Genealogy Trails

Transcribed from the Book
"Counties of Cumberland, Jasper, and Richland, Illinois"
Originally Published by F.A. Battey & Co., Chicago, Ill.

    For fourteen years Cumberland County had no public buildings. The location of the county-seat was delayed so long that no action could be taken in this matter. In the meanwhile temporary quarters were secured of James Ewart, who furnished room for the County court and the Clerk of the Circuit Court, which office be first held. Later a house was secured of Daniel Porter, and this served as courthouse for some ten years. The Circuit Court was domiciled in an old log schoolhouse, which continued to serve as a temple of justice until a hail was secured, and then the courthouse at the county-seat. In 1855 the County Commissioners, reciting the fact of the election by which Prairie City was made the county-seat, ordered the building of a courthouse as follows: “Whereas, at said election Prairie city received 608 votes and Greenup 518 votes, making a majority of 90 votes in favor of Prairie City; and, whereas, it is made the duty of the County Court of Cumberland County, by the terms of said act in the event of a majority of the votes cast at said election being in favor of the removal of the seat of justice to Prairie City, to procure suitable public buildings for the public officers of said offices of said county, and also to provide a suitable place for holding court in said Prairie City. It is therefore ordered by the court here, in pursuance of the provisions of said act. that a brick courthouse be erected upon the public square in the said town of Prairie City, of the following dimensions, to-wit: — feet long, and — feet wide, and the side walls of the house to be twenty-eight feet high. from the ground, and made of good merchantable sand-moulded brick, and to stand upon a foundation of limestone rock, to be two feet below and two feet above the surface of the earth, the top foot to be of cut rock, hammer-dressed, and be well bedded and laid in lime mortar; and said building is to be covered with sound joint shingles, and finished in a neat and substantial manner; and it is further ordered that the Clerk of this county receive sealed proposals until the last day of this month for furnishing the materials for the construction of said building, and also for the mechanical work in erecting the same according to such plans and specifications as may be furnished by the court previous to the time of letting said contract, and that James Redfern, Esq., be and he is hereby appointed a committee to supervise the erection of the courthouse and other public buildings at Prairie City.” This was done in June, 1855. In the meanwhile Charles Hubbard was appointed agent of the county to make contracts and supervise the construction, because of the hostility of the County Clerk to the removal of the seat of justice. In the following December a contract was made with Bennett Beals and Wiley Ross for the erection of a courthouse at a cost of $10,500, the building to be enclosed by November, 1856, and the lower room to be completed for the April term of the Circuit Court in 1856. So determined was the opposition to all this action by the Clerk that he refused to record the contract, and it did not appear on the Commissioners’ journal until his successor wrote it in 1857. The contract provided that the building should be forty feet square, that the foundation should be of good thick heavy limestone, three and a half feet high, twenty inches below the ground and twenty-two inches above; to be three feet thick below the ground and twenty-eight inches thick above. The walls were to be twenty-seven feet high; the first story walls fifteen feet high and twenty-one inches thick, the second twelve feet high and seventeen inches thick Other specifications called for three outside doors, nineteen twenty-four light windows, a cupola and “a bell that can be heard five miles;” the entire building to be painted and penciled outside, the blinds painted green and trimmings white. The plan and inside arrangement were common in that day, hut appears quite primitive beside the structures of to-day. Double doors provide for admittance to the Circuit Court rooms from both the east and west sides, while a single door on the south side, with an enclosed entrance and stairway, leads to the offices above. One-half the courtroom is reserved, by a substantial railing to the court., bar, jury and witnesses, while the other half is provided with pews for the accommodation of interested spectators. In its prime the outside presented an attractive appearance. The bright red of the brick, with regular and clear penciling, its green blinds and white trimmings, made it an ornament to the village, and even now, though shorn of its early freshness and beauty, it possesses a quaintness and air of decayed luxury that hides to a great extent, its lack of repair. This first and only courthouse still serves the county in its original capacity. There is a wide-spread feeling that a new building is imperatively demanded for the safety of the records, which are now protected only by wooden closets, but the old competition in regard to the county-seat has so far intervened to prevent a new building. Greenup still affects to believe that the seat of justice may be moved, although this would require a three-fifths vote in its favor, and hence uses its efforts against a new courthouse at Toledo. Considerable repairs have been made upon the structure, of late, and as it is will probably serve the county for several years to come. The site of the public square was originally very unpromising. A large pond of water covered a part of it, and one of the first improvements attempted was the filling of this slough. In 1858 a neat wooden fence enclosing the square was built by Reuben Beals and W. H. Laugh­ter, at a cost of $488. This fence is now sadly broken down, but the Board of Supervisors have contracted for a fine fence with the Champion Iron Fence Company of Kenton, Ohio. This is to be a park railing of iron spears, very ornamental in its style, and to cost $1.85 per foot. About one thousand feet are required.

