Elk County Logo

Elk County
Chapter III


Courts and Bar


THE first courts of this county were held in the old school-house at Caledonia. The walls on three sides were standing until recently in a fair state of preservation. A recent measurement of the walls made by Erasmus Morey and Squire Dixon showed the building to have been 20x24 feet in size.

The first record of the courts of Elk county is dated December 19, 1843. James L. Gillis and Isaac Horton, associate judges, were present, and before them William J.B. Andrews qualified for the office of prothonotary; Uriah Rogers was appointed crier; Vine S. Brockway, Eusebius Kinkaid and Joseph Rogers, court constables; B. Rush Petrikin, George B. Barrett and Lewis W. Smith were present, and permitted to practice in the courts of Elk county. This completed the round of business, and court adjourned to February 19, 1844. Judge Alex McCalmont was present in February, and at this time N.W. Goodrich, D.B. Jenks, Jesse G. Clark and L.T. Parmelee were admitted to the county bar. Eusebius Kinkaid was appointed sheriff, and N.W. Goodrich, prosecutor, pending the issue of commissions to them or others. In March the court assembled, but adjourned till May 20, when a petition for a new township was presented and the original county seat commissioners asked to show cause why they should not report their proceedings to the constituted authorities of Elk county. All that part of Shippen township south of Jones, and north of Fox and Jay, was attached to Fox township for administrative purposes. On September 16 licenses were granted to the Boston Lumber Company and Dickinson & Co. to deal in foreign merchandise; and the first grand jury of the county was impaneled. The names of such jurors are given as follows: Rasselas W. Brown, John Gardner, Jacob Kriger, Selah Morey, William McComber, Henry Mason, David Meredith, James Malone, Robert McIntosh, William Shepard, George Smith, Henry Stutler, William Taylor, Joel Taylor, Abijah B. Weed, Eben. C. Winslow, Reuben C. Winslow, David Wheeler, all farmers; Jacob Coleman, merchant, Gibson; James Gallagher, hotel, Ridgway; Joshua Iddles, carpenter; John Collins and Samuel Stoneback, laborers; Hezekiah Warner, merchant, Jay; Alanson Viall, hotel, Fox; Caleb Dill, blacksmith.

The report of the statute commissioners was made at this time, as given in the transactions of the commissioners; S.J. Goodrich, S.P. Johnson, I.Y. James, George W. Carskadden and William A. Williams were admitted to the bar, and David Thayer was indicted for keeping a tippling house. In December C.B. Knapp and Robert Wallace were admitted, and John Rothrock and Robert Wise were licensed to deal in foreign goods, as well as the Boston and Dickinson companies. Commissioners Brockway, Winslow and Brooks were indicted for misdemeanor in office, on the oath of Edward Derby. A jury returned a verdict of not guilty. The grand jury declared that the Milesburg and Smethport turnpike was abandoned by the turnpike company, and suggested its repair by the county. Hiram Payne and John S. McCalmont were permitted to practice here in September, 1845. Martha Worden was indicted for murder, but a jury found that she was not guilty as charged, and in December C.B. Curtis and L.B. Wetmore were admitted. Licenses for stores were issued to Gillis & Clover, Dickinson & Co., Cobb, Gallagher & Co., W.A. Simpson, George Weis and John Rothrock in February, 1846, and to C. Fisher, of Benzinger township. In May tavern licenses were granted to Caspar Burhagher and Anthony Fotchman, of Benzinger; N. Hyatt and Mary Viall, of Fox; Henry Thayer and Pierce J. Brooks, of Ridgway, on condition that neither drunkenness nor disorder should be tolerated. Lewis M. Burson, James Campbell, George W. Teigler and W. Hecker were admitted to the bar in September, 1846.

