Focus Issue 19-1

[ Back To Table of Contents ]

Roswell Web Magazine – the Web Magazine that Showcases Roswell & New Mexico

Photo of the courthouse on January 1st, 2002, before renovations began

Following piece was first published in the webmag in early 2002, prior to historical renovations and addition to the county’s historic courthouse.



by Jan Girand



Jean Willis, Court Administrator of the Fifth Judicial District, calls it the “Crown Jewel of Chaves County.”

Whenever he speaks of it, Judge Chip Johnson shows his pride in this beautiful historic building with its magnificent green dome and rotunda. His efforts to preserve it and keep it in use also reflect his affection for it.

Architect Mary Ellen Brodrick of Design Collaborative SouthWest Architects in Albuquerque says it is, without question, the finest courthouse and the only one of its kind in the state of New Mexico.

Sharon Jackson, Chaves County’s Loss Control Specialist, said the building reflects the pride of its maintenance employees. Her job takes her to all of the state’s public buildings, she said. Although it is old, she found that this courthouse is cleaner and better maintained than any other in the state, a credit to its employees. The renovation, necessary for its continued use, will also renew the community’s pride, said Jackson. It will cause businesses and residents to become more progressive, she added.

Virginia Gutierrez of the County Manager’s office said tourists passing by are intrigued when they see the beautiful courthouse and often stop to come inside and look around. She said they are always impressed with the inside as much as the outside.

To preserve this historical building built in 1911, it is slated for renovation and additions carefully following the same style as the original. This is necessary to preserve the Chaves County Courthouse on Main Street in the center of Roswell, and allow its continued use by future generations.

A subsequent article will describe in depth the building’s existing infrastructual problems, the plans to bring it to code, and the changes and additions to be made that will enhance and increase the usage of this fine old building.

After renovation and the addition, the view from Main Street of the Chaves County Courthouse and its landmark green dome will be preserved. The additions to the building will face Virginia Avenue and reflect the same style, including another dome and rotunda, as the original portion of the building that faces Main.

Two magnificent facades will be even better than one.


The following excerpts were published in another piece in the same 2002 webmag issue:

Dedication of the Joseph R. Skeen Building
by Jan Girand


The air was still under New Mexico’s traditionally clear turquoise-blue sky. Like the weather, the audience and speakers were warm and friendly.

Preceding days had been overcast, cold and blustery, but Friday morning, February 22, 2002, speakers noted that all conditions were excellent on the special day to honor longtime Congressman Joseph Skeen. It may have been an important occasion, but there was no pomposity. Laughter and good-natured teasing, including from the Congressman and his wife, was heard throughout the festivities.

The occasion was the dedication and official opening of the Chaves County Administrative Center–named the Joseph R. Skeen Building–at One St. Mary’s Place in Roswell. This beautiful new landmark building was built upon the site of a beloved old landmark, the red-bricked St. Mary’s Hospital, now gone, that served generations of Roswell and Chaves County residents. The hospital, opened in 1906, was begun by the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother. Sister Roseann Koskie, representing that order, was one of many recognized that day.

Some dignitaries present at the open-air ceremony to honor Skeen and his wife, Mary, sat with them on the dais; many more, from near and far, were scattered throughout the large audience.

U.S. Senator Pete Domenici was unable to attend. Through the reading of his letter by Poe Corn, Domenici told the audience: “I … convey my most sincere congratulations to the residents of Chaves County, the Chaves County Commissioners and to you, Hubert (Quintana, Chaves County Manager), for the many, many long hours of planning, preparing, coordinating, discussing and staying on a course of action leading to the construction of this complex. It is an accomplishment (of which) all present and future Chaves County residents can be proud.

“Joe will complete more than 50 years of public service to our state and to our nation …The Joseph R. Skeen Building will serve as a constant tribute to a public servant who dedicated much of his life to making Roswell and Chaves County a better place to live and work. Just as (he) has represented good government for New Mexico, I believe his record of achievement should serve as a reminder of those who work within this shiny new building of the importance of their jobs serving the people of Chaves County.”

In Domenici’s news release, he also stated, “The Skeen Building will allow the existing downtown (Chaves County) courthouse, which is listed on the national and state registers of historical places, to be more fully utilized by the courts, District Attorney’s office and related activities.”

