( Many thanks to
Carl Lorber, Library Services, at Eastern Illinois
He took the time to
find and send me this article. Thanks also to Peggy
CUMBERLAND COUNTY COURT HOUSE FIRE
Illinois Thursday, November 5, 1885)
COURT HOUSE BURNED,
Together With All
Books, Records and Court Documents
by the fire, which
occurred on yesterday morning the people of this county suffer
irreparable loss one from which is will take years to
No money consideration will replace any part of the years of labor
untold expense that the county has been to since its’
organization. Everything of any importance pertaining to
or court business were in the courthouse and are now ashes.
About 2:10 a.m. yesterday, Frank
Field, sleeping in the City Hotel, was
awakened by a strong light shining in his room. Springing
bed he rushed to the window and saw that the courthouse was on
the south-west corner, in the vicinity of the stairway.
some of those in the hotel they proceeded to give the alarm, and
north bound train coming in about that time, blowing the engine
whistles it was not long before nearly everyone in town was on the
square. Having no implements or ladders with which to fight
fire the citizens were powerless to do anything but look on and
flames do their work.
In the circuit clerk's office was one transcribed record of Coles
County of deeds and mortgages and Index, 42 deed records, 16
records , one set of general indexes to mortgages, 2 chattel
records, 2 transcripts of judgments of justices of the peace, 15
circuit court records, 13 fee books, 8 judges’ records, 1 masters
of sale and redemption, 1 sheriff's levy, sale and redemption,
surveyors field notes of the county etc., George Bruster looses a set
of abstract books valued at $500. In the county clerks
were sale records of delinquent lands, marriage, birth and death
records; all the county court records and documents; assessors and
collectors books, with the exception of Union Township.
plats, tax rate docket, judges’ dockets, guardian and
records, etc. Besides all the records in the county
office. Summing it all up, the loss is inestimable.
“ORIGIN OF THE FIRE”
To those that were first at the fire, it looked as though the fire
started at the head of the stairs in the hallway and gradually
into the stairway above, and from there spread to the roof.
this was the case the fire was caused by an incendiary, and if by
incendiary his worthless life ought to pay the penalty for such a
person seems to have his opinion about the origin of the
fire. The citizens of Toledo deeply deplore the loss of
courthouse records. An effort was made to save some of the
records yesterday morning but failed. Circuit Clerk Bruster was also make W.S. Everhart’s law office his
office temporarily. County Clerk
Lemen and Sheriff
have taken temporary quarters at W.S.
Nearly every one is of the opinion
that it was the work of an incendiary, but who, and for what
purpose. The board of supervisors will meet tomorrow and
take such action as the circumstances will permit. It is
that the four men who were confined in jail for stealing ---- at
fair grounds, while in jail, threatened to burn the town.
election news hardly caused a ripple of excitement in Toledo, so
was the feeling over the loss to the county of the courthouse
records. Circuit Clerk Bruster and
McCandlish will lose by
the fire between $4000 and $5000 each, while County Clerk
Lemen’s loss will be
considerable. Their losses are in the way of uncollected
fees. While the county is practically at his mercy, Mr. W.S. Everhart
informs us that
the price for abstracting lands and lots will not be raised by
cent. But will be the same price they have been ever since
owned the abstract books. This confirms the opinion that
paper has always entertained for Mr.
Everhart - that he is a
square man. P. Lawrence says he was the first
man at the fire, coming from the west. He thinks the fire
in the hallway at the south partition. He also says the
window in the county clerks office was open and that he thinks
to the county clerks office must have been open as he is
saw a light in that office. Mr.
Jacob M. Conner says he
a short time before this alarm, a
noise in the direction of the courthouse that sounded like the
in of a door. Probably this was done and the windows
give draft to the fire. George
Shaw, living near the
south-east of town, was lying
awake, he thinks about 1:00 o'clock. He heard someone
a fast pace, and got up to see what it was and saw a man running
at full speed, but it was so dark he couldn't see who it
dog got after him and run him a short distance, the barking
awakening Jack Shaw, who
lives across the
road. It will be observed this was a short time before the
On the morning of November
1885, the Cumberland County, IL courthouse burned out of
Since there was only a bucket brigade, the call of “Fire” was
throughout the town, but soon was realized that this fire was
its’ way to destroying the courthouse and all records that were
The courthouse was located
town of Toledo, and was a 2 story brick building. The
the day was that a prominent attorney of the time was
funds, and was no longer able to cover his tracks, or he would
discovered. He had been doctoring the books, so to speak,
funds he had been stealing were all recorded in these
only way to cover his tracks would be to burn down the
courthouse. The fire was a total loss, with all records
destroyed from 1843-1885. This rumor was added to when
attorney was found forging notes and he soon left town. He
eventually located and brought back to Toledo, but was able to
his bond, and mentioned that others would go down with him if he
sent to prison. This man was able to pay off his debt and
his family out of town out of state.
