The first Oneida County Courthouse was built in 1882 on the hill overlooking Malad City. Considered the finest building in Idaho at the time, it was built at a cost of $12,000, plus donated labor from the townspeople of Malad. It was a two-story wood frame building with a balcony extending across the full length of the upper story; the upper story was reached from the outside by flights of stairs on each side of the building.
When the building was constructed, Oneida County was as large as the State of Vermont. In January 1864, the first session of the Idaho Legislature met at Lewiston, Idaho. One of the Legislature’s first acts was the creation of Oneida County with the county seat in Soda Springs. Oneida County in 1866 included the present-day counties of Bannock, Bear Lake, Bingham, Caribou, Cassia, and Franklin and portions of Madison, Teton, Fremont, Power, and Bonneville, an area of approximately 9000 square miles.
In 1865, the first County officials were appointed by the State Legislature. Telford Kutch, Preston Burrell, and J.M. Taylor assumed their duties as County Commissioners immediately. They served until February 1868.
At the first meeting of the County Commission, the following were appointed: M.A. Carter as auditor and recorder, H.O. Rogers as sheriff, William M. Thurman as treasurer, A.W. Meet as county clerk, Fred S. Stephens as assessor, and Peter McManus as probate judge.
In 1866 the Legislature moved the county seat from Soda Springs to Malad City as most of the Oneida County officials had already moved to Malad without proper authority. The Morrisites, a schismatic branch of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, were in control of Soda Springs and were reluctant to turn over the County records to the Mormons in Malad. In mid-winter of 1866-67, Henry Peck and others rode on horseback to Soda Springs and brought the last County books back to the new county seat in Malad.
The establishment of Malad as the county seat brought business visitors from Black Eagle (now Idaho Falls) on the north, Soda Springs, Paris, Montpelier, and Preston on the east, and Franklin on the southeast. The principal business transactions at early meetings of the Board of County Commissioners were the granting of road and ferry licenses.
For the next ten years, Oneida County remained intact with Malad City as the county seat. Beginning in 1875, other counties split off from the original Oneida County: Bear Lake (1875), Cassia (1879), Bingham (1885), Bannock and Fremont (1893), Bonneville (1911), Madison, Power, and Franklin (1913), Teton (1915), and Caribou (1919). Some of these divisions were part of larger divisions before becoming counties.
In 1886 Henry Peck, John H Stump, and George H. Ruddy were appointed County Commissioners. They selected the following officers: Morg Morgan as sheriff, James McAllister as treasurer, E.J. Davis as assessor, Edwin M. Curtis as superintendent of schools, Thomas Daniels as coroner, Henry Peck as probate judge, and B.F. White as county CI.
From this time on, the county officers were elected with the first election held on August 10, 1868, and elected officials assuming their duties on January 10, 1869. The first elected County Commissioners were George H. Ruddy, Thomas Daniels, and William P. Jones. Other elected officials were R.G. Evans as county clerk, Morg Morgan as sheriff, B. F. White as auditor and recorder, E.J. Davis as assessor, James McAllister as treasurer, and John Nelson as probate judge.
After the original courthouse was torn down in the 1930s, the current courthouse was built in 1939 on the original site as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project, part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s efforts to end the Great Depression.
Oneida County received substantial support for the construction of its new courthouse in 1938 when the WPA regional office in Portland, Oregon, allotted a $28,350 grant toward construction of a courthouse estimated to cost $63,000. To fund the county’s part of construction costs, the county held two bond elections. The first election, held August 9, 1938, failed to obtain the necessary two-thirds majority. The second, held at the request of the Malad Chamber of Commerce and other local organizations, passed 394 to 76.
The Oneida County Courthouse was one of three nearly identical courthouses designed by Sunberg and Sunberg of Idaho Falls for 1938 WPA projects. The other two, the courthouses in Jefferson and Jerome Counties, have similar two-story massing, interior plans, and five-bay fronts with elaborate terra cotta entries. Built by Olsen and Sons of Rigby, the Oneida County Courthouse is the most ambitious and stylistically elaborate architectural design in the region. This magnificent brick structure is a perfect example of the popular Art Deco style of the time.
The Oneida County Courthouse is a detached, rectangular, two-story building on a raised basement story. The front elevation of the building has five bays with a center entrance. The entry bay is outset, and each flanking bay is setback successively from the plane of the entry. The entry has two sets of identical doors with a small vestibule between. The entry doors are double doors with large single panes etched with an Art Deco style border. Above the doors is a fixed transom etched with the words “Oneida County.” The building’s structural framework of steel and concrete is veneered with pressed brick laid in common bond, with the exception of soldier rows above the windows and below the cornice and header rows laid as window sills. Bricks are laid to create a mottled effect, raging in color from yellow to burnt orange. The concrete foundation is outset slightly to form a watercourse. The roof is flat. Cream-colored terra cotta cast with bundled sheaf and zigzag designs decorates the fluted pillars on either side of the entrance. The same terra cotta decorates the entry surround, string courses at the cornices, and planters on either side of the front steps. The entrance is surrounded with geometric and foliate terra cotta pillars successively set back.
The interior has been remodeled over the years although it retains much of its original style. In 2022 an elevator was added to the back of the building to provide easier access to the courtrooms on the top floor and offices in the basement and on the main floor. The Courthouse was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.
Anella J. Price and Thelma Simpson, The Idaho Enterprise, 1963, reprinted in The Idaho Enterprise on May 19, 1977, and on July 12, 1990.
Nomination of Oneida County Courthouse to National Register of Historic Places, 1987.