had this chair built for $1500. It looks more like a
throne than a chair for a judge.

George Holliday, was the County Clerk and Andrea said that he was seen one night catching a train in the middle of the night. “He just disappeared,” Andrea shared.

There is more to the story, but I don’t want to be a spoiler. The short and tall of it is that the Carlinville Courthouse aka Million Dollar Courthouse is a glorious building with a checkered past. The debt was catastrophic for many putting a huge damper on the celebration of the beauty of this magnificent building. The courthouse is open for tours!

Other Courthouse Stories

If you enjoyed reading this, check another Illinois courthouse story the Cahokia Courthouse story.

If you want some old Abe courthouse drama read about the first courthouse in Taylorville!

Another fun courthouse read is this one in Arkansas!

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