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Athens Court House, Athens County, Ohio

For about a year and a half after the organization of the county, the court was held in a room, rented for that purpose, of Leonard Jewett and Silas Bingham. In 1807-8, a hewed log court house was erected, very near the spot where the present one stands, in which the courts were held for about ten years. This temple of justice must have been a pretty substantial structure, if its chimney, described in the following extract from the records of the county commissioners may be taken as a “specimen brick:”

“September 7, 1807. The commissioners proceeded to adopt the following plan for a chimney in the court house in the town of Athens, to wit: The foundation to be laid with stone, one foot below the surface, the remainder to be of brick, to be well laid in good lime mortar; one fire place below and two above-the fire place below to be four feet clear in the back, twenty-two inches deep, and five feet four inches wide in front, to be secured by a bar of iron the size of a common flat bar, and secured with a sufficient bolt let into the discharging piece-the bolt to be secured by a fore lock and key, the bolt about one foot and five or six inches in length, and the discharging piece six inches thick. The fire places above to be each eighteen inches back, and built proportionably with the rest of the chimney, which is to be raised three feet above the top of the building; the upper fire places to be well coated, and the whole to be completed, including the hearths, in a workmanlike manner, on or before the 20th day of November next; which (contract) being put up at public sale, was struck off at seventy-eight dollars.”

The resources of the settlement being very limited, this same building was used also for a school house, and meeting house. In the records of the county commissioners we find the following entry:

“December 7, 1811.-Resolved, by the commissioners, that from and after this date, the court house in the town of Athens shall not be used as a school house or a meeting house, unless the inhabitants of said town shall agree to furnish, for the use of the court, during the time of its session, a. sufficient quantity of fire wood, ready cut, fit for the fire; also to keep the house in as good repair as it now is, and keep the same well swept during the sitting of the court; and that the clerk notify the inhabitants as aforesaid, by advertisement posted on the court house door.”

Perhaps the school teacher was careless about shutting the door at night, and probably school boys, in those days, like other boys before and since, were not scrupulous about keeping the floor clean; for the next entry on the subject is as follows:

“June 2, 18r2.-The board appointed Ebenezer Currier a committee to see, on condition the court house is used as a school house, that the door of said house be kept shut whenever the house is not occupied, every night, and that it be kept clean; also, that a sufficient quantity of fire wood be constantly kept for the court and commissioners, and that the house be left in as good repair as when entered upon.”

And, finally, on this head, it was ordered, December 8, 1813

“That the court house shall be no longer used as a school house, and that Henry Bartlett be a committee to take care of the same, and have said house repaired by the 1st of January next.”

“June 8, 1814, it was Ordered, that the north and east sides of lots Nos. 35 and 37, on which the court house and jail now stand, be fenced with good, sawed, white oak palings, of five feet in length, the posts to be of black locust, four by five inches square, and six and a half feet long, the rails of good white oak, and the panels ten feet long, with a small gate before the present court house door, and agate of ten feet wide near the north east corner, fronting the east.”

Caleb Merrit and Joseph B. Miles were appointed a committee to carry the above resolution into effect. The old hewed log court house was the one in use while Thomas Ewing was attending college at Athens, and he was, doubtless, a frequent visitor here. Here he probably gained his first familiarity with judicial proceedings, and acquired his earliest knowledge of the workings of the law. The practitioners at the Athens bar of that day, if they noticed an unsophisticated youth, on a back seat, intently listening to their professional efforts, little imagined that that youth would live to become one of the greatest expounders of the law our country has yet produced, and to ornament some of the highest positions in the land.

Proposals for a new court house (the one now in use) must have been published in the spring or early summer of 1814, for in the proceedings of the meeting of the county commissioners, held August 1, of that year, present, Asahel Cooley, Caleb Merrit, and Robert Linzee, it is entered:

“Proceeded to sell, to the lowest bidder, certain articles, agreeable to advertisement, to be furnished for the erecting of a court house, viz : to Ebenezer Currier, twelve hundred feet of black walnut boards, one and one-fourth inches thick; one hundred feet of poplar boards, one and one-half inches thick, and five hundred feet, ditto, one and one-fourth inches thickto be delivered on the court house lot, piled up properly for drying, and to be delivered on or before the 1st day of January next. To Edmund Dorr, twenty perch of rough stone, for the foundation-to be laid, according to advertisement, before the 15th day of November next.”

