Ripley County was very large and over an 18 year period was divided to form five counties -- Shannon County in 1841, Oregon County in 1845, Howell County in 1857 and Carter County in 1859. Howell County was actually created from a portion designated as Oregon County.
After the Missouri Legislature created Oregon County on Feb. 14, 1845, a committee selected a 10 acre tract of land in Thomasville that had been deeded to the county by John and Matilda Thomas to build a county courthouse.
Until a new courthouse could be constructed, the new county court met in the Thomas home.
In February of 1847, the Superintendent of Public Buildings, John R. Woodside, submitted a plan for the courthouse. The approximate cost to build the courthouse was $140.
Two years later in 1849, the court approved the construction of a jail to be built in Thomasville. The jail house was to be a two story log building costing about $500.
In 1857, Thomas Simpson was chosen to represent Oregon County at the 19th General Assembly in Jefferson City. He introduced a bill to divide Oregon County and form a new county from the western part of the county. The bill was approved and Howell County, named after Thomas J. Howell, was created.
John Woodside was chairman of the commission selected by the court to choose a site for the new county seat of Oregon County. The commission chose Alton because of its more central location in the county.
In 1860, G.W. Reed was selected to build the new courthouse in Alton at a cost of $4,000. The county court sold the old county courthouse in Thomasville for $105.
Less than three years later on Oct. 12, 1863, the new courthouse, as well as much of the town of Alton, was destroyed by fire during the Civil War.
In 1871, a new courthouse was constructed on the previous courthouse foundation in Alton.
On June 3, 1903, the court approved a $5,000 addition to the Oregon County Courthouse. The building was extended 22 feet on the north and an additional story of 40 feet by 40 feet was to be used as a Masonic Lodge.
In January of 1939, voters went to the polls and passed a bond issue in the amount of $25,000 to build a new courthouse building. A $60,000 federal grant was also obtained making the cost of the construction and equipment for the building $85,000.
According to an article in the Kansas City Star, Sept. 27, 1939: "Plans and specifications have been completed for Oregon County's new $100,000 courthouse which is to be constructed of Ironton, Mo., red granite and Oregon County flat sandstone. The new 'break-proof' jail will be on the third floor and the circuit court room will be on the second floor. The old courthouse, to be torn down this month, is one of the oldest structures of its kind in the West having been erected in 1859. (The building constructed in 1859-1860 was destroyed by fire during the Civil War in 1863.)
The courthouse was vacated Oct. 9, 1939, and it was ordered to be demolished for a new courthouse to be constructed on the same site. The construction of the new courthouse was started soon after the demolition of the old building. The construction was being done by the Federal works project -- WPA."
In 1996, an addition on the east side of the courthouse was completed.
Today, with few cosmetic changes, the courthouse looks much like it did when it was completed in 1940.
In October of 2006, new windows were installed in the courthouse to replace the original 1940 windows. The cost was estimated at $44,764.
On Nov. 17, 2006, the Oregon County Commission was given an administrative court order by 37th Judicial Judge Richard Moore concerning the use of the courthouse by the Masonic Lodge. In his order, Judge Moore said the county commission is ordered to cease making courthouse space available to non-governmental organizations because they did not have legal authority to do so.
Judge Moore said in the order he was concerned about the inadequate space and facilities provided at the courthouse for the circuit clerk and the deputy juvenile office. He said much of the third floor of the courthouse was being used by the lodge.
The judge directed the county commission to promptly notify lodge officials of the order and to make sure the lodge completely vacated the courthouse no later than Dec. 11, 2006.
The commission complied with Judge Moore's order. The sheriff's office moved to the third floor of the courthouse where the jail has always been located and after some remodeling the circuit clerk and juvenile officer moved to the second floor of the courthouse.
On Sept. 6, 2007, a fire in a jail cell at the Oregon County Courthouse caused the death of a Mammoth Spring man, Jessie Johnson, 17, as the result of smoke inhalation.
Oregon County Sheriff Tim Ward said jailer Wendell Steel made a routine jail check at 9:23 p.m. on Sept. 6. Ward said at 9:40 p.m. the jailer was alerted by the yelling of prisoners and the sound of the fire alarm in the jail.
Ward said upon entering the jail Steel could see the smoke was too thick for him to enter the jail area and immediately requested assistance from law enforcement, ambulance and fire departments.
Four inmates, Cody Davis, 19, of Alton, Robert Huff, 22, of Thayer, Nicholas Pacheco, 18, of Thayer, and Johnson were in the cell where the fire started.
Davis, Huff and Pacheco were transported by Air Evac to St. John's Hospital where they recovered from their injuries.
There were two inmates in another cell, Tim Martin, 47, of Alton, and Rodney Reed, 51, of Mammoth Spring. Reed was transported by Oregon County Ambulance to Ozarks Medical Center (OMC) in West Plains. Martin was transported by his family to OMC. Both were treated for smoke inhalation and released.
It was later determined that the fire had been set by an inmate.
The information for this story was taken from "Oregon County: A Historical Review" written by E. Harlin Staires and Mary K. Staires, and from The South Missourian News.