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History of Lycoming County, Lloyd, Chapter 19


Mar 22, 2017




The first courts in Lycoming County were held at Jaysburg. Subsequently they were removed to the barn of Eleanor Winter, which was located at what is now the corner of Rose and West Fourth Street, a site that has played an important part in the history of this section. After a short time they were moved eastward, contrary to the general tendency of municipal expansion, and found a home in the Russell Inn, at the corner of East Third and Mulberry streets. William Hepburn, although not a man learned in the law, was appointed as first president judge.

After being held in the Russell Inn for a year or more, they were again moved to another inn on East Third Street known as the “Rising Sun.” Only two sessions were held here and they were once more moved to a log house on the site of the present courthouse. This was probably in the year 1799. A portion of the building was also used as a jail. The courts were held in this building until the completion of the courthouse in 1804.

Judge William Hepburn was born in Ireland and came to this country when he was about twenty years old and settled in the West Branch Valley shortly afterwards. He was twice married and was the father of nineteen children. His first wife was Crecy Covenhoven, a sister of the famous scout, Robert Covenhoven, and his second wife was Elizabeth Huston, a sister of Charles Huston, who afterwards became a judge of the Supreme Court of the state. Judge Hepburn was a man of very considerable ability and prominence and left a very decided influence for good on the infant community. He died June 25, 1821, aged sixty-eight years, in the old house which he built at the foot of Park Street.

The second president judge of the courts was Thomas Cooper, appointed March 1, 1806. He was an Englishman by birth and a man of deep learning, having been educated at Oxford University. He acquired an extensive knowledge both of law and medicine. He espoused the cause of the French revolutionists while still in England. For this he was expelled from the country and came to America and joined his friend, Dr. Joseph Priestly, at Northumberland. He was appointed to the bench by Governor Thomas McKean. While a man of great learning, he possessed an irascible temper and was in constant friction with the members of the bar. This finally became so intense that articles of impeachment were preferred against him and he was removed in 1811.

Judge Cooper was succeeded by Hon. Seth Chapman, who was appointed June 10, 1811, and continued to serve until October 10, 1838. He was a man of learning and ability, but neglected his work, and for this reason he also was impeached. On being tried, however, he was acquitted, but resigned immediately after the verdict was rendered.

Judge Ellis Lewis followed Judge Chapman, being commissioned October 14, 1833, and served ten years until January 14, 1843, when he resigned. Judge Lewis was one of the most eminent jurists that ever sat on the legal bench in the State of Pennsylvania, a man of profound learning who had a wide and varied experience in life. He had been a printer, physician, newspaper editor and lawyer. He brought to the position of president judge a ripe knowledge of the world and filled the office to the eminent satisfaction of the members of the bar and to all with whom he came in contact. He was subsequently appointed to the Supreme bench and became chief justice of the Supreme Court of the state. His many decisions and opinions are models of perspicacity and clearness. He also served as president judge of the Lancaster district, was a member of the Legislature and attorney-general of the state. He was also a member of the commission appointed to revise the criminal code of the state and was the author of several legal works. He died at Philadelphia, March 19, 1871.

Judge Lewis was succeeded on the Lycoming County bench by Hon. Charles G. Donnel, who was a native of Lycoming County, having been barn in Williamsport, March 14, 1801. He was appointed president judge January 14, 1843, having previously served as deputy attorney-general for the county. He died suddenly March 16, 1844, having served but a little over a year.

Hon. Joseph B. Anthony was the next to fill the position, which he did with usual ability and satisfaction. He had previously served in the State senate and was a member of the Congress of the United States for two terms. So popular was Judge Anthony that at his second election for Congress he carried every township in his district and every ward in every borough. Judge Anthony was a man of stern integrity, strong intellectuality and a great lover of amusements. He had a most genial and courteous personality and his popularity was unbounded.

One of his daughters became the wife of Henry White, and their daughter, Josephine, married C. LaRue Munson and was the mother of Col. Edgar Munson, of Williamsport. Judge Anthony died in office January 10, 1851.

James Pollock, who succeeded Judge Anthony in office, was another man of distinguished ability. He had a wide and extensive political experience and had filled several offices. He was a native of Milton and was appointed to the president judgeship on January 16, 1851. He filled out Judge Anthony’s unexpired term of eleven months and retired December 1, 1851. He was afterwards elected governor of the state and served one term of three years. He subsequently filled several other offices, among them two terms as director of the Philadelphia mint, and it was he who suggested to the Treasury Department at Washington the use of the legend “In God We Trust,” which is now universally stamped on all United States coins. In 1851 the office of president judge in the state became elective and in the same year the districts were rearranged, Lycoming County becoming a part of the Eighth District, which was also composed of Northumberland, Centre and Clinton. The term of office was fixed at ten years.