    A jail building did not seem so vital a necessity to the county,. and under the circumstances in which the Commissioners found themselves, they made no attempt toward erecting one until 1859. In the meanwhile when a prisoner was had that required secure keeping, the jails of Coles or Clark counties were brought into requisition. Petty offenders were kept in a large “gum” which the Sheriff had near his house on the bank of the Embarrass River. This it is said was quite as secure for the time as the modern iron contrivances of the present. It is related of one prisoner, that he succeeded in reaching the top, and after knocking off the board covering was attempting to make good his escape, when the whole institution toppled over, shooting the prisoner down the bank into the river, from which he finally emerged none the worse for his involuntary bath. This was probably the cheaper way of releasing him, and nothing further was done for his recapture. In March, 1859, however, a contract was entered into with William Jones and Reuben Bloomfield, to construct a jail and jailers quarters. The building was a single story brick, twenty by thirty-two feet in outside dimensions. This was divided into two parts, the west side being adapted for living apartments. An official report upon this building, in 1874, gives the facts in the case: “It will offend nobody in Cumberland County, to say that the jail at Prairie City is a miserable affair The jail and jailers house, one block north of the courthouse, are a one story brick building, twenty feet by thirty-two, erected in 1859, at a cost of $2,500, and now in very bad repair. The jail proper consists of four cells, two on each side of a dark and narrow corridor, three and a half feet wide, the corridor entered by a double door from the jailers room, the cells about seven feet square and seven feet high, two of them of boiler iron, and two of oak timber. The iron cells are secure but uncomfortable, being destitute of sufficient light or ventilation. The jail is insufficiently heated in winter by a stove in the corridor. There is no privy in the jail, but buckets are used instead; no water, except as it is carried in by the jailer; no separate provision for female prisoners (there never was but one, however, in the jail); and the corridor is perfectly unsafe. The floor and the ceiling are of plank, and both have been broken through. The jail was very dirty when visited (June 30), and entirely destitute of furniture, with the exception of straw ticks and blankets. There was but one prisoner in confinement.” The building was poorly planned for the purpose for which it was intended, and has never properly satisfied the needs of the county. But few prisoners have occupied it a great length of time, though on one occasion some thirteen or fourteen were crowded into those contracted cells. In the latter part of 1863 the building was found greatly out of repair, the sleepers rotting, and greatly in need of renovating throughout. Considerable money was expended at this time, and other expenditures have been made from time to time to add to the comfort of the jailers family. It has since been condemned by the grand jury, but it still remains to vex the public eye and disappoint the public service, and will do so until public sentiment will rise above the jealousies engendered in the county-seat contest, and consent to the building of a new one.

    The care of the pauper poor in Cumberland county has long been a vexed question. During the early experience of the county the poor were cared for by some family in the neighborhood, and the cost of their maintenance paid by the County Commissioners. A tract of land was early secured with the design of fitting it for public alms-house, but for some reason the design was never carried out and in 1862 the Board of Supervisors bought 160 acres of George Moreland, at a cost of $1,900, $500 of which were paid by the transfer of the land bought early. The more recent purchase is pleasantly situated in the northeastern part of Sumpter Township, about four miles from Toledo. The property was provided with a log barn, and an old residence part log and part frame. With slight repairs this was made to serve as the abode of tenant and paupers. The log part of the house was subsequently abandoned, as it was not worth repairing, and in 1873 a new building was erected at a cost of about $l,500 for the tenant and his family. This building was without halls ‘or other passage-way; partitions of inch boards, and ceiled with lumber. It contains seven rooms. Later in this year the report on the Poor Farm showed that the old house was in bad condition; that it was not worth repairing, and that a new house ought to be built at once. The Board of Supervisors, with commendable promptness, ordered a new one to be erected at the same meeting of the report, and in March of the following year the building was ready for occupancy. This is a neat frame, two stories high,. and about forty by eighteen feet, with a wing sixteen by twenty feet. In 1875 the old log stable, which had literally rotted down, was replaced by a frame structure, thirty-four by thirty-six feet, at a cost of $375. In 1882 a neat cottage was erected for the tenant of the farm, and the building formerly occupied by the tenant given up to the inmates of the institution. The farm is let to the highest bidder, who pays an annual rental, and receives a weekly allowance for each pauper boarder maintained. The tenant keeps, clothes, and boards the pauper, stocks the farm at his own expense, and gives a bond in the sum of some $2,000. The rental at first was $2 per acre for cultivated land, and the allowance $2 per week for each inmate. Since then as the farm has improved, the rent has increased and the allowance, at times, decreased, so that the annual rental reaches $200, and the weekly allowance is something less than $2 per week. The county employs a medical attendant by the year, the services of the lowest responsible being retained. The farm is provided with a good apple orchard and good fences, and presents an attractive appearance to the visitor.

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