Old County History.
Honorable George M. Hollenback Writes a Valuable Paper.
Reminiscences of Old Oswego Courthouse.
The Old County Officers and Attorneys of Long Ago.
Compiled and Edited by Elmer Dickson
Originally Published in the Kendall County Record, July 6, 1904.
The following paper was read at the old settlers’ gathering in Oswego, Illinois on Thursday, June 23, 1904, on the occasion of the historical picnic, by Honorable George M. Hollenback, who is the first white child born in this part of the Fox River Valley.
Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen:
Your committee has awarded me as a subject “Reminiscences of the Old Courthouse.” It is so long since I had an office in the old courthouse that many reminiscences in connection therewith that would be interesting, have with many fleeting years, passed from my mind and memory. Before entering upon anything of a personal nature it will be well to go back and state a few things in relation to the matter in jurisdiction. It will be remembered that the State of Illinois was know in the latter part of the last century as the “Elinoy Country,” and was erected into a county of the Commonwealth of Virginia, which it claimed under its English charter, the whole of what is now included within the boundary of the state, and so remained until the deed of cession in 1788, by which Virginia relinquished to the United States all claim to the Northwest Territory as it was called.
Virginian government, with its several departments, were very early establishments, including the county organization pertaining to the Old State, which continued in force in this State until changed by the constitution of 1848. The first Board of County Commissioners was composed of the following persons: Jeremiah J. Cole, Levi Hills and Reuben Hunt, who organized by electing Marcus A. Fenton, County Clerk. The county commissioners held the court four times a year for the transaction of all county business the same as their successors, the Board of Supervisors, do now.
The Circuit Court exercised the same jurisdiction that it does now, the County Judge appointing his own clerk. A Probate Justice was also provided for by law, exercising the same jurisdiction and powers the County Judge does now in the settlement of guardianship of minors. A Recorder of Deeds was also provided for. The first recorder to fill that office was Almon Ives.
A Board of Commissioners appointed by the State Legislature located the county seat at Yorkville during the summer of 1841, and the first session of the Circuit Court was held in August of that year. The Honorable Thomas Ford, presiding judge, who had previously appointed Alonzo "Bainbridge" (A. B.) Smith Clerk of the Circuit Court. Smith held that office until the constitution of 1848 went into effect.
The County Commissioners’ Court provided for the erection of county buildings early in 1847, and sometime in the spring or summer of that year the corner-stone of the courthouse was laid. The work progressed so that the offices were occupied and courts held sometime in the following year. The erection of the courthouse and provision for its payment were about the last duties performed by the County Commissioners’ Court. In 1848 the new constitution provided for the organization of the County Court, consisting of a judge and two associates, and at the election held in November of that year, Joseph W. Helme was elected Judge and Samuel C. Collins and Edward Walker Associate Justices. This court, as organized, became the successor of the County Commissioner’s Court. Among other duties performed, were those pertaining to county affairs, until the adoption of township organization in 1850, and a Board of Supervisors became the successor to the County Court regarding county affairs. Thus, in the short space of less than three years, county affairs underwent three different kinds of jurisdiction.
George W. Hartwell was elected the first clerk of the County Court in November, 1848, holding the office for years. Chapman and Reynolds had the contract for the erection of the courthouse. It was in appearance, a rather imposing colonial style structure of two stories facing west. It was approached by stone steps leading to a porch, extending the whole width of the building and some 15 or 20 feet wide. Four large columns supporting the roof added much to the appearance of the building. Double doors in front opened upon a spacious hall 10 or 12 feet wide on the right of which was situated the offices of the Clerk of the County and Clerk of the Circuit Court, with fireproof rooms adjoining each in which to keep records and papers. On the left side of the hall was a kind of general office for the accommodation of the County Treasurer and Superintendent of Schools. The Clerk of the County Court always carried the key to this office and the room was occasionally used by him when the County Court or Board of Supervisors was in session. Adjoining this room was the Grand Jury Room and it was also occupied by the Board of Supervisors when in session. At the rear end of the hall was a smaller door than those at the front. The courtroom above was reached by two stairways leading to the vestibule, a wide door opening into the courtroom. Here was a large hall extending to the bar. At the further end of the hall, a large wood stove was set up for warming the courtroom when court was in session in cold weather. The auditorium was situated on either side of the hall. The seats of which would comfortably seat 150 or 200 persons. The seats directly behind the bar were on a level with the floor, the balance of the seats rising as they approached the bar. The bar occupied about one-third of the floor space and was separated from the auditorium by an appropriate railing. The bar was provided with armchairs and a long table covered with green baize. The bench was situated on an elevation at the west end of the hall facing the bar and was reached by three or four steps. The Clerk’s desk was on a level with the floor in front of the bench and was surrounded by a neat rail.