The following entries, copied from the old records of the county commissioners, mark the progress and history of the present court house:

“November 16, 1814:-Ordered, that the wall for the foundation of the court house be six inches thicker than described heretofore, and that the same be laid in mortar of lime and coarse sand, and that such further compensation be allowed to Edmund Dorr, contractor for the same, as masons shall adjudge.”

“December 5, 1814.-County of Athens, to Joseph B. Miles, Dr
To 1,925 feet of boards and scantling, – $19 25
Hauling same from mill, – – – 3 00
Drawing plan of court house, – – 1 00

“December 6, 1814.-Ordered, that the clerk notify, by advertisement, set up in three public places in Athens, the furnishing of three ranges of cut stone, two feet wide and nine inches thick, to be well laid in lime mortar; also the furnishing of one hundred thousand good merchantable brick, to be delivered on the court house lot by the 1st day of August next. Proposals will be received by the commissioners, in writing, at their meeting, on the second Monday in January next.”

” February 1, 1815.-The commissioners met for the purpose of consulting as to the practicability of proceeding in building the court house.”

It was decided to proceed, and at their meeting, March 7th, the clerk was directed to

“Advertise in the American Friend, for furnishing brick and stone in amounts as aforesaid; proposals to be received by the commissioners, at the court house, on the second Monday of April next, from 10 A. M., to 4 P. M., on said day.”

“April 10, 1815.-The commissioners met for the purpose of contracting for the furnishing of cut stone for the court house; also of one hundred thousand brick for the same. After having received the proposals of Elijah Hatch, Esq., and Edmund Dorr, for furnishing brick, and of William Dorr, William Alcock, and Jonathan Amlin, for furnishing and laying cut and hewed stone,” the board adjourned till next day.

“Tuesday, April 11.-Proceeded to receive bonds of William Alcock and Jonathan Amlin for the stone work, and agreed with them for the sum of three hundred dollars, payable October 1st, next. Proceeded also to take bonds from Edmund Dorr, for the furnishing of one hundred thousand brick for the court house; amount of said contract, six hundred dollars, in county orders, on the completion of the contract.”

June 7, 1815, the clerk was directed to advertise for materials, and making doors and window frames; also for sleepers, joists, and rafters, and for framing timber for floor, laying the brick, etc.

“July 17, 1815.-The commissioners proceeded to contract as follows : with John Havner, for laying up the brick walls of court house, five hundred dollars; with Abel Stedman, furnishing timber, framing cupola, etc., two hundred and seventy-four dollars; and with Elijah Hatch, for shingles, sixty-seven dollars.” –

“September 5, 1815.-Agreed with John Porter, he being the lowest bidder, for the following jobs of work, viz: putting a cornice round the court house, at fifty cents per foot; also hoarding the roof of the same, for the sum of twelve dollars; and shingling the same at the rate of one dollar and twenty-five cents per thousand, and at one dollar for each hip.”

“September 6, 1815.-The board appointed James Gillmore superintendent, to oversee and superintend the building of the court house, and to call on Charles Shipman and J. B. Miles to assist him at any time when required.”

“September 26.-Resolved by the board, that the sum of four hundred dollars be borrowed from the Bank of Marietta, for the purpose of paying for the stone work on the court house, including window sills, etc., and for the purpose of purchasing nails; and that an order issue for the said amount, payable to Asahel Cooley, and that the same be sent by William Skinner, and deposited in the Bank of Marietta, for the purpose of obtaining the sum aforesaid.”

“September 27.-Busy in making arrangements for the building of the court house, and making proposals to the trustees of the Ohio university for the loan of one thousand dollars.”

“Thursday, 28.-Agreed with the trustees of the Ohio university, for a loan of one thousand dollars, for one year, at six per cent. interest.”

“Friday, 29.-Resolved, That Robert Linzee and James Gillmore be a committee to examine the mason work of the court house, when finished, and receive the same, and also to ascertain the number of brick in said building.”