Hon. Alexander Jordan became the first judge of this district by election. He was commissioned November 5, 1851. Judge Jordan was also a native of Lycoming County, having been born in Jaysburg May 19, 1798. He followed the business of a boatman until his family removed to Milton, where, after receiving a rudimentary education, he studied law and was admitted to the bar.

Judge Jordan had a varied experience. He served in the War of 1812 when only a lad and was for a time a deputy commissary. He clerked in a store and was deputy prothonotary both of Northumberland County and the Supreme Court of the state. In 1863, through the efforts of Peter Herdic, Lycoming County was made a separate judicial district and Judge Jordan was retained to preside over the courts of Northumberland and Clinton counties. B. S. Bentley was appointed judge of the new district by Governor Geary to serve until the next election. He then became a candidate for the full term, but was defeated by James Gamble, who became a judge. At the next meeting of the Legislature a bill was passed attaching Lycoming County to the district of Tioga, Potter, McKean and Elk, and Judge Gamble found himself legislated out of office.

He contested the legality of the act and the Supreme Court decided it unconstitutional. His tenure of office as judge was, therefore, confirmed and he continued to serve out his term. Judge Gamble was a native of Lycoming County, having been born in Jersey Shore, and before his elevation to the bench had served in the Legislature and two terms in Congress. He

was a man of considerable ability and stood high in his profession. He was affable, courteous and pleasant and enjoyed deserved popularity among the members of the bar.

Hon. Hugh H. Cummin succeeded Judge Gamble. He took his seat January 6, 1879, after a spirited contest the fall before in which he ran on a People’s ticket. He served with credit until January 6, 1889. He was a man of distinguished ability and was known as the “business judge.” Prior to his accession to office the dockets of the Lycoming County courts were about two years behind, but he had been in office less than six months when the business was brought up to date and a case could be entered and, if both sides were ready, could be brought to trial within three months. At the time of the Johnstown flood, in 1889, Judge Cummin, who had then retired from the bench, was appointed by Governor Beaver a member of the commission selected to take charge and distribute the funds raised for the benefit of the sufferers in that disaster. The strain of this work intensified the effects of an attack of diabetes from which he died on August 11, 1889.

John J. Metzger, who was defeated by Judge Cummin ten years before, succeeded him in 1889, after a bitter contest which was carried into the courts. Metzger had a plurality of only 44 at the general election and this result was challenged by his nearest competitor, B. S. Bentley. A commission was appointed to decide the issue, and after an enormous amount of work and the opening of the 59 ballot boxes in the county, Metzger was declared duly elected. The work of this commission was a heavy one and the testimony in the case contained 4,567 printed pages. Judge Metzger was an able lawyer and served with entire credit to himself and the county until his death while still in office, September 27, 1900.

At the expiration of his first term of ten years he was reelected, receiving the nomination on both the Democratic and Republican tickets, and was opposed by H. T. Ames, who ran as a Prohibitionist. Metzger carried the county by about 3,000 plurality.

November 19, 1900, Hon. Max L. Mitchell was appointed by Governor Stone to fill out the unexpired term of Judge Metzger until the next election, which. was held in November, 1901. Judge Mitchell was a candidate at this election, but was defeated by William W. Hart, who took office on January 6, 1902. Judge Hart, who had previously served as district attorney and was a lawyer of distinguished ability, filled out his full term of ten years, when he retired to private life. He performed the duties of president judge with conspicuous fidelity to his trust, as did his immediate predecessor, Judge Mitchell.

Judge Hart was succeeded by Hon. Harvey W. Whitehead, the present incumbent, on January 1, 1912. He served the full-term of ten years and was recommissioned January 2, 1922, for another term of ten years, to which he had been elected in November, 1921. His present term will expire in 1932.

By the Constitution of 1790 provision was made for the appointment of not less than three nor more than four associate judges, and when Lycoming County was organized, William Hepburn, John Adlum, James Davidson and Samuel Walls were appointed April 15, 1795. They organized with William Hepburn as president. Adlum resigned February 16, 1798, and Samuel Harris was appointed in his place. Wallis died in October, 1798, and in December John Fleming was named to fill the vacancy thus created. In 1803 the number of judges was fixed at three, and by the Act of February 24, 1806, it was reduced to two. Soon thereafter Judge Davidson retired, and this left the legal number of two.

The associate judges were originally appointed for life, but by the Constitution of 1838 their term of office was reduced to five years. Under the Constitution of 1872-1873 the term of office of president judge was fixed at ten years and the office of associate judge was abolished in counties composing a separate judicial district.

The associate judges who served in Lycoming County were: April 15, 1795, William Hepburn, John Adlum, Samuel Wallis and James Davidson; 1798; Samuel Harris; 1798, John Fleming; 1821, John Cummins; 1823, Dr. Asher Davidson; 1841, Thomas Taggert and John Thomas; 1848, Thomas Taggert and Solomon Bastress; 1851, William Ellmaker and John Smith. In 1850 the office became elective and the following were chosen: 1851, Solomon Bastress and Apollos Woodward; 1856, C. D. Eldred and William Piatt; 1861, H. B. Packer and James G. Ferguson; 1866, John Smith and H. P. Lore; 1871, Huston Hepburn and W. P. I. Painter. With these officials the office was abolished. One of the last associate judges, Huston Hepburn, was a son of the first presiding judge, William Hepburn.