Patrick Malone and Gerhart Schoening, of Fox and Benzinger, respectively, were licensed to keep general stores. In February, 1847, Alfred Pearsall was granted license to keep a temperance house in Jay, and Joseph Luhr a liquor house at St. Mary's in Benzinger township, and in May, Kasper Ditch wished to compete with Luhr, and was permitted to carry out his wish. Truman Weaver was indicted for forging county orders, George Rhines for keeping a disorderly house, and Isaac Nichols and Milton Johnson for cutting timber. In 1848 the grand jury presented the fact that the county stove-pipes were going to waste for want of care. William P. Jenks was admitted to the bar, also B.D. Hamlin and Mr. Bishop. In 1849 William A. Stokes was permitted to practice here, and in September Joseph Buffington took his seat as president judge. In May, 1850, Aaron Harrington petitioned for license to keep a tavern at Centreville, and J.T. Wells at Highland, numerous petitions came from St. Mary's, at which place the German element was determined to have beer. The grand jury condemned the Thayer & Winslow mill-dam across Bennett's Branch in September, 1851. In February, 1852, Judge White presided; illegitimacy was presented in a few forms about this time, and some cases of forgery, counterfeiting and perjury are recorded. Andrew G. Curtin, Dave Boal and John L. Cuttle were permitted to practice at this bar. In June, 1853, H.A. Pattison and Charles Horton were admitted in October previous, and Reuben Mickle in October following. In March, 1854, E.B. Eldred and John G. Freez were admitted, and in May James G. Gordon and T.J. McCullough. In October, 1855, E.S. Dandee was admitted; in January, 1856, Joseph B. McEnally, and in December, J.A. Boyle. The examining committee, in re Boyle, comprised B.F. Lucas, W.A. Wallace and Albert Willis. A.A. McKnight was admitted in 1858, Samuel Lynn and Edward Blanchard in 1859, and Warren Cowles in 1860. From this period until June, 1860, when George A. Rathbun was admitted, there is no record of additions to the bar of Elk county. The motion to appoint an examining committee on his petition was made by Justus C. Chapin, when Henry Souther, W.P. Jenks and B. Brown were appointed such committee. In October John G. Hall was admitted, and in January, 1864, Louis Grunder. In March, 1864, the first inquest on the body of an unknown person was held at Ridgway. It is supposed he worked on the railroad. In January, 1865, an inquest on the body of Peter McQuirk was held. The back of his head was torn away. In January, 1867, P.W. Jenks, O. T. Noble and W.W. Brown were permitted to practice here, and on August, H.C. Parsons. C. Luhr was appointed court interpreter at this term, and in November, C.O. Bowman, S. E. Woodruff, W.H. Armstrong and C.W. Huntington were enrolled as members of the bar. In 1868 John B. Newton and C.H. Gross were admitted members of the bar, also Elijah H. Clark, V.O. Smith and A.V. Parsons. In April of this year, President Judge H.W. Williams took his seat on the bench. The trial of Mrs. J.S. Scott for poisoning her husband on June 7, 1873, took place in January, 1874. J.K.P. Hall represented the State. The woman was found not guilty. The murder of old William Falen by William Bromley took place in Horton township, July 19, 1873. In May, 1879, M. Ohearn, of St. Mary's, was sentenced to a fine of $100, and eight years solitary confinement in prison for manslaughter. In September, 1880, the trial of Harry English for the murder of Frank Warnith, of Caledonia, on April 17, took place before Judge Wetmore. Messrs. Wurzell, G.A. Jinks, J.G. Hall and C.H. McCauley prosecuted, and P.B. Cotter, A.B. Richmond, Eugene Mullin and W.W. Ames defended. The jury acquitted the prisoner. In May, 1886, William C. Bush, who was charged with the murder of Philip P. Bush, near Wilcox, was captured; on September 24 he was sentenced to death by Judge Mayer, but this sentence was commuted to imprisonment for life.

The attorneys who practiced here from August, 1868, to May, 1879, exclusive of the above mentioned are named in the following list: 1868, M.W. Acheson, Frank Barrett, Luman Stevens; 1869, Samuel A. Purviance, Wilson C. Kness, Charles Albright; 1871, F.O. Bailey, W.W. Ames; 1872, J.C. Johnson, E.S. Goulden, John H. Orvis, C.H. McCauley; 1873, W.P. Mercelliott, Robert P. Allen; 1874, W.M. Lindsey, D.S. Herron, Charles Dinsmore, B.W. Green; 1875, J. Boss Thompson, C.S. Cary, B.S. Bentley, F.D. Leet, A.L. Gordon; 1876, C.W. Stone, Henry W. Watson, Charles Bartles, Jr., R.M. Chamberlain, W.S. Hamblen, Charles Geddes; 1878, George R. Dixon, J.M. Schram, M. S. Kline, W.M. Rightmyer; 1879, C.H. Noyes, George W. Wurzell, L.J. Blakely.

