From R. S. Dills' History of Fayette County
On the 15th day of April, 1803, the general assembly of the State of Ohio, passed an act establishing the judiciary system of that time. It determined that the supreme court of the state should consist of three judges chosen in the manner directed in the constitution, that is, they were to be appointed by a joint ballot of both houses of the general assembly; and they were to hold their office for the term of seven years, "if so long they behave well." This court was declared to have original jurisdiction in all civil cases, both in law and equity, where the title of land was in question, or where the sum in dispute exceeded the value of one thousand dollars. It had exclusive cognizance of all criminal causes where the punishment was capital ; and of all other crimes and offenses not cognizant by a single justice of the peace; it had cognizance concurrent with the court of conmion pleas.
By this act, also, the state was divided into circuits, of which the counties of Hamilton, Butler, Montgomery, Greene, Warren and Clermont comprised the first district. A president of the court of common pleas was to be appointed in each circuit, in the same manner that the supreme judges received their appointment. The president, together with three associate judges, appointed in a similar way, for each county in the state, constituted the court of common pleas for such county.
COURTS AND COURT HOUSES
It is said that the first court in the county was held in the cabin of John Devault, a little north of the present site of Bloomingburg, presided over by Judge John Thomson. It appears that chairs were a scarce article and Mrs. Devault's bed was pressed into service by his honor, for which he received a severe Caudle lecture from the old lady. Sometimes a stable, and again the adjoining hazel thicket accommodated the grand jury in its sittings. Judge Thomson is described as a man of Puritanical morality, and distinguished himself by the long and tedious moral lectures he invariably delivered in open court to culprits tried before him. To such an extent did he indulge this practice, and so severely did he lash them, that his lectures were much more dreaded than the sentence of the law.
It is quite difficult to reconcile the date and locality at which the first courts in the town of Washington were held. Time has tainted the credibility of contemporary sources, but in the absence of direct or presumptive evidence to the contrary, the authority of Judge McLain and William Robinson seems to be the most satisfactory.
In about the year 1811 a double round-log cabin was standing on the corner of Court and Main streets, fronting on Court, on the site now occupied by Brownell's grocery and Willit's gallery. This cabin consisted of two independent rooms, probably ten or twelve feet apart, with the roof meeting in the center and covering the space between. In the room nearest Main, the first court in Washington was held, in about the year 1812. While the jury retired to the hazel brush which grew thickly near, to hold their deliberations, and whenever the presence of the sheriff or prosecuting attorney were needed, their names were loudly proclaimed from the thicket. It is stated that while justice was solemnly dispensed in one room, whisky was as hilariously sold by the owner of the cabin, Valentine Coil, in the adjoining room.
We have no means of knowing just how many terms of court were held in this cabin, but it appears that the court house was ready for occupancy at least as early as the spring of 1814; also that court was held in the cabin during the latter part of the year 1812, and by good authority it is stated that court was held in the Coil cabin a much longer period than elsewhere, we conclude that it served as a court house from 1812 till about the latter part of 1813, then was removed to the Melvin (now Vandeman) corner, and shortly afterwards to the corner now occupied by Brown & Brothers' drug store, and from here to the
FIRST COURT HOUSE
Valentine, or "Felty" Coil, while but two years old, was captured by the Indians and taken to Canada, where he learned to make brick. Coming to this county in its infancy he found use for his knowledge in making brick for the first court house and first brick building in the county.
Early in 1813, excavations were made on the site of the present court house and the clay taken out was burnt into brick by Coil and used in the building, which was completed and occupied as early as March, 1814. This building was about the same size and shape as the present main building minus the wings.
The windows were composed of twenty-four lights, each ten by twelve. The cupola was different from the present, in that it had no base, or at least a very small one.
Its location was about twenty feet west of the alley, and twenty feet back from Court Street. While it seems that the building was in the main finished and occupied in 1814, yet it is stated that two men, by the names of Life and Burnett, finished the cupola in 1815. It cannot be ascertained who built the house, but it is known that Jacob Kelley and Silas Young, in addition to "Felty" Coil, were brick-makers and brick-layers, and resided in Washington at the time.
In about the year 1828, this building burned down, involving the loss of nearly all the records.
Court was then removed to a little brick oflice, then occupied by Judge Wade Loofborough, situated in the rear of the present office of Dr. Saulsberry, in the Brownell grocery building. From here it was next removed to the house now owned by Mrs. R. A. Robison, junior, where it was held until the new court house was built.
NEW COURT HOUSE
On the first day of February, 1828, the board of commissioners, then consisting of Jacob Jamison, Thomas Burnett and Matthew Jones, met for the purpose of entering into negotiations for the erection of a new court house. Together with other citizens, the brick walls of the old building, yet remaining, were examined, and after consulting mechanics and masons, the board decided that they were not worth repairing. On the following day, after "mature reflection," the board agreed to build a new court house, with fire proof offices attached for the clerk of the court, recorder and auditor.
The clerk ot the board, Norman Jones, was instructed to draft a plan for the new building, and the auditor was ordered to give notice that the commissioners would meet on the fifth day of March, following, to receive bids for the building of the new court house. The auditor was also authorized to sell the brick in the old walls to the highest and "best" bidder.
