The Arizona Territorial government selected Tombstone to be the county seat for the newly created Cochise County in 1881. A new courthouse was built out of wood, but the 1881 fire destroyed that building, so the supervisors temporarily located the courthouse on the ground floor of the Mining Exchange Building on Freemont Street while a new courthouse was being built. Today that location is a parking lot across from Schieffelin Hall.
The supervisors then had a brick kiln built on the corner of Third and Toughnut and brought in Chinese brick makers and brick layers to build the courthouse that is still standing on that corner. The corner stone was laid on August 11, 1882 and the entire building was finished in 1883 at a cost of about $50,000. It is a two-story Victorian-style building in the shape of a cross and once held all the county offices and a beautiful courtroom.
Cochise County offices were moved from Tombstone to Bisbee in 1930 so this building was left vacant. In 1948 a company began to turn the building into a hotel, but after gutting it they ran out of money and stopped that project. In 1952 the Tombstone Restoration Commission began restoring the building and in 1960 the Arizona State Parks Board accepted the building and turned it into the first operational state park in Arizona. Today, the courthouse is the smallest state park in Arizona and contains a professionally curated museum of artifacts from the early days of Tombstone. As an interesting aside, the Schieffelin Monument, about three miles northwest of the city, is also part of this state park.
Because the court met here, there was a small holding cell on the first floor for prisoners appearing before the judge that day. That cell was also the last “home” for the seven men who swung from the gallows behind the Courthouse. It seems reasonable to assume that many of the criminals would have been upset at the sentences handed down, so their spirits come back today to seek some sort of retribution. Orbs are commonly photographed here, along with the occasional face appearing in the windows.
There is a local story about a light appearing in the small cupola on top of the courthouse. The cupola is closed to the public because the narrow steps leading to it are not safe; however, the city leaves a small light on in that space year-round. Occasionally, though, locals report seeing a second light moving around late at night in the cupola. It never seems to be doing much, just moves among the windows almost like a lantern being carried around by some night watchman inside that tiny room. Perhaps there was a time when a lantern was kept burning in what would have been the tallest structure in town as a beacon for travelers coming to Tombstone out of the surrounding mountains and some long dead county employee is still trying to show guests the way to town.
The original Cochise County courthouse is located at 223 E Toughnut St. The Goodenough Trolley Tour passes the courthouse and I tell stories about its history. The Tombstone After Dark Tour also passes this location and I encourage my guests to return to take pictures after the tour.