In 1880 P.R. Cotter, Eugene Mullin, Schnurr and Metzgar were permitted to practice here, and also A.B. Richmond, Rufus Lucore and George P.Griffith. Harry English was indicted in May for murder, with A.J. and Phoebe Rummer, but the latter were discharged. English was charged with the murder of Frank Warnith, on April 17, 1880, at Caledonia, as shown in the evidence before the coroner's jury. In September, English was charged with the murder of Philip Vollmer, but found not guilty, and was tried for forgery. He was sentenced to pay $500 and costs for the latter crime. An inquisition held on the body of John Johnson, killed July 15, at Centreville, was approved. The village of Ridgway was incorporated. In January, 1881, the name of M.S. Kline appears on the roll of attorneys; in May, resolutions on the death of Matthew L. Ross, the old court crier, were adopted. In September an inquisition was held on the bodies of Engineer Wm. Kepperly and Fireman Charles M. Parks, killed in the wreck at Silver creek bridge near St. Mary' s, September 8. In January, 1882, George W. Clinton was appointed surveyor, vice J.L. Brown who was appointed in December, 1881, on account of failure to elect a surveyor. Charles B. Earley was admitted to the bar in May, and Isaiah H. Brown and H.H. Hall in September. In January, 1883, Ernest J. Wimmer was enrolled as a member of the bar. At this time a number of inquests on men killed on railroads were held, the records filling several pages, the premature explosion of a blast on the Rochester & Pittsburgh line killing several workmen. George A. Allen, S.W. Pettit and J.P. McNarney were enrolled as attorneys in May. In July, 1883, a number of fatal railroad accidents find reference on the court records. In November, 1884, George W. Boyer was appointed deputy treasurer of the county. In May, 1885, J. Bayard Henry and F.P. Pritchard were permitted to practice here; A.E. Whitney was admitted, and in November, A.L. Cole, of Clearfield, Messrs. Chapman, McClure and Wallace, of McKean, were permitted to sign the roll. In 1886 S.M. Brainerd, of Erie, W.W. Ames and N.M. Orr, of McKean, and Truman Ames, of Clearfield, enrolled their names. W.W. Barbour was admitted here in September, and N. T. Arnold and F.H. Ely were formerly enrolled. P.J. Vonada is the latest addition to the bar of this county.

In 1879, two grand juries having condemned the old wooden court-house erected in 1845, the commissioners, then consisting of W.H. Osterhout, Michael Weidert and George Reuscher, took steps to erect a new building for the courts and county officers. After examining court- houses in several counties, they concluded that the general plan of the one then lately erected in Warren county would best suit the needs of Elk, and adopted plans and drawings made by J.H. Marston, of Warren, and Mr. Marston was employed to supervise the work. The old building was sold as it stood to Hugh McGeehin and by him removed to his lot on Main street, west of Mill, and turned into a tavern, now known as the "Bogert House." Mr. Marston drove the work as rapidly as possible, and on July 16, 1879, the corner-stone was laid with appropriate ceremonies. The January court for 1881 was held in the new building, which was then fully completed. It is 110x55 feet, having a clock tower in which is a Howard clock, costing some $700. The old stone jail, built about 1846, having been formally condemned, the commissioners in 1884 commenced the erection of a new one which should be more in accordance with modern ideas and give greater security for the retention of prisoners. It is located in the rear of the court-house, and the dwelling for the sheriff projects to the east, so that it is plainly visible from Main street. The cage system has been adopted for the cells, twenty-two in number, built of hardened chrome steel bars. It has all sanitary appliances, rooms for hospitals, bath-rooms, and the male and female wards separated by a brick wall. It was constructed under the supervision of M. Van Etten, who had been a foreman under Marston on the courthouse. The cost of the court-house in round numbers was $65,000, that for the jail estimated at $40,000, was in fact about $37,000. The erection of these substantial buildings at a cost of over $100,000 has set the question of the location of the county seat at rest for a long time to come. The exterior walls, eighteen inches thick, are of brick of Elk, county burning, except the face on front and sides, which are of Buffalo pressed brick, the corners being laid up of cut sandstone. All the partition walls on the ground floor are of brick, twelve inches thick, and supported by two feet thick foundation walls of stone. There are four fire proof vaults 10x20 feet, with floor and ceilings of brick and cement arched on iron girders; and the whole building is plentifully supplied with all modern conveniences, and heated throughout by steam. Natural gas is used for fuel and light. Another feature of the county offices is the Schoening system of records and blanks, designed by the popular prothonotary, Schoening. This system is as yet confined to small sections of the country, but when its excellence is generally understood, it will take the place of all old time methods.

The Rathbun law library, in George A. Rathbun's office in the court-house, is modern in arrangement and quality of works. Mr. Rathbun contributed a very excellent sketch of Ridgway to the press a few years ago, written and compiled during his leisure hours among his valuable collection of law books and general historical works. Charles B. Earley's law library is another feature of the county seat. For over twelve years the work of gathering this valuable collection of books has been carried on. This library finds a place in the large building erected, in 1889, for himself and brother, Dr. F.G. Earley.

Source: Page(s) 590-595, History of Counties of McKean, Elk and Forest, Pennsylvania. Chicago, J.H. Beers & Co., 1890.
Transcribed December 2006 by Nathan Zipfel for the Elk County Genealogy Project
Published 2006 by the Elk County Pennsylvania Genealogy Project

Return to the Elk County Home Page

(c) Elk County Genealogy Project