As discussed, territory of Arizona established Gila County in February 1881. In the same year, the county of Gila chose to rent two adobe buildings located on the northeast intersection of Broad and Oak streets. The following year, the county purchased and razed the adobe buildings in order to make room for a much-needed courthouse and jail.
In 1888, the county built a square, two-story stone building with a hipped roof that served as the main courthouse and jail. Although the functional facility served its purpose well, officials found it difficult to outwardly expand the stone building as the city grew in size. City officials discussed adding a third floor to the facility instead, but the local government’s low budget prevented the project from proceeding.
The county’s growing status as a mining hub, however, meant that the authorities could not ignore the need forever. For example, the Southern Pacific Transportation Company completed the railroad line in Gila in 1898, and new copper-smelting technology caused the arrival of even more miners into the region. These changes made city management decide to construct a new courthouse (rather than remodel the old one).
In 1905, the city council designated $40,000 toward the development of a new courthouse and prison. The city government hired renowned architect W. R. Norton to design the new facility. Just as they had chosen to do 23 years prior, the city council elected to demolish the standing courthouse in order to make room for the new one. Construction workers retained the usable dacite rocks to help construct the new building.
Dedicated workers built the new courthouse between 1906 and 1907. The building stood three stories high, and much of its original frame remains intact today. Composed of various elements of classical style, the structure’s most prominent architectural influence is Italian Renaissance style. For example, the courthouse is a symmetrical building flanked with Italian Revival columns. Made primarily of the preserved dacite stone, the building also features metal frieze and cornice detailing along its windows and facade. The central portion of the building is four stories high, giving the edifice an imposing look. Inside the building, brick reinforces the walls, and the floors and ceiling feature pinewood construction.
Upon its completion in November 1907, the courthouse building housed the sheriff’s office, the justice court, and the county jail. This jail included 16 cells and bore a haunted, echoing atmosphere. The jail’s location on the lower level of the courthouse (along with the foreboding darkness of its cells) convinced many people that it housed paranormal activity.
In addition to the jail on the lower floor, the main floor included offices for the probate judge, county assessor, and recorder. The grand staircase, upper balconies, and central atrium gave the main floor a sweeping, upscale appearance. On the uppermost floor, the combination of the law library, judge’s chambers, and office of the district attorney completed the courthouse.
Over the course of the century, the municipal government continued to alter the courthouse to accommodate the changing Gila demographics. (For reference, the population of Gila County quintupled from 5,000 people in 1900 to 25,000 individuals by year 1920). City planners installed a steam-heating plant in the courthouse in 1910. They also made the infamous decision to build a freestanding jail building adjacent to the courthouse. A catwalk between the courthouse and the jail transported inmates to and from their scheduled hearings. The connected catwalk also led to the third floor of the jail cell (which housed the “dormitory of trustees”).
By late 1910, rumors about the haunted jail instilled fear into the residents of Globe. For example, inmate Kingsley Olds claimed to have seen two ghosts while imprisoned for murder in 1911. The day after his claim, the prison warden found him shot dead from a gunshot fired from the third-floor courthouse window (adjacent to his cell). Other prisoners claimed to see apparitions strolling the catwalk between the courthouse and jail. Legend has it that two prisoners jumped to their deaths after driven to madness upon seeing these ghosts. To this day, paranormal enthusiasts visit the jail cells, catwalk, and attic to experience a lively portion of Southwestern history.
Additional courthouse remodeling projects occurred in 1912 and 1916. During these years, the county established a Clerk of the Court on the upper floor and enlarged vaults and offices. The county reconfigured the main stairway in 1918 and converted the attic into two jury rooms in 1919. This attic conversion meant that the courthouse boasted four floors for the duration of its use.
For more than 75 years, this courthouse served as the administrative center of Gila. Its sophisticated appearance embodied the pride of a community transitioning from a rugged mining outpost into one of Arizona’s cultural mainstays. Completion of the Gila courthouse precipitated the construction of other architecturally refined buildings in the region.
Due to its architectural integrity and cultural significance, this county courthouse gained entry into the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1975. The building remained in official use until the completion of a larger, memorial courthouse complex in 1978. Located on the east side of Globe, the memorial courthouse opened in 1981 and remains in use to this day. The original courthouse became Cobre Valley Center for the Arts and also functions as a tourist center. As an important heritage site, the original courthouse has undergone continuous maintenance and rehabilitation from 1984 through the present.