There was a great deal of dissatisfaction in various parts of the county for the location of the county seat at Yorkville. The legislature had its session in the winter of 1845 and provided for a relocation of the county seat by a vote of the legal voters of the county. The first election was held the first Monday of September, 1845. A number of sites were voted for at the election, none of which received a majority of the votes cast. At the second election held a month later it was found that Oswego had won. From then until the seventh of June, 1864, Oswego remained the county seat. At that time the records were again removed to Yorkville and into the new courthouse which had been erected for their reception pursuant to the vote of the legal voters of the county some three years prior to the move.
My connection with the courthouse, except attending two years as a bailiff, began on the first day of December, 1856, on my 25th birthday, having been elected Clerk of the Circuit Court of Kendall County the preceding November. I continued to hold that position for eight years, having been reelected in November, 1860.
When I entered upon the duties of Clerk of the Circuit Court, Benjamin Ricketson was County Judge, having succeeded Joseph W. Helme in 1852. Jeremiah J. Cole at the same election was elected Clerk of the County Court, succeeding in that office George W. Harwell. Henry M. Day succeeded Mathias Beaupre as Sheriff in 1852, and in turn was succeeded by Jonathan Raymond at the election of 1856.
During the whole of my service as Clerk of the Circuit Court and for some time thereafter the honorable Madison E. Hollister was Judge of the Court. During that period many of the leading lawyers in this part of the State attended its sessions. From Ottawa came the rival firms of Glover, Cook & Campbell, and Gray, Avery & Bushnell and Colonel T. Lyle Dickey and General W. H. L. Wallace. At the first session of the court, Mr. Washington Bushnell was States Attorney. Many members of the Kane County bar , then as now, were much in evidence at sessions of the court, among them William B. Plato, John F. Farnsworth, Gust Herrington. Benjamin Franklin Parks, Charles Wheaton, R. G. Montony, and others whose names I do not now recall. The home talent of the period consisted of Joseph Warren Helme, A. B. Smith, John Milton Crothers, Benjamin Franklin Fridley, George A. Tucker and Albert Snook of Oswego; Irus Coy and George W. Watson came from Newark; James H. Felch and W. H. Clark came from Yorkville; Lewis Gilbert Steward of Plano was a licensed attorney but did not practice. All of the persons bearing these names have passed from life, except the Honorable Charles Wheaton and the now venerable Judge Montony of Aurora.
This sketch will now be confined to some recollections of the persons connected with the courthouse during the time I had an office therein.
John Milton Crothers was a native of Greenfield, Ohio, and son of the Reverend Samuel Crothers, a Presbyterian minister. He chose the profession of lawyer and came west in 1839 or 1840, settling first at Ottawa. On the organization of the Kendall County in 1841, he in company with Jesse S. Pitzer removed to Oswego and opened a law office. At the November election in 1848 he was elected Clerk of the Circuit Court, holding that office for eight years, having been reelected in 1852. In 1856 he was elected a member of the General Assembly of the State. At the close of the session he resumed the practice of law in Oswego. He had been appointed Master-in-Chancery while yet a clerk, and held that office at the time of his death, which occurred in 1860 at Greenfield, Ohio where he had gone for his health. It was the beginning of Mr. Crothers’ first term as Clerk of the Circuit Court that the offices of Recorder and Clerk were united and have so remained.
