Founded in August 25, 1855, Douglas County was one of the first counties organized in Kansas and, for many years, was one of the most populace and wealthy counties in the state. But it still did not have a courthouse at the close of the 19th century. In 1899 the voters approved levying additional real estate tax to pay for a courthouse. Four lots located at Massachusetts and Quincy (11th) Streets were offered by local banker J.B. Watkins, free of charge. The County Commissioners, J.C. Watts, Chairman, B. E. Moskinson and A.J. Parnell, resolved to take his offer on February 6, 1902 and accepted the deed to the land on March 29.
A building design competition was held and the Commissioners were unable to decide on one single architect, as they were impressed with some of the features in all of the proposals. They asked two architects (J.G. Haskell and Frederick C. Gunn) to work together on the project as associates for a fee not to exceed 5% of the gross amount expended on construction. The Commissioners offered the two other architects $100 and $50 each for the use of the plans for a period of time. All offers were accepted and Haskell and Gunn began drafting detailed plans to permit construction to begin early in the year 1903.
Eight bids for the construction of the Douglas County Courthouse were received and were opened on February 18, 1903. The contract was awarded to the firm of Cuthbert and Sargent of Topeka for $62,181. J.G. Haskell was the overall supervisor and Adam Oliver, a local masonry contractor, was hired as the on-site superintendent at a salary of $60 per month. A contract for plumbing, heating and gas fitting was awarded to George W. Savage of Lawrence on March 2, 1903. Excavation for the building began on March 13, actual construction started about April 1 and the cornerstone was laid on July 4, 1903 during a ceremony conducted by the Masonic orders.
Construction moved ahead and in March of 1904 the vaults were ordered from Art Metal Construction Company to be installed by November 1. By the first of August, windows were being put in and lightning rods were being installed. On August 4, Sol Marks was awarded a contract to provide a Seth Thomas clock with four dials for installation in the courthouse tower. Earlier, FM Spender had agreed to build four wooden clock faces, painted white with block numerals, for $110.
No evidence has been found that the Douglas County Courthouse was ever officially dedicated. In January of 1905, county officers began to move in without fanfare.