Those recognized by Chaves County Manager Hubert Quintana included county employees and the building supervisor who “made it happen.” Representatives of the three architectural and construction firms that designed and created the building were recognized. Judge Chip Johnson, formerly a district judge in Roswell and now an appointed federal judge in Albuquerque, was credited for his untiring efforts towards the historic renovation and preservation of the Chaves County Courthouse and, to alleviate crowding and allow for growth, the construction of this new county administration building.

Quintana added, “This magnificent building, which took a year in design and 16 months in construction, is intended as a tribute to the people of Chaves County … warm and friendly, intended to provide easy access and service to everyone … Our building incorporates the trademarks of our community, long associated with county government and our beautiful courthouse. We have brought with us a dome, pillars, brick construction, sycamore trees, a rotunda, bluegrass-mix lawns–and smiling faces. …A new landmark built to replace an old landmark. … Three women were principally responsible for its design and construction. Architect Mary Ellen Broderick with Design Collaborative SouthWest Architects; Ellen Chamberlin, President of Luther Construction; and Katie Byrd-Humphries, President of Quality Control Engineering were essential to this project.”



Photo taken of front (Main Street view) of courthouse in December 2002, after renovations and addition had begun.

Another article published in the webmag, this one in late 2002:


Chaves County Courthouse
by Jan Girand


After several delays, Chaves County is beginning its long anticipated additions and renovations to its historical courthouse–with its landmark green dome–located in the center of Roswell. Its occupants have been relocated, mostly to the new Chaves County Administration Building, otherwise known as the Joseph R. Skeen Building, at One St. Mary’s Place. When construction and other work is fully completed at the courthouse, some of those occupants will return and therein resume their work and legal proceedings.

Julie Pearson is the project’s architect and the contractor is the Jaynes Corporation.

Some of the following county and courthouse history came from Elvis E. Fleming’s book, Captain Joseph C. Lea, and some was provided by the county manager’s office.

In the latter 1800s, the town of Lincoln was the county seat of the huge Lincoln County, and Pecos Valley residents found that too inconveniently far to do their business. Residents of the area around Roswell (population was 343 in 1890 according to Fleming), and Pecos Valley residents living in what is now Eddy County, wanted their own counties. Proposals for two new counties were the focus–with pros and cons–of the 1888 and 1889 Legislatures.

The proposed county with Roswell as its seat also included Dexter, Dunken, Elkins, Hagerman, Lake Arthur and Mesa, and had a population of several hundred residents.

Joseph Lea declined to have the new “Roswell” county named for him, and preferred instead that the name be Chaves, for Colonel Jose Francisco Chaves, a prominent Hispanic Republican who was 1889 Speaker of the Territorial House. Some believed he was chosen primarily to gain a political advantage for the new county.

In 1889, Joseph C. Lea donated the land, a full city block known as Courthouse Square, for the new courthouse. Fleming wrote in his book that a June 11, 1889 editorial in the Pecos Valley Register stated, “Let us have a good courthouse, gentlemen, something that we may look upon with pride after it is built.”

Lea planted trees and bluegrass in anticipation of the new courthouse. The Legislature appropriated $30,000 for building the courthouse and specified the construction should take no more than two years. The limit of time and money limited the result. The first courthouse was completed in 1890 and ready for occupancy in 1891, on time and budget. But within 10 years, it was inadequate.

In 1909, many residents opposed tearing down the courthouse and replacing it with a new one. Like the additions and renovations to today’s courthouse, that decision was controversial but necessary. The vote for the public bond was close but it did pass. The building–the only domed courthouse in New Mexico–was constructed in 1911 at a cost of $164,000, and was dedicated in 1912, the month and year New Mexico became a state.

In her speech for Leadership Roswell in November 2000, Tammy Sanner, Chaves County Grant Coordinator, said it “resulted in some very creative financing. The commissioners knew that statehood was eminent for New Mexico and any public debt would be absorbed by the federal government once it took over the Territory.” The commissioners voted to go into $130,000 debt for the new county courthouse building. That debt was assumed by the government when New Mexico became a state in 1912.

It was Pecos Valley’s first burnt brick building. The bricks, made of Pecos Valley mud, were kilned in Roswell.