We suggest, if you can, read the article itself in the
'Cumberland County History Book' complied by the Cumberland
Historical and Genealogical Societies. It was printed in 1968 to
the states Sesquicentennial
charges were ever filed
against this attorney, no solid proof was ever found, so this
speculation on behalf of the town)
by Mary (Easton) Watson Mary14@cfl.rr.com )
I just found a newspaper clipping
Dad had saved. It came from "The Toledo Democrate" which is a
newspaper in that area.
dated November 7, 1985,
Titled: Cumberland County Courthouse burned 100 years ago.
It was 100 years ago November 4,
the Cumberland County Courthouse
burned to the ground.
The courthouse, a two-story brick
building with a courtroom on its ground floor and offices and county records
the second, had been built in 1857.
According to newspaper accounts,
fire was believed to have started in a corner of the building near a
stairway. The cause was never determined, but many believed that an arsonist
The fire was first noticed by a
at a hotel across the street. A train passing through town blew its whistle
when the engineer noticed the fire.
Most of the town turned out to
or help with a bucket brigade. There was no fire department and not even
ladders available to reach the top floor, so the building burned to the ground.
The fire destroyed all papers in
courthouse, including land records, wills, mortgages and marriage and birth records.
100th Anniversary of Courthouse Fire
One hundred years ago on November 4, 1885, the Cumberland Country
courthouse located on the square in Toledo and all the county
records were destroyed by fire. the old courthouse, which had been
built in 1857, was a two story brick building with a courtroom
located on the ground floor and the offices and county records
located on the ground floor and the officers and county records
located on the second floor reached by a winding stair from an
entrance on the south side.
The blaze supposedly started in the southwest corner of the
building near the stairway. A man asleep in the city hotel across
from the courthouse was awakened by the light of the fire and
called others to raise the alarm. At the same time a train passing
through town and the engineer seeing the blaze from several blocks
blew the whistle. Soon nearly everyone in twon gathered around the
square to watch the fire or to help with the bucket brigade;
however there was no fire department and according to records not
even any ladders, so the building was totally destroyed.
supposedly a local lawyer, who was intoxicated got his fiddle and
played like Nero fiddling when Rome burned.
Some of the present day reminders of the old courthouse are the
rion fence which use to encircle the square, which is now at the
Toledo Cemetery, and a few pictures, one of which is in the county
treasurer's office in the present courthouse.
There is a belief that the fire was started by an arsonist,
someone who wanted to destroy the records, or a county official
who had taken money and started the fire to cover up the evidence
of the theft. Be that as it may the cause of the fire was never
The reader probably does not understand how significant this
destruction was. County landowners are reminded of the fire by a
notation in their abstracts which states that the public records
of Cumberland County were totally destroyed by a fire on or about
the 4th day of November, 1885. Not only were all land records and
probated wills destroyed, but all records of marriages, births,
mortgages and judgements were lost. there must have been chaos in
the county trying to prove what property people owned or what
debts they owed. Come to think of it, I wouldn't mind if my
mortgage burned up, but I would hate to lose the records for my
Mary (Easton) Watson
COURT HOUSE BURNED.
The Daily News Toledo, Ill special says;
The court house of Cumberland county was burned here this morning,
destroying all the county records. Loss of building $10,000 No
Date: Thursday, November 5, 1885 Paper: Daily Illinois State
Register (Springfield, IL) Page: 1
Toledo, Ill. The court house of Cumberland County, of which this
is the county seat, was entirely destroyed by fire at an early
hour Wednesday morning. All the records of the county are lost.
The only existing records of the county now is a complete set of
historical abstracts which are owned by W.S. Everhart, and were in
his possession. it is not certainly known what caused the fire
Date: Saturday, November 7, 1885 Paper: Hyde Park Herald
(Chicago, IL) Volume: V Issue: 15 Page: 2
House After The Fire It Was Rebuilt