Structure Type: built works - public buildings - courthouses

Designers: [unspecified]

Dates: constructed 1866-1867

1 story

view all images ( of 2 shown)

Millerton Road
Millerton Lake, CA

OpenStreetMap (new tab)
Google Map (new tab)
click to view google map
Google Streetview (new tab)
click to view google map
The Courthouse was moved to Mariner's Point, at N 36° 59.773 W 119° 41.855.


Millerton developed as a townsite due to the construction of Fort Barbour in 04/1851, a fortifcation built to protect Anglo settlers from Yokut Indians who came to resent the intrusions of the newcomers. The name of the fort was quickly changed to "Fort Miller," named for Army Major Albert S. Miller, and a townsite developed nearby to the fort called "Millerton." The town grew slowly during the 1850s and 1860s, becoming a leading urban center in the county; it built its Fresno County Courthouse building in 1866-1867. (For more on early Millerton, see "Fort Miller and Millerton," History of Fresno County, California, [San Francisco: Wallace W. Elliott and Company, 1882] p. 195.)

Building History

The Superior Court of California erected the first courthouse in Fresno County in the gold-mining town of Millerton in 1867. This rudimentary building cost $24,000 to erect, composed of granite found nearby and bricks fired near the site. (Other sources say the building cost $17,000. See, for example, Histories credit two men for the building's design and construction. The book, Courthouses of California: an Illustrated History, stated that its designer was Charles Peck: "After making do with rented quarters for 10 years, the county hired builder Charles Peck, who had recently worked on the classic courthouse in nearby Mariposa, to design its first true courthouse. Peck proposed a similarly plain structure to be built of granite and brick rather than wood. Completed in 1867, the courthouse also accommodated county offices and a jail." (See Courthouses of California: an Illustrated History, Ray McDevitt, editor, [San Francisco, CA: California Historical Society; Berkeley, CA: Heyday Books, 2001], p. 194.) The name of Charles P. Converse, an early and prominent settler in Fresno County was listed as being the courthouse's builder. A newspaper report of 1949: "In 1866, a courhouse with a solid granite jail was built by Charles P. Converse, owner of the ferry at the Old Fresno Crossing. It was the center of all community life. Not only was county business transacted there, but also social and religious activities were carried on." (See "Old Townsite Emerging from Lake Millerton,"Madera Daily News-Tribune, 10/21/1949, p. 1.) Converse, who also owned a store and saloon in Millerton, was also the jail section of the courthouse's first inmate, as he was charged with killing a man (in self-defense) during a fight. (See "100th Anniversary Observation Set," Madera Tribune, no. 115, 10/25/1967, p. 2.)

The courthouse was in use here for seven years, when Millerton was struck by another serious flood, that necessitated removing the courthouse to Fresno. Fresno's new, three-story courthouse was ready for service by 08/1875. In the years after the court's departure, the courthouse may have functioned as a school briefly, but was abandoned for much of the first of the twentieth century. A newspaper report in 1949 said: "It has since been an attraction of various dude ranches in the Millerton area, as well as a mecca for picnicking parties. When Friant Dam was built and Millerton Lake started filling, it was dismantled. The site is now many feet below the waters of the lake." (See "Old Town Site Emerging from Lake Millerton," Madera Tribune, 10/21/1949, p. 1.)

Building Notes

The San Joaquin River flooded on Christmas Day, 1867, causing some serious concern amongs townspeople about the safety of the town's location. Some moved to the nearby settlement of Fresno. Subsequent floods forced many to leave, and the establishment of the Southern Pacific Railroad's station in nearby Fresno in 1872 solidified the trend for moving away from the flood-prone area. On 03/23/1874, county voters cast 757 votes in an election to affirm a courthouse location, with Fresno getting the majority, 417, over three other communities, Lisbon, Centerville, and Millerton. (See Lilbourne Alsip Winchell and Ben Randal Walker, History of Fresno County and the San Joaquin Valley: Narrative and Biographical, [Fresno, CA: A.H. Cawston, 1933], p. 74.)

In later years, the town of Millerton was reassigned to Madera County.


The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) erected the reinforced concrete gravity dam on the San Joaquin River near Friant, CA, between 1937 and 1942. The onset of World War II halted the construction of the dam's spillways, spillway gates, water release mechanisms and two irrigation canals; these essential elements to the dam were not completed until 1949. The construction of this dam and reservoir would flood the Millerton townsite. By 1944, the Sons and Daughters of the Golden West and the Fresno County Historical Society campaigned to deconstruct the Millerton courthouse and store it for reconstruction on another site. The deconstruction occurred in 1944 and the courthouse was stored temporarily in a Bureau of Reclamation camp in Friant. By 1956, the Fresno County Centennial Millerton Memorial Committee, led by Willis Ball, raised $13,000 to rebuild the stored courthouse. (See "100th Anniversary Observation Set," Madera Tribune, no. 115, 10/25/1967, p. 2.)

The completion of the courthouse reconstruction did not occur until the late 1960s. The Madera Tribune reported in 1967: "In 1964-65 the California Division of Beaches and Parks received funds from the legislature to reconstruct the old courthouse on Mariner's Point. The Winn Construction Company of Orinda was awarded the contract for the bid of $94,000. The first phase was completed on Aug. 24, 1966. The completion of the second phase is now in the works for $60,000. Upon completion of the second phase, the courthouse will become a museum for this region of California." (See "100th Anniversary Observation Set," Madera Tribune, no. 115, 10/25/1967, p. 2.) The $60,000 second phase was needed to finish the second floor and to add utilities to the courthouse. (See "Historic Millerton Courthouse Will Be Opened for Inspection," Madera Tribune, no. 106, 10/13/1966, p. 2.)

PCAD id: 21120