The laying of the brick was finished in October, 1815, and John Havner received his pay in full, viz : $500, as per contract.

“Wednesday, December 6, 1815.-Resolved, by the commissioners of the county of Athens, That, in consideration of a subscription by sundry individuals, viz: Josiah Coe, Cephas Carpenter, Mary Ann Ackley, Lydia Ackley, James Gillmore, Jacob Dumbaugh, John Johnstone, Enos Thompson, David Pratt, Daniel Stewart, Joseph B. Miles, Henry Bartlett, Robert Linzee, Charles Shipman, Ebenezer Currier, Eliphaz Perkins, Chauncey F. Perkins, Alvan Bingham, Amos Crippen, John Porter, James J. Fuller, James Session, Silas Bingham, John White, Abel Stedman, Eliphaz Perkins, jun., S. S. Johnstone, John Havner, Thomas Armstrong, Seth Child, Asahel Cooley, Thomas McClelland, and Arthur Coates, amounting to $506, to be paid into the county treasury to assist in building the court house in said county, and this day presented by a committee appointed for that purpose by the subscribers; the commissioners do agree that the subscribers and their associates have the privilege of holding meetings for religious purposes, on the Sabbath and other days, for eight years from the first day of January, 1816, when it shall not interfere with the county business, upon condition that $500 of the above-named subscription be paid to Henry Bartlett on or before the first day of March next; and that each subscriber, on his paying the sum subscribed by him, shall receive a receipt for the same, to be refunded in eight years, without interest; and provided further, that if the said sum of $500 is not paid in by the time specified, then it shall be optional with the commissioners to refund the money or continue the privilege, and if they should not continue the privilege, then the money is to be refunded. And it is also understood that the aforesaid sum of $500 be appropriated for finishing the lower room of the court house, if the whole of said sum be necessary. The following form of receipt shall be given by Henry Bartlett, clerk of the commissioners, for the purposes aforesaid : ‘ Received of A. B. the sum of -, which is to be refunded to the said A. B., or his heirs or assigns, at the end of eight years from the first day of January, 1816, out of the county treasury, without interest.’

“January 6, 1816.-It is agreed by the commissioners and Joseph B. Miles, that the said Miles furnish the glass and oil for the court house, and that, after deducting the amount of said Miles’s subscription from the articles, the balance be paid him, on delivery thereof.

Same day.-” Agreed with John Walker for making the sash for the lower and upper rooms of the court house, priming the same, and setting the glass, and fitting the sash in the frames, at ten cents per light-materials to be furnished by the commissioners. Also, agreed with John Walker for laying the lower floor, at $4 50 per square. The above contracts_ to be completed by May 1, 1816.

“Agreed with John Porter for finishing the upper part of the cupola, from the cornice up (including cornice), putting up rafters, boarding and shingling roof, putting on timber, with a ball agreeable to a plan this day exhibited, to be completed by May 1st, 1817. Also agreed with John Porter, finishing and building the stairs for the sum of $60; the banisters to be mortised into the. hand-rails and string board, and completed in a workmanlike manner.

[Time for completing the above contracts extended to the 1st day of September.] ”

Same date.-” WHEREAS, Robert Linzee and Asahel Cooley, have loaned of the corporation of the Ohio university, the sum of $i,000 for the use and benefit of the county of Athens, in building the court house; therefore, be it resolved, that so much of the tax of this present year be appropriated for the benefit of said Linzee and Cooley, as will satisfy said sum and interest.”

Same date.-” Resolved, That James Gillmore and Henry Bartlett, be a committee to receive bonds of the several contractors on the court house, and that the said Gillmore and Bartlett, be a committee to dispose of the $1,000 borrowed by Asahel Cooley and Robert Linzee, for the use and benefit of Athens county, which sum said committee are directed to apportion among the different contractors who have heretofore filled their contracts on said building in proportion to their claims, after deducting therefrom six per cent.”

