Gallatin County Courthouse: Off the radar, but important

The first Gallatin County Courthouse was built in Bozeman in 1880, the same year the Panama Canal began construction and the first major developments were made to the railroads running through Montana. Rebuilt in 1936, the courthouse still stands on the corner of 3rd Avenue and Main Street today, marking one side of central downtown Bozeman.

Generally, when one thinks of a courthouse, one pictures judges, juries, attorneys and all of the other trappings of law courts. However, Gallatin County Courthouse is not where any of that takes place. Instead, court hearings are held in the Law & Justice Center. So, what does take place inside the courthouse?

The courthouse houses departments, meetings and offices of many kinds. One of these is the Gallatin County Commission, which has been in the news recently. The three Gallatin County Commissioners, Steve White, Don Seifert and Joe Skinner, recently added a new polling location on campus. They do a lot more than just decide polling locations, however. The commissioners decide on budgets, county buildings and more. They meet 9 a.m. on Tuesday mornings, in the Courthouse Community Room on the third floor.

The Conservation and Parks Department is also located on the third floor of the courthouse. They oversee all of the parks, recreation and conservation programs in Gallatin County. This includes planning and constructing new recreational facilities, maintenance, administration of conservation efforts and public outreach. The Open Lands Board does something similar. It “seeks to preserve open space lands for the enjoyment of present and future generations.” This is separate from the Conservation and Parks Department because it emphasizes preservation over recreation, but both work to ensure that the natural beauty of Bozeman persists for generations to come.

The Elections Department also works out of the courthouse. This is where one goes to register to vote or change one’s voting address or name. On the site MyVoterPage, run by the Elections Office, one can check their voting status including address, registration or the dates absentee ballots will be sent.

The Motor Vehicle Department is hard to miss, as it is located on the first floor of the courthouse. This is where one can register their vehicle, but is not where one goes to do driving or knowledge tests for a driver’s license. Testing for a license occurs on the other side of I-90.

The second floor of the courthouse contains a miniature, unofficial museum of sorts, as well. There, one can see multiple minerals and rocks pulled from around Gallatin County, as well as models of historic Montana buildings, including tiny log cabins. While many of these artifacts are unlabeled, they are interesting to glance at while waiting for a meeting or appointment.
There are tons of other departments and boards that meet and work within the Courthouse that work on everything from community planning to budgets, from airport regulations to public schooling. A full list of meetings, events and offices can be found at gallatincomt.virtualtownhall.net. Do take a moment to look, as they post job openings and public service volunteer positions frequently.