Records Building

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By 1859, the County was facing a serious issue – its size and needs had grown so much in twenty years that the offices in the lower level of the Courthouse were no longer functional space.  That year, the commissioners approved the construction of a new office building with the requirement that it be fireproof.

Gilbert Avery was once again hired to design the one story brick structure and George H. Murdock was granted the construction contract to the tune of $3,000.  However, Murdock had difficulty completing the project and at the behest of the County, Avery stepped in as the contractor and was able to complete the building in less than a year.  In February 1860, the County Clerk, Treasurer, and Register of Deeds occupied their new space.

The building continued to serve the county well and it was expanded in 1873.  The two story Italianate addition allowed for expansion of the offices for the county Clerk and Register of Deeds and it also housed the offices for the Judge of Probate.  The building remained in use by the county until April 1894 when an election was held to move the town seat.  The bitter event eventually ended in the favor of St. Joseph and that summer, everything was moved to a temporary location until the 1896 Courthouse was completed.

The buildings of the Courthouse Square (the courthouse, the Sheriff’s residence, the jail, and the records building), faced a series of tenants and alterations to their structures for several years after the move.  For a period of time in 1901 and 1902, the entire grounds was used as the temporary campus for Emmanuel Missionary College (the future Andrews University).  This site was used for the administration’s offices during the school year.

Eventually the land was broken up, with different buildings purchased by private individuals.  The building was modified over the years, including two non-brick additions in the 20th century.  While the building served as apartments for most of its post-county existence, until the 2000s, a laundromat and a local soft water company occupied the two story section. By the time the County looked into repurchasing the property in the 1960s, the building was in terrible condition despite its occupation.

The County committed itself to uniting the entirety of the Courthouse Square and by 1990, the building was under its ownership.  While the BCHA debated on what to do with the building, tenants remained as occupants until at least 2000.  Plans over the years had included offices, storage, and exhibit space in various styles, however, continued costs associated with the renovation of the building and the new updates proved to be prohibitive.

In 2006, the BCHA embarked on a capital campaign to raise 2.3 million dollars to finally renovate the building, however a one-two punch derailed it.  The first was the the Great Recession, which saw available funding sources evaporate.  The second was a fire in October of 2007, which destroyed the interior and the roof and thankfully, it did not compromise the structural integrity of the building.  By 2009, a new roof and point tucking repair had been completed, but the damaged windows simply boarded up.

As of 2020, the building remains closed to the public, currently serving as a storage location for oversized collection pieces and other odds and ends.  Future plans for the use of the building include handicap accessible exhibit and program space that can double as rental space for events.  The two story section will become the new home for the ever-growing collections and archives of the BCHA.  Estimated costs to rehabilitate the building and its planned renovations is approximately $2,000.000.