This 1851 drawing is the oldest known illustration of Auburn. The first courthouse was built around this time and was made of wood and canvas like many structures of that era. Behind the courthouse was a log cabin jail. With these two simple buildings Auburn became the seat of this fast growing and prosperous county.
In December 1853 a new courthouse, located on the site of the current courthouse, opened to the public. Built in the classic Greek Revival style, this courthouse housed the county offices until 1897. “It was the custom for a great many years for the clerk to keep a box of fine-cut chewing tobacco in the courtroom, at the expense of the county, for the use of the Judge, members of the jury and bar and other officers. Not much money was wasted on carpets in those days. Manila matting was good enough. The principal ornaments were cuspidors." -San Francisco Call, August 24, 1895
During construction of the third courthouse, which took place from 1894 to 1898, the second courthouse was lifted and moved out of the way so Court could continue to operate during this time. Afterwards, it was moved to the nearby Placer County Hospital grounds where it became a women’s ward of the hospital.
On July 4, 1898, the new courthouse was dedicated. Most of the building materials came from Placer County: granite from Rocklin, brick and terra cotta from Lincoln, marble from Colfax, and lumber and lime from various places within the county.
“This grand building is one of the finest Court Houses in the State... Several are larger, but none can excel in artistic effect. It has distinctly the most beautiful Courtroom that I have ever seen. The total cost of the great building up to the present, including the furniture, is about $166,000.” -Placer Herald, July 9, 1898.
When all was said and done, the total cost of construction came to $173,583.55.
This brought all of the county offices and the jail under one roof. The ground floor housed the jail, sheriff, tax collector, coroner, treasurer, and farm advisor’s offices.
The second floor contained the superintendent of schools, surveyor, assessor, recorder, auditor, and district attorney’s offices.
The third story held the clerk, supervisors, and court reporters offices as well as the law library, judges’ chambers and superior court room.
The fourth floor was used to store the old books and records.
Most of those "old books" from the fourth floor are stored at the Placer County Archives today.
As the county continued to grow, the Courthouse became very crowded.
A new jail was built on the grounds and prisoners moved to it in 1941.
In 1966, the Board of Supervisors and other administrative offices were moved to the “Domes” on Fulweiler and by the 1970s, many other county services had relocated to the newly acquired DeWitt Center.
In 1967, the Grand Jury recommended the courthouse be preserved as a monument and used exclusively for the courts. In March, 1980, restoration and rehabilitation work began on the exterior using funds acquired through a National Public Works Grant and the State Office of Historic Preservation, which the County matched.
Meanwhile, fundraising efforts continued in earnest.
In 1983, a group of local citizens formed the Placer County Committee to Preserve the Courthouse for the Courts and they worked tirelessly to raise the rest of the funds needed to restore the building.
The jail was demolished from the grounds in 1986.
Finally, after ten years of extensive restoration and preservation efforts, the courthouse was restored to its 1898 appearance and rededicated on July 4, 1990.
The total cost of this project was $6.8 million.
The first floor became the Placer County Museum which was officially opened to the public in 1994.
A scrapbook preserved by the Placer County Museums division documents the Committee's efforts to save the courthouse as well as the names of the essential donors who made this possible.