The building began with 1,000 piles–brought for this purpose from the Manzano Mountains–that were driven 20 feet down to the hard strata. Cement was poured for the foundations. The courthouse was virtually “built upon a rock,” wrote Will Robinson in 1948 in the local newspaper.

An architectural firm named Rapp of Trinidad, Colorado designed the building. In her Leadership Roswell speech, Tammy Sanner said they used a restrained form of contemporary Beaux-Arts Classical style. According to the National Register of Historical Places, she said, the building’s classical symmetry, its dominating central entrance and both arched and rectangular windows, were influenced by that style. She quoted the Register, “Although devoid of the figured sculpture and excess of decoration characteristic of the Beaux-Arts movement, the building displays such typical motifs as shields, medallions and garlands.” Costs prevented some of the planned ornateness.

According to Will Robinson, reporting for the Roswell Morning Dispatch, the outside brick came from St. Louis, Missouri, brick for inside walls from Neodosha, Kansas, cement from Paola, Kansas, concrete from near Roswell, sandstone from Indiana and marble from Georgia.

The green terra-cotta dome is actually two domes, an exterior and an interior one. The outside dome once had a skylight and the interior one had stained glass windows. Leaks developed along the light fixtures on the dome’s ribs and the lights were removed. Plans for the current renovation include restoring the dome to its original state.

In 2000, this courthouse was voted one of the most beautiful historic buildings in the state of New Mexico.

The facade of the planned addition, to face Virginia Avenue, will match that of the original structure. Changes will considerably increase the size, security and productivity of the courthouse. Restoration of the original part will bring the building to the necessary code requirements. The addition, as well as the esthetic and infrastructural changes to the Chaves County Courthouse, will bring it out of the 1912 era and into the light of the new millennium, to meet its county’s continually growing size, needs and countless electronic advantages of the present and future ages.

Above is the scale model of the Chaves County Courthouse Historic Renovation and Addition by Design Collaborative SouthWest Architects. In the background, with the more prominent green dome, is the original courthouse (after renovation); in the foreground (portion with the light-colored roof, and the smaller green dome) is the addition to face Virginia Avenue. To the side of the addition is the existing juvenile detention area, to be renovated.


Another tidbit published in a late 2002 webmag issue in a piece about the September 2002 Chile Cheese Festival:

On a guided bus tour, as the bus passed the Courthouse, the guide gave a thumbnail sketch of the building’s history. He added that there had been a hanging execution on the southeastern corner of the courthouse in early 1900s.

Also published in a 2002 archived issue is an article about the obsolete Chaves County jail that was torn down to make room for the new courthouse addition. Included with that article is a photo of the Virginia Avenue view of that portion of the building (housing the jail) and photos taken by Chaves County historian Elvis Fleming of the interior of the jail before it was torn down.

After the renovations and addition; photos taken early July 2006:


Virginia Avenue view of the new addition to the courthouse. Not seen in this view is the new (additional) green dome above the new (additional) rotunda. This is the entrance, with heightened security, leading to the district courtrooms and the Magistrate Court on the lower level.






View from the north (Fourth Street) of courthouse. Green dome is over the original portion of the courthouse. The portion of building in foreground is part of the new addition. The green dome over the new addition is not seen in this view.





The preserved front of the original courthouse with its ornate facade. Tammy Sanner said, in her speech to Leadership Roswell November 2000, with information taken from the National Register of Historic Places, it is a “restrained form of contemporary Beaux-Arts Classical style … the building’s classical symmetry, its dominating central entrance and both arched and rectangular windows, were influenced by that style.”







With the renovations and addition, the Chaves County Courthouse now has seven courtrooms in constant use, but a total of nine courtrooms. There are five district courtrooms, nearly always in session. The Magistrate Court has four in the lower level of the courthouse. Two of those are in constant use, plus one for video arraignments and an extra courtroom for visiting magistrate judges. Now that there is room for them in a building with heightened security, the District Attorney’s Roswell office and other law enforcement-related offices have also moved into the new renovated courthouse.

Changes considerably increased the size, security and use of the courthouse. The restoration brought the original portion of the building to the necessary code requirements, and the addition greatly increased its size and productivity. With its ability to now accommodate electronic modern technology , Chaves County’s beloved courthouse can remain in use far into the new millennium.



All photos by Jan Girand
Additional articles about, and photos of, the courthouse can be found in earlier archived webmag issues.