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The Day the Courthouse Burned

Jan 16, 2012

Courthouses are second only to churches as the most important buildings in 66 South Dakota cities. That's where we go for marriage licenses and birth certificates. It's where we register to vote, and for the draft. It's where we pay our taxes and buy our license plates and complain to the county commission.

Most of our courthouses are built of stone and brick, and some may outlast the coliseum in Rome. But a few were built of wood and they are more susceptible to the whims of man and nature.

The citizens of Corson County are still saddened by the events of April 1, 2006 when their old, wood-frame courthouse in McIntosh erupted in flames shortly after midnight. Firemen from McIntosh, McLaughlin, Isabel and Lemmon rushed to help, but the dry old building burned like straw. By morning, the county's five vaults were standing solidly amidst the smoking, smoldering rubble.

Contents in the vaults were soggy and sooty, but intact. Everything else was lost.

Karl Brooks, a Corson County native now living in West Virginia, sent us the Corson News Messenger that was published a few days later. He also sent the June 8 issue which announced the arrest of Dwight "Trey" Crigger, a drifter from Texas who came to South Dakota with a combine crew and was hired by the county weed board.

Crigger, 25, a member of the McIntosh fire department, was also charged with an earlier fire at the county shop. "If Crigger started the fire," wrote the editor, "some of his actions are puzzling. He had worked hard on restoring the pickup used for spraying the by the weed and pest board. It was parked in the shed that burned and destroyed. Maps he had prepared showing noxious weed locations were burned in the courthouse fire."

The young man confessed to the crime and was sentenced to 15 years in the state penitentiary, and assessed $1.1 million in damages. He never explained why he torched his adopted town's beloved and historic courthouse.


08:03 am - Tue, January 17 2012
John Andrews said:
How many wooden courthouses still stand in South Dakota?
08:56 am - Tue, January 17 2012
Bernie Hunhoff said:
Good question. Gann Valley had a nice one ... it looked a lot like the one in McIntosh, but they tore it down a few years ago after it had sat empty for quite a few years. Seems to me that the courthouse in Buffalo was wood?

Most cities built the courthouse of brick so the neighboring town couldn't burn it down and start another fight over where to locate the courthouse. And you think politics are tough these days.
09:09 pm - Thu, February 2 2012
Roy Sargent said:
Bennett County burned theirs down on purpose in the late 60s or early 70s, I believe. They outgrew the wooden two-story building and were prepared to build a larger single-story building on the same spot. I was pretty young, but I think they decided to save the demolition costs. Many people came to watch what was a huge fire. My little brother and I were pretty excited. There was a monument to war dead made of cast concrete (I believe) with a quartz covering in one corner of the courthouse yard, and it's either in the same place or very near where it was previously.

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