Locals probably were startled and even irritated when the construction budget for the Macoupin County Courthouse in Carlinville, Illinois, swelled from $50,000 to $1.3 million by the time it was finished in 1870. That’s why the landmark has been called the “Million Dollar Courthouse,” for good or ill, ever since.
Imagine their reaction when, more than a century later, if they found out proper repairs to the aging structure would likely top $20 million.
A story in the Springfield State Journal-Register detailed how about $200,000 in local and state money was used in 2012 to fix a deteriorating north stairway. But repairs aren’t done — not by a long shot, Harry Starr, chairman of the building and grounds committee of the Macoupin County Board, told the newspaper.
A leaking built-in gutter system and roof have resulted in water running into the interior of the building. Pieces of the limestone exterior have fallen off. The building needs improved accessibility, heating and ventilation work and more storage for records, officials say. […]
The price tag to completely restore the 114-year-old building has been estimated as high as $20 million — money that isn’t available anywhere in a lump sum. […]
“We’ve got a laundry list of stuff that needs to be done,” he said. “Where do we go next? There’s not a lot of funding around at any level.
“In the absence of a big chunk of money, we’re going to have to do it slowly and over time.”
A lot of blame was spread around for the courthouse’s initial cost overruns, but investigators never got to the bottom of it. According to the Carlinville Chamber of Commerce:
Not only was the courthouse an exorbitant expense to the taxpayers, rumors of a scandal involving misused appropriations also tarnished the project. Initially, the blame was laid on Judge Thaddeus Loomis and George H. Holliday, county clerk. Judge Loomis was apparently innocent of any wrongdoing. (We may never know the truth about Mr. Holliday, however, because one night in 1870, he boarded a train out of town and simply disappeared.)
In spite of the controversy, the Macoupin County Courthouse has become a source of pride in the area. It’s been praised by the American Institute of Architects, and Starr called it “the heart and soul of the county.”
Starr also said he’s noticed an increase in the number of tourists and tours stopping in Carlinville to see the courthouse during Route 66 tours. That provides yet another motivation to properly keep up the landmark — so it’s “cleaned up and shiny” for visitors.
Carlinville was part of Route 66 from 1926 to 1934, when it piggybacked on Illinois Highway 4 from Springfield. Route 66 then was realigned to the east, until both the old and newer sections of the Mother Road join up again south of Staunton, Illinois.
(Image of the Macoupin County Courthouse by Matt Turner via Flickr)