Interpretative group a good fit for historic courthouse

The historic Pioneer Courthouse in downtown St. George, Utah, Sept. 7, 2016 | Photo by Sheldon Demke, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – What does the future hold for the historic Pioneer Courthouse now that its long-time tenant, the Chamber of Commerce, has moved to a new location?

With the newly expanded St. George Area Chamber of Commerce’s relocation to a new building across the street from the old courthouse, the Pioneer Courthouse sits vacant. However, that won’t last long as the City Council gave verbal approval Thursday for the Dixie/Arizona Strip Interpretative Association, or D/ASIA, to take up residence in the historic building.

Inside a part of the historic Pioneer Courthouse in downtown St. George, Utah, Sept. 7, 2016 | Photo by Sheldon Demke, St. George News

Ken Sizemore, executive director of D/ASIA, said the nonprofit group was formed over 20 years ago to assist in interpretative outreach efforts involving federal agencies in the region such as the Bureau of Land Management.

The group also currently sells books and maps out of the BLM field office on Riverside Drive in St. George and conducts a Friday lecture series at the facility.

According to D/ASIA’s website, the group’s “mission is primarily to enhance the understanding of the Arizona Strip and Southern Utah region including its history and natural resources.”

“For a number of years we have told the City Council that we’d be interested in working with them at the old courthouse when the chamber moved out,” Sizemore said.

When the chamber finally did relocate, city officials approached D/ASIA about moving into the building, a prospect that has the group excited, Sizemore said. A benefit of moving into the building would be gaining the use of the courtroom on the second floor where additional lectures and the like can be held.

“We’d be very excited to expand (our lecture series) to other times and other topics using the upper room in the courthouse,” Sizemore said.

An arrangement between the city and D/ASIA would involve the association maintaining and staffing the building and paying the power bill while the city maintains the outside. City Manager Gary Esplin said the city and the chamber had a similar arrangement.

The historic Pioneer Courthouse in a photo take prior to 1960, St. George, Utah, date unspecified | Photo by William Palmer (1877-1960), courtesy of Southern Utah University, St. George News

D/ASIA would also sell books and other items inside the courthouse, as well as likely keep the general theme of the old courthouse being an information center about the St. George area and its history, Councilwoman Bette Arial said.

“I think it’s a good opportunity,” Esplin said. “I don’t see a downside.”

Keeping the courthouse open to the public helps maintain the city’s overall goal of keeping the downtown area a vibrant draw for locals and visitors alike.

“We’re excited about partnering with the city and making the courthouse an important area of activity here in St. George,” Sizemore said.

Located on the northwest corner of St. George Boulevard and 100 East, the old courthouse is a prominent fixture in the downtown area and has been a key venue for tourists and locals alike during Historic St. George Live tours. It has also been home to the then St. George Chamber of Commerce for over 30 years and an information center for the area.

According to the Washington County Historical Society, construction on the courthouse started in 1866 and finished in 1876. It was built using sandstone brick and mortar manufactured locally. It served as the county courthouse once completed.

From the historical society’s website concerning the layout of the Historic Pioneer Courthouse:

The large room on the second floor was used as a schoolroom and the courtroom. Other interesting features include the 18-inch thick interior doors, the old chandeliers, original paintings of Zion National Park and the Grand Canyon, a security vault, the exterior cornice work, and the cupola. The cupola was designed for hangings, though none were ever performed there. The building is still in use, which is a testament of the skill and care used in its construction.

“It’s a treasure,” Esplin said. “We’re not ever going to walk away from it.”

Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

 

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