The substantial and handsome public buildings of Schuyler County, now in use, have been evolved by natural degrees and at long periods, from the primitive log cabin which served for the seat of justice when the county organization was perfected in 1825. It was most natural that the early settlers should desire a court house, and soon after the town of Rushville was laid out the first county building was erected. It stood on the north side of the square, about where the Griffith hardware store stands today, and was built of logs. The specifications for this, the first county building, were meager and are found in the Commissioners’ record of April 24, 1826. Notice was given that a court house would be erected, occupying a ground space of 22×18 feet, and one and a half stories high. It was further specified that “there should be two good floors, and a good and sufficient chimney.” The public letting of this building was announced for July 4, 1826, but we can find no record of the name of the contractor or the cost of the structure, though it was paid for and used by the county for several years.
The next record of a public building is found in the proceedings of the Commissioner’s Court of Spetember 3, 1827, when lot 1 on block 13 of the town of Rushville was reserved for a jail and stray-pen. It was specified that the jail building should be 15×15 feet and the stray-pen 40×40 feet, and the contracts for building the two structures were to be let to the lowest bidder on September 27, 1827. Isaac Linder was the builder of this first jail and, on March 20, 1828, he presented his bill for $150. Objections were apparently filed to its payment for we note that William McKee and Jesse Bartlett were appointed a committee to arbitrate the claim, and failing to reach a decision, Mr. Linder brought suit against the county. The stray-pen was built by Elisha Kellogg, and his bill for $9.50 was allowed without protest.
While the general specifications of the jail simply called for a building fifteen feet square, it later appears that it was a story and a half building, and that the prisoners were let down into their dungeon through a trap-door in the ceiling. This door was the all important part of the jail building, and was let under separate contract according to the following specifications:
“The inner door of the jail shall be made of plank one and one-quarter inches thick, to be of two thicknesses, laid across each other and spiked together with broad-headed spikes, driven within three inches of each other, said spikes to be driven through and clinched, the under thickness of said door to be cut so as to fit hole in floor, the upper thickness to jut over one inch all around, said door to be hung on two iron hinges, the strap part of said hinges to be one-half inch thick and two inches wide, and to extend across the door, the staples to be three-quarters of an inch, and drove eight inches into floor; also a bar of iron one and one-half inches thick and two inches wide extending across the middle of the door, hung on staples at one end and to fit on a staple at the other end like a hasp, and a strong, substantial padlock fixed thereon. The other door to be made in like manner and of material, except there is to be no bar across middle of said door, and said door to be hung on hooks in place of staples, also there must be a good, strong stock-lock put on said door.”
It was further specified that the inner door was to be completed May 10, 1828, and the outer door September 1, 1828, contractor to give bond for faithful performance of the work and accept in payment therefor state paper at par. In accordance with these specifications Joel Tullis secured the contract for the jail doors for $43.50.
Within a year after the first court house was completed, the county officials were asking for larger quarters and on December 3, 1828, notice of letting for the construction of a Clerk’s office in the middle of the block on the east side of the square was given. This building was to be 14×16 feet and ten feet high, the joist being eight feet from the lower floor. A porch six feet wide was also to be built across the front. The specifications called for two doors and four windows of twelve lights each, and a good brick chimney. The records show that James Power was allowed $116.75 for construction, and Alexander Hollingsworth and Mathias Mastin $14 and $15, respectively, for lathing and plastering.
This building was not completed before there was a demand for a more pretentious county building, and the question of a new court house was discussed at the May meeting of the Commissioners in 1829, but definite action was postponed until the June meeting. When the Commissioners met on June 1, 1829, it was decided to erect a new brick court house, and Hart Fellows was appointed a Commissioner with full power to contract for the building and also to superintend its construction.
Mr. Fellows was apparently a man of action for on July 4, 1829, the Board ratified a contract made with William McCreery to construct the foundation for a court house for $375. Later changes were probably made in the plans, for he was afterwards allowed $486 for his work. The brick work and enclosing were contracted for by Benjamin Chadsey, who was allowed $2,360; the inside finishing was done some time later by William Wright, James Hunter and John Brown, at a cost of $785, which, with smaller items of expense, made the total cost of the building $3,735.
This court house stood in the center of the park and was a brick building measuring 42 feet square and without ornamentation or display, save for a modest cupola, but it served the needs of the county for more than fifty years, and was ever a monument to the good workmanship of those early pioneer builders.
With what was then regarded as a magnificent court house the County Commissioners desired to have the other county buildings in keeping and, on March 11, 1837, it was decided to build a new jail. The building was designed to be 26×24 feet and two stories in height. The outside wall was to be of brick eight inches thick, with an inside wall of timber, ten inches thick, and each story ten feet in height. The plans called for a hall eight feet wide and sixteen feet in length, the jailor’s room 18×15 feet and the kitchen 18×11. In addition to the cells for prisoners, there was also a debtor’s room. The contract was awarded to Alexander Penny for $4,000 and the building was completed in January, 1838. Mr. Penny had another contract to furnish locks for the building and make minor improvements, for which he was to receive $150, but there was a disagreement as to terms and he refused to surrender the keys to the building. The matter was later amicably adjusted by arbitration.
Although this building had cost more than the court house, it was deemed unsafe for the confinement of prisoners in 1855, and in July of the following year the Board of Supervisors advertised for proposals to construct a new county jail. On January 17, 1857, a contract was entered into between the county and Jeremiah Stumm, wherein he agreed to construct a stone jail, with iron doors and window grating, for the sum of $6,445. The jail was built according to contract from limestone quarried along the McKee branch, and it served as a county bastile until 1902, when the present new jail was completed, and the older building now does duty as a calaboose for the city of Rushville. In the construction of this building, Mr. Stumm met with unforseen misfortune and, on account of the bad condition of the roads, the stone cost him almost double what he had figured on, and when the building was at last completed and settlement made with the county, he was loser on the contract by some $700.