On the 23d day of February, the board met to select a location for the new house, which resulted in their choosing the southeast corner of the public square, the main building and offices fronting on Court and Main streets.
It was ordered that a draft be made of the contemplated structure, the main building to be forty feet square, with a wing thirty feet long and fourteen feet wide attached, facing each street. On the day appointed, March 5th, the board met to receive the bids and award the contract, which resulted in awarding the contract for the erection of the house to Thomas Laughead, of Ross County, for one thousand three hundred and eighty dollars and ninety cents, and the carpenter work of the same to John Harbison, of Greene County, for one thousand three hundred and seventy- two dollars and forty cents.
March 4, 1829, one year after the awarding of the above contracts, the house was ready for the inside work, the contract for which was awarded to John Harbison, for six hundred and eighty-nine dollars and sixty-seven cents.
The floor of the lower story was to be laid of white or burr-oak, one and a half inches thick and seven inches wide. The upper, of yellow poplar. A washboard of good seasoned walnut, one and a quarter inches thick and eight inches wide, surrounding the floor of the lower story. The fire-places were to be made of brick, with brick hearth. Also a handsome chair-board of walnut around the lower story. In the smallest office on Court Street, there were to be three plain fire-boards in the lower floor.
At the same time the contract for plastering was given to Silas Young, who undertook to do it for three hundred and twenty-nine dollars, and on December 8th, same year, the work was completed, examined by the commissioners aud accepted, and the key delivered to Norman F. Jones, who was appointed to take charge of the building, and enjoined not to open it for any purpose except during the sessions of court, without the consent of the board.
On the 10th day of April, 1830, the inside work was examined, and accepted by the board, and the balance paid. Thus it would appear that at this date the new court house was finished and ready for occupancy, although it had been used before fully completed.
June 5, 1833, the board gave Benjamin Croan thirty dollars for repairing the floor and blinds of cupola, so as to render it waterproof.
June 29, same year, Jesse Milliken and Wade Loofborough were appointed to make out a draft of the repairs needed for jury-box and necessaries for court and bar, not to cost more than fifty dollars, and the auditor was authorized to employ a suitable person to do the work.
January 30, 1836, the auditor was authorized to cause a sufficient quantity of clay to be so placed at the southwest corner of the court house as to turn the water from the same, and prevent the foundation from being undermined.
June 9, 1836, Daniel McLean was ordered to purchase a bell for the court house, at any sum not to exceed one hundred dollars.
April 4, 1844, a description of an oflice for county auditor, and treasurer, was made public, which were to be built on Court Street, thirty feet long, fourteen feet wide, nine and one-half feet ceiling, three windows in front, two in the rear, and one door in the northeast corner. The contract, for which, was sold to William Harfor, for one hundred and fifty dollars; R. J. Freeman doing the carpenter work for one hundred and twenty-five dollars.
March 4, 1846, a description of the repairs to the court house was made public, and the contract for the same, awarded to Benjamin A. Crone, at four hundred and ninety-six dollars; the inside to be finished July 10th, and the outside September 1st.
These repairs were as follows: Four girders, 9x12 inches, were to be placed across the building, resting on the stone pillars, in the center, upon which a floor of oak plank, one and one-half inches thick, by eight inches wide, was to be laid. The doors and windows to be repaired so as to fit tight, walls plastered and whitewashed, new panel durable doors for the front entrance; the outside walls of the court-room, and fronts of the offices, on Main Street, to be stained with a solution of Venetian red and lime; four air holes 9x9, on Main Street, four on Paint, and two on each side of the rear, immediately under the floor. A new floor in the cupola; windows and cornice to be painted with three coats of white lead and oil; new blinds, etc. ; lightning-rod to be raised; judges seat raised three steps above the bar, and with the clerk's seat and desks to be repaired, juror's seats, also, to be raised seven and one-half inches. Stair case to be sealed up on side, etc.
On the 29th day of August, the work was examined and all accepted, but blinds and lightning-rod, which were not complete. They also allowed the contractor two hundred and fifty-six dollars ; the same amount having been previously allowed. Twenty-one dollars and seventy-five cents was allowed for extra work. March 3, 1847, William Holt, was allowed one dollar for filling up fire place, and cutting a hole for a stove pipe in the clerk's office. December 30, 1848, notice was given that an addition would be made on the northwest side, twelve feet wide in the clear, by thirty long; foundation of good stone sunk in the ground eighteen inches, six inches above the surface and eighteen inches thick, the balance of the wall of good brick, thirteen inches and eight feet high in the clear, the whole to be finished in good order July 1, 1849 ; the contract for which was awarded to Nelson H. Reid and James Grubb, for two hundred and forty-nine dollars and seventyfive cents.
In 1851, March 5th, the auditor caused a small gate to be put up between his oflice and Grubb's store; also a case for books and papers in his oflice, and to contract with some one to take the steeple off the court house, just above the dome, and cover it with tin or zink, and repair the lightning-rod.