New Madrid County located on the Mississippi River was one of Missouri’s five original counties. The town of New Madrid was founded in 1783, with the county of New Madrid being organized in 1812 and extending south through much of present day Arkansas. The county area was cut roughly in half during the following year with even further reductions in size by 1816.
After the earthquakes of 1811 and 1812 and repeated flooding of the Mississippi River, in March 1814 the county court moved the county seat away from the river north to Big Prairie Township on the sand ridge near the El Camino Real, and the seat of justice was located in Rossville, just south of present-day Sikeston. No courthouse was ever built at Rossville and again the seat of justice was moved. The next seat of justice was in Winchester located near the present Scott County line in the neighborhood of Sikeston. After Missouri statehood and the partition of Scott County from New Madrid County the seat of justice returned to New Madrid in 1822 and reportedly had been moved three times mainly because of the continued river bank erosion.
Fire, however, rather than flood, finally destroyed the courthouse on September 24, 1905. A news account of the fire described the building as a one-story frame, constructed of red cypress, with a small door in the north gable above the porch. There were two offices on the south end, two on the north, with a courtroom in the middle.
No known photographs exist of any 19th century New Madrid County courthouse. After the fire, county offices moved into several different buildings in New Madrid. Lilbourn a few miles west challenged for the county courthouse. A legal battle ensued and ended in 1914 with the Missouri Supreme Court ruling in favor of New Madrid, leaving New Madrid County without a courthouse for fourteen years.
For the 20th century courthouse, New Madrid County purchased a new site north of the original town of New Madrid in March 1915. From architects who presented plans, the court selected those from H. G. Clymer of St. Louis. Clymer's plan was for a brick building 107 by 75 feet with stone trim. The court accepted the Interstate Building and Construction Co.'s bid of about $80,000 for the shell. Citizens donated $20,000 to supplement the $50,000 bond issue. Cornerstone ceremonies were July 4, 1915 for the Classical Greek Revival style building of white sandstone and porcelain brick with a copper box laid in the northeast corner containing copies of all New Madrid County and St. Louis newspapers and carefully prepared historical events, including the names of the citizens who contributed the $20,000, names of all county officers, etc. Additional funds for finishing the courthouse and jail were authorized early in 1917, but no bids were received. World War I was beginning, and the labor force was reduced. Finally, W. W. Taylor, a master builder from Cape Girardeau, superintended final interior work, which included marble stairways with cast iron railings and a large rotunda with a stained glass window in the ceiling that was completed in January 1919. Final costs exceeded $100,000. This courthouse continues in use as New Madrid County’s seat of justice with genealogical records available to the public.