Morgan County’s 1921 jail and 1936 courthouse in Fort Morgan replaced the county’s original facilities after the county had outgrown them. The courthouse was funded by the Public Works Administration (PWA) and designed by the modernist Colorado architect Eugene Groves. In 1988 both facilities were replaced by a new judicial complex and converted into county offices.
In 1889 Morgan County was split off from Weld County, with Fort Morgan chosen as the county seat. The county built a jail in Fort Morgan in 1898, with a courthouse following in 1907. As the county grew in the 1910s, its original facilities soon proved inadequate. The jail was too small and insecure, and the courthouse could no longer provide proper storage for public records.
In the 1920s the county took action. It hired the Boulder architectural firm Redding & Son, best known for its work on the Hotel Boulderado (1907), to design a new jail and sheriff’s office. The firm delivered a one-story Craftsman-style building that blended in with the bungalow residences near the jail at the southwest corner of Ensign Street and Kiowa Avenue. The sheriff’s office and dispatch office were at the front of the building, with jail cells for men at the rear. The raised basement held the jailer’s office as well as cells for women and juveniles.
The county also remodeled the existing courthouse in the 1920s, but the building still needed more space. County commissioners considered an expansion, but their desire for a modern, fireproof building caused them to settle on a new structure. In 1935 the county applied for a PWA grant to help cover the cost of the building and hired Eugene Groves, a Denver-based architect known for his use of concrete, to design it.
The courthouse was completed in 1936 at a cost of $100,000. Located next to the jail, the two-story building had a simple modern design (sometimes called “PWA Moderne”) similar to other Depression-era government structures. Groves included some Art Deco ornamentation and terra-cotta detailing, but overall the courthouse’s symmetrical facade and buff-colored brick exterior conveyed a sense of austerity and dignity. The building had offices on the first floor and courtrooms and judges’ chambers on the second floor. The first-floor hall had memorial plaques honoring local war veterans.
In the 1980s a federal mandate to improve jail conditions led to the construction of a new county judicial complex in Fort Morgan. The courthouse and jail were combined in one large building, which opened on the east side of town in 1988. The old jail became home to the Morgan County Economic Development Corporation for several years and now houses the county commissioners as well as the purchasing department.
The former courthouse was renamed the Morgan County Administration Building. It received a few updates, including new windows and a remodeled interior (primarily converting second-floor courtrooms to offices) before becoming home to many county administrative functions. Today the building houses the county clerk, assessor, and treasurer as well as the county’s accounting, human resources, information systems, and planning and zoning departments.