Joseph Warren Helme was a native of Orange County, New York, born during the latter years of the last century. He was educated at Princeton College in New Jersey, and chose the legal profession. Before coming to Illinois he resided some years at Pulaski, New York, coming to this state about 1836. He was elected County Judge of Kendall County in 1848, holding that office until November 1852. He was an excellent lawyer and was well qualified to discharge the duties of any judicial office from Justice of the Peace to the highest station. He had a judicial mind of the highest order and was well qualified by education in his practice, but unfortunately he often said sharp things in his lawsuits and the ordinary transaction of business, that made him unpopular with some. He was a good conversationalist and a delightful companion to meet socially; a gentleman of the old school.
Jeremiah Jackson Cole was a native of Rhode Island. By instinct and practice a bookkeeper. When I first saw him he was a deputy assessor of Kendall County, in 1843 or 1844. One, Colquohon Grant had been elected assessor. He did not qualify or for some other reason did not perform the duties of the office. Cole was appointed and performed the duties to the satisfaction of the county authorities. He was member of the first Board of County Commissioners, and in 1848 was elected County Treasurer, and as such assessed the county in 1849. In 1852 he was elected Clerk of the County Court and was twice reelected to that office and died in office in April 1864. At the time of his death he was about 65 years of age. He was an accomplished accountant, accommodating officer and most agreeable companion.
Jonathan Raymond was elected Sheriff in November, 1856, serving in that capacity two years. He was born in Massachusetts in 1806, and came to Illinois in 1834. He was a very agreeable man and took great pride in his office as Sheriff, opening and closing the Circuit Court following the forms and ceremony that he had witnessed in Massachusetts when a younger man. He was a very successful auctioneer, and a good all around citizen and neighbor. He died in Bloomington, Illinois in 1884.
Wright Murphy succeeded Raymond as Sheriff in 1858, serving for two years. He made an excellent Sheriff, and served as a common soldier during the Rebellion. His health was broken during his service, and he died a few years after the War. He was a companionable man and good citizen.
Dwight Ladd succeeded Murphy as Sheriff in 1860, serving two years. He was a most excellent and conscientious officer. He served with credit to himself in the public service and retired to a farm at the expiration of his term and died comparatively young.
Ami D. Newton succeeded Dwight Ladd in 1862, and served two years until December, 1864, he was the first Sheriff to occupy the Sheriff’s office and residence in the new courthouse at Yorkville. In subsequent years, he was elected Sheriff for many terms and was respected by all who knew him.
Benjamin Ricketson was born in Northeastern New York of Quaker parentage, and came west in what is now Kendall County sometime during the early 1830’s. He was elected County Judge to succeed Joseph W. Helme in 1852, and was subsequently reelected and continuously held that office until 1867. He was succeeded in office by the honorable Henry S. Hudson. Judge Ricketson was a popular and conscientious officer, and subsequently moved to California, where he died a few years ago.
Upon the removal of the county seat to Yorkville and the erection of the new courthouse it seemed desirable to make a change in the county officers and it was thought the proper thing to do to replace the old servants of the county with those who had borne the heat and burden of the day in the tented field during the Civil War. Having been succeeded in office of Clerk of the Circuit Clerk December 1, 1864, by Captain Albert M. Hobbs, with some regret I stepped down and out. I was invited by Captain Hobbs to remain with him in the office until the following spring, which I did. My connection with the old courthouse ended of course, when the records were removed to Yorkville, June 7, 1864.
Soon after, by authority of the Board of Supervisors, the courthouse site was sold and the title thereto passed forever from Kendall County.
During the time I was connected with the Clerk’s office at Oswego, I was the first public officer, so far as I know, in this part of the State to employ female help in the office as assistants. I found them more reliable and more attentive to business, and did their work just as well, or better, than that done by the other sex. I find, in visiting other counties, most of the employees in the public offices are females.
In conclusion, permit me to say, I feel it a pleasure to respond to the invitation of your committee to appear before you today to make the feeble effort I have made in your hearing. The fleeting years since that morning of December 1, 1856, have borne away the voices and forms of so many that were then living. I can almost number on my finger ends the survivors of that year. I take this opportunity to thank your committee for the honor extended to me by asking me to speak to you on this occasion, and I now bid you farewell.
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