Lovelock loves its round courthouse

Lovelock loves its round courthouse

Lovelock loves its round courthouse

Frederic Delongchamps (1862-1969) graduated from the school of hard knocks. After he earned a degree in mining engineering from UNR, Delongchamps helped develop a mine in Inyo County, Calif.

But mineral dust weakened his lungs. Each breath burned and stung. Delongchamps needed a change, doctor’s orders. He’d always dreamed of designing buildings. However, an obstacle stood in his way.

No architectural school made its home in Nevada. How could he gain credibility?

But, a strong foundation bore the weight of Delongchamp’s dreams. A natural disaster did the rest. And Pershing County got its crown jewel.

Delongchamps learned carpentry from his father, Felix. He may have also learned adaptability. Felix Delonghamps emigrated twice in his life – first, from France to Quebec and then, in 1869, to Nevada, with Frederic’s mother. Felix cut timber for a living.

On April 18, 1906, a magnitude 8.25 earthquake destroyed the city of San Francisco. Fires raged for three days afterward. Between 450-700 people died. Two hundred thousand lost their homes.

Frederic Delongchamps found his architecture school. He traveled to San Francisco and apprenticed to an established architect. They and their colleagues rebuilt the city from scratch. Delongchamps learned on the job.

Delongchamps returned to Reno in 1907 and set up his office. He’d found his life’s calling.

Meanwhile, WWI wound down. Soldiers crawled out of the trenches to find their way back home. If they returned to Winnemucca, they found a gaping hole where the courthouse once stood. The Humboldt County Courthouse burned down on July 20, 1918.

Courthouses mattered. They symbolized permanence and stability. A building at the heart of town could turn a flash-in-the-pan into a county seat. Winnemucca would rebuild.

Lovelock grumbled. As part of Humboldt County, they’d have to help pay for a structure far from their farms and ranches.

Soon the grumbling turned to action- and got results. In 1919, the Nevada State legislature sliced off a chunk off Humboldt County to create Pershing County. Now Lovelock needed a courthouse.

But times were tough.

Nevada journalist David Toll described the town.

“Lovelock incorporated as a city in 1917, but two years later it was so broke that laid off the night jailer,” he said. “They had the city’s Teamster sleep in the jail, cut the Police Chief’s salary in half to $25 a month and turned off the streetlights on bright moonlit nights.”

But the county that named itself after General “Blackjack” Pershing strode forward. They rejected one architect’s plan as too dull. Finally, officials approached Delongchamps and asked for an inexpensive but distinctive design.

Meanwhile, Winnemucca dug deep into its pockets. The town paid $150,000 to buy the most monumental of Delongchamps commissions in the state.

The new Humboldt County courthouse featured a leaded glass ceiling, a marble staircase and a two-story atrium. Pershing County’s competitive spirit rose higher than an ionic column.

Delongchamps came through for Pershing.

The architect modeled Pershing’s courthouse after the Pantheon in Rome. The building didn’t need atriums, marble staircases or leaded glass ceilings. Its roundness set it apart.

Construction costs came to $77,533. Another $3,002 relocated the old schoolhouse. Workers installed the courthouse in its place.

In the fall of 1920 officials tucked a photograph of Marion Emily Noonan into a time capsule. She was the first baby born in Pershing County.

They added a photo of Peter Anker, an early pioneer. Cablegrams to and from General Pershing lay next to the pen that signed his namesake into existence.

The whole town showed up for the dedication ceremony on June 21, 1921. Chefs barbecued while a band played. Men and women with shovels buried the time capsule near the cornerstone.

Delongchamps designed over 500 buildings, most of them in Nevada. But he put his stamp on only one round courthouse.