Tick tock, and you're all guilty.
Tick tock. The clock in the soaring tower of the Historic Green County Courthouse has been steadily marking the passing time in Monroe for more than 125 years. Despite a lack of publicity through radio, television, or social media, it is reported that more than 5000 people attended the building’s dedication ceremony held in August of 1891. The gasoline-powered engine was yet to be invented, with most attendees arriving by train or horse and buggy, or local residents on bicycle.
Located on the downtown “Square” in an area previously set off as a wheat field, the property was originally fenced to keep livestock from wandering the grounds. Horses – often pulling carts loaded with milk cans – were tied around the perimeter as farmers attended to business or shopping. With the majestic Courthouse at the center of it all, downtown Monroe grew as a center of commerce in southern Wisconsin’s Green County.
Today’s visitors – arriving by car, bus, or motorcycle – are often surprised to find that the building is open to the public. When court services were relocated to a new justice center adjacent to the county jail, the vacated spaces allowed for other county government offices to move in.
Other than landscaping, the property has changed very little since it was built. As distinctive as the exterior is (with marble pillars marking the porticos), the interior of the building also features some unexpected architectural details. Intricately designed hardware, artisan woodwork, and gold leaf accents can be found. Prehistoric snail shells are fossilized in the black marble tiles on the main floor. Perhaps most notable, however, is the 120-foot clock tower – capped in 1985 with a turret that replaced the original which had been ruined by high winds thirty years prior. But the highlight for many is simply to don an authentic judge’s robe and bang the gavel. A classic photo opportunity; with all declared guilty!
Designated as a Main Street community since 2005, the downtown district is home to more than thirty retail shops and nearly two dozen spots to enjoy local foods and beverages – including Baumgartner’s Cheese Store and Tavern – home to the famous Limburger cheese sandwich. Tours and tastings are available at the nearby Minhas Craft Brewery, Distillery and Winery. Key attractions include the Monroe Arts Center and Green County Historical Museum.
The Historic Green County Courthouse is open to the public weekdays 8 am – 4:30 pm. Visitors are welcome to explore the building, open offices, former courtroom and a small history room. Larger groups are invited to contact the Green County Tourism office at 608.328.1838 to set up a welcome and tour. Visit greencounty.org to learn more about Monroe and the surrounding area.