THE PRESENT COURT HOUSE–Schuyler was now provided with county buildings that were to serve for the next twenty-five years, and not until 1877 was there any movement made to secure more modern structures. In 1879 Edwin Anderson, Supervisor from Rushville Township, renewed the agitation for a new court house, but his motive before the Board was voted down. At the meeting of the Board in September, 1880, the motion was again renewed and this time received the sanction of a majority of the Board of Supervisors. It was at that meeting that the initial step was taken for the construction of our present handsome county building, by the adoption of a resolution which called for the construction of a court house to cost not more than $40,000. It was also decided to apportion this sum so that one-third the total amount would be levied on the taxable property of the county for the years 1880, 1881 and 1882. In the original resolution the location of the new court house was fixed on the site of the old one, in the center of the park; but on February 24, 1881, this action was rescinded and the site of the county building fixed on the southwest corner of the public square. To effect this change in location, it was necessary to expend $3,500 for a site, and of this sum the county paid one-half, the city of Rushville $1,000 and the remaining $750 was contributed by public-spirited citizens. It was further provided that the county should lease the park in the center of the square to the city of Rushville.
In designing a plan for the new county building the committee appointed for that purpose were most favorably impressed with the court house at Monroe, Mich., and decided to duplicate it; and, on December 17, 1880, the contract for construction was awarded to Thomas Keegan, of that city, for $36,000.
Work on the new court house began early in the spring of the following year, and on June 24, 1881, the corner-stone was laid with the imposing ceremony under the auspices of the Masonic fraternity. Deputy Grand Master DeWitt C. Cregier, of Chicago, was master of ceremonies and Hon. Carter H. Harrison, Sr., delivered the oration in commemoration of the event. The occasion was made a gala day for Rushville, and visitors from all parts of the State were entertained and feted.
DOCUMENTS AND OTHER ARTICLES DEPOSITED IN CORNER-STONE–The following is a list of documents and other articles deposited in the corner-stone of the Schuyler County Court House, at the time of formal beginning of work on the building in 1882:
Square and compass.
Copy of Revised New Testament.
Copy of Charter and By-Laws of Rushville Lodge, No. 9, A. F. & A. M.
History of Rushville Lodge No. 9, with a list of all officers and members since its organization in 1842.
History of Huntsville Lodge NO. 465, A. F. & A. M., and Camden Lodge, NO. 648, A. F. & A. M., with names of officers and members.
Names of State, County, Township and City officers, Judges of the Supreme Court of the State, Judges of the Sixth Judicial Circuit, and names of all Circuit Judges who have ever presided in the Circuit Court of Schuyler County.
List of attorneys practicing in Rushville at the present time (1882).
Draft of the First National Bank of Rushville on the National Bank of New York for $10.
Copies of county papers, containing proceedings of the Board of Supervisors relating to the building of the court house.
Copy of invitation addressed to citizens by Building Committee, inviting them to be present at the laying of the corner-stone.
Copies of the Rushville Times and the Schuyler Citizen, of June 23, 1881.
History of the churches of Rushville.
History of Schuyler County.
Plat of the public square of Rushville, showing location of all the buildings and names of present occupants.
Copy of the premium list of the twenty-fifth annual fair of the Schuyler County Agricultural Board.
Copy of tribute of respect to the memory of Josiah Parrott, Sr., deceased.
Copy of proceedings of the Grand Lodge, of A. F. & A. M. of Illinois, for the year 1880.
A short sketch of the ceremony of laying the corner-stone.
The erection of this county building was unusual in many respects. For one thing it was completed well within cost of the appropriation voted, and was paid for when finally completed. By the plan of providing for the tax-levy well in advance of construction, the tax payers had paid for the building ere they were aware. From the standpoint of architectural appearance, substantial construction and convenient arrangement, the Schuyler County court house defies just criticism, and, considering the cost of erection, is unsurpassed by any county building in the State.
COUNTY FARM AND POOR HOUSE–The care of the needy and unfortunate was a charge that the County of Schuyler accepted soon after its organization, and one of the first acts of the County Commissioners was to appoint Riggs Pennington and Nathan Eels Overseers of the Poor. As occasion demanded, aid was extended by the county and the unfortunates were cared for in private families at public expense. When the Commissioners met in December, 1850, it was decided to levy a tax of one mill on every dollar of taxable property in the county and provide a sinking fund for the purchase of a county farm. In 1855 this fund amounted to $3,802.56 and, in March of that year, the Board of Supervisors purchased of John Micheltree the southeast quarter of Section 26 in Buena Vista Township and plans were made for the county to assume the care of its indigent citizens. At this time there was a frame dwelling house on the farm and two single log cabins, which were used for housing the inmates. The county farm was formally opened June 25, 1855, with Michael G. Sandeford as Superintendent. In 1869 the large brick building, which now serves as a residence for the Superintendent and lodging quarters for the female inmates, was erected at a cost of $12,000. Later improvements have since been made in the way of two cottages for men and the construction of barns and granaries. The area of the farm has also been increased from 160 to 310 acres, and it is so managed as to be practically self-supporting. J. R. Leary is now serving as Superintendent of the county farm at a yearly salary of $1,200, and in addition to the farm produce raised each year, he has been able to turn into the county, a good revenue from the sale of hogs and cattle, which are fed and fattened there. The farm lies within a mile of Rushville and, with its present improvements, is conservatively valued at $25,000.
Excerpted from Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and History of Schuyler County, 1908, edited by Howard F. Dyson.
Transcribed by Robin Petersen for Schuyler County ILGenWeb