“June 13, 1816.-Agreed with John Walker, for completing the following jobs or parcels of work : finishing the judges’ seats in the court house agreeably to the plan, twenty panels in front, with bed moulding and capping for a cornice; five panels on each side of the bar, nine in front; two sheriffs’ boxes; two tables for the bar, and clerk’s seat, agreeably to the plan; after finishing thereof, the same to be adjudged by Messrs. Corp and Shipman, and the price determined by them; also agreed with same for making, finishing, and hanging the three outside doors of the court house, and casing the jambs.”

“June 25, 1817-Resolved, That the superintending committee be authorized to employ John Bowman to paint the roof, cupola, etc., of the court house.”

The foregoing extracts from the old county records include nearly every entry relating to the court house, and quite fully present the history of its erection. The building was about completed during the autumn of 1817, and has been in continuous use ever since. It has undergone changes and repairs both inside and outside, but much of the original work still remainsan evidence of the honesty and fidelity with which the mechanics of those days labored. It is an antiquated and most unornamental building, and must ere long give way to a finer structure; but, perhaps, the walls of its successor will never echo the voices of greater men or better lawyers than have plead within the old court house.

The first resident lawyer in Athens was Artemus Sawyer, a young man of high literary and scholastic attainments, who arrived in i 808. In i 8 10, he was appointed prosecuting attorney, and acted as such for a few years, until he fell an early victim to habits of intemperance. E. B. Merwin, of Lancaster, acted as prosecutor before Sawyer, and was one of the principal practitioners of this period at the Athens court. Gen. Philemon Beecher, and William W. Irwin, of Lancaster, were also regular attendants. William Woodbridge, of Marietta, practiced here until his removal to Michigan, where he became governor, senator, etc. The Hon. Thomas Ewing attended the courts in Athens county very constantly for several years, after his admission to the bar, as did also the late Samuel F. Vinton, who took up his residence in Gallipolis about 1817. Mr. Vinton represented this district in Congress for twenty-two years. Gen. Goddard, of Zanesville, also practiced here for several years, commencing about 1818. The Hon. Henry Stanbery came in a little later, but practiced for several years in the Athens courts, and his maiden speech was delivered in the present court house.* Messrs. Hocking H. Hunter, Brazee, and Nash must also be added to the great lawyers who practiced here. Gen. Dwight Jarvis, who resided and practiced here about five years,

* Mr. Stanbery, in response to an inquiry addressed to him by the writer, touching the correctness of the tradition that his ” maiden speech” was delivered here, replied:

“The ‘tradition’ is correct. I was admitted to the bar at Gallipolis, in May, 1824, and made my first jury speech at Athens in the following June. The case was of a character (in bastardy) and the evidence so broad as not to admit of publication. It involved some nice questions as to the period of gestation, etc., with which, of course, I was not at all familiar; so that I can very truly say that this was my’ first great cause least understood.’ I did, however, succeed in making one point which had a telling effect on the jury. The defense was mainly placed on an attempt to impeach the veracity of the mother of the children (for they were twins; I appeared for the mother, and she was the only witness to fix the paternity of the boys on the defendant.

from 1825 to 1830, was the second resident lawyer, not reckoning Joseph Dana, then a professor in the university, who though never fairly engaged in the practice, attended to a few cases, at intervals, when not occupied with teaching. At a somewhat later period, the late Judge Arius Nye, of Marietta, was among the most constant and faithful attendants, from abroad, at the Athens bar. Since about 1832, there has been no lack of resident lawyers (some of them of marked ability), and the attendance from abroad has been less frequent; in fact, of late years, non-resident lawyers are seldom seen here. The resident lawyers at the present time are Messrs. Grosvenor & Dana, Messrs. de Steiguer & Jewett, Messrs. Browns & Wildes, Messrs. Golden & Townsend, and Robert E. Constable.

I argued to the jury that our case was sustained by three witnesses. The counsel for the defense promptly contradicted this assertion, appealing to the jury that the mother was our only witness. I replied that it was true that the mother was the only witness

who had testified under oath, but that her testimony was fully corroborated by that of the twins themselves-calling the attention of the jury to certain points of resemblance which they bore to the defendant, and quoting the well known line, ‘ o, holy nature thou dost never plead in vain.’ So it turned out in this instance, for the silent testimony of the twins carried the case.”

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