The first lawyers to settle in Williamsport after Lycoming was erected as a separate county were John Kidd, Robert McClure and Charles Huston. McClure came from Cumberland County and graduated at Dickinson College with Roger B. Taney, afterwards chief justice of the Supreme Court of the United States and author of the famous Dyed Scott decision. Charles Huston was also a classmate. Kidd had come to the new county as an officer of the state to set the wheels of the courts and county offices in motion. He opened a law office in Jaysburg and can he said to be the first lawyer to practice in the county.

Charles Huston came to Lycoming County from Bucks, where he had studied law and was admitted to the bar. He was a man of great learning and while at college had been chosen as a tutor of languages. Taney was one of his pupils. After his removal to Williamsport he made a specialty of land title law and became an authority in this branch of his profession. He was subsequently appointed president judge of the fourth district and removed to Bellefonte. In 1826 he was appointed by Governor Shulze as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the state.

John Rose and Andrew Tullock were among the first attorneys who practiced at the Lycoming County bar and the latter built the first brick house in the town, which is still standing on Front Street. Daniel Smith was another early lawyer. He was a man of much learning and enjoyed a large practice. He was regarded as one of the most eloquent men of his time. The names of Gilchrist, Levy, Carson, Reynolds and others appear frequently in the old records, but it is probable that they were non-resident practitioners. Adolphus D. Wilson was one of the early attorneys, as was also Charles Hall. Wilson served four years as deputy attorney general and Hall took active interest in public affairs, but did not give much attention to the law. He became the occupant of the Muncy Farms, formerly owned by Samuel Wallis, which was presented to his wife by her father, Robert Coleman, wealthy iron mine owner of Lebanon. There were many others, many of whom remained here for only a short time and did not become identified with the county in any particular way. One of the ablest of the early days of the county was George F. Boal, who was born in Muncy in 1811. He was a man of conspicuous ability and culture, filled the office of district attorney, was a member of the Legislature and served one term as prothonotary.

Among the lawyers of a later day who achieved distinction were William Cox Ellis of Muncy, Eon. Francis Campbell, Anson V. Parsons, James Armstrong, Oliver Watson, Robert Fleming and Hepburn McClure. William Cox Ellis was very active in the community. He was a man of learning and ability and a fluent speaker. He represented his county in the Legislature and his district in Congress. Francis C. Campbell, who came to Williamsport in 1812, at the age of 25, stood high as a lawyer and was a successful practitioner. He married a daughter of Judge William Hepburn and his family became a very influential one in the affairs of the county.

Anson V. Parsons was another able lawyer of that day. He came to Lycoming County in 1824 from Massachusetts and settled in Jersey Shore. He was appointed secretary of the commonwealth by Governor Porter on January 22, 1843, and served one year. He afterwards served in the State Senate and was then appointed president judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia. He was the author of the well-known textbook, “Parsons’ Equity Cases,” and was the father of Henry C. Parsons, a distinguished Lycoming County lawyer of a later date.

James Armstrong held an enviable position at the bar and built up a lucrative practice. He, served for a portion of one year on the Supreme bench of the state by appointment of Governor Pollock.

Robert Fleming was a lawyer of distinction and served two separate terms in the State Senate and was a member of the Convention of 1838 which drafted the Constitution of that year. Among others of this period were Oliver Watson, who afterwards became president of the West Branch National Bank and served in that capacity for twenty-six years. Hepburn McClure, who was also postmaster of the city and prothonotary of the county; Huston Hepburn, who was a deputy sheriff, prothonotary, deputy prothonotary and one of the last associate justices.

Among the prominent lawyers of a later date were: Robert P. Allen, also a member of the State Senate; James W. Quiggle, a state senator and United States consul at Antwerp; Seth T. McCormick, a great-grandson of one of the original framers of the Constitution of the United States; Clinton Lloyd, who served one term as district attorney of the county and was chief clerk of the National House of Representatives at Washington for twelve years; H. C. McCormick, who was a member of Congress for two terms and attorney-general of the state under Governor Hastings; Henry C. Parsons, who was a member of the Constitutional Convention of 1872-1873; John J. Metzger, who was president judge of Lycoming County and also a member of the Constitutional Convention of 1872-1873; Charles W. Scates, who was a classmate of James Russell Lowell at Harvard, and tutor to the grandchildren of Joseph

Priestley, the discoverer of oxygen; Samuel Linn, who was judge of the Twenty-fifth Judicial District at Bellefonte; William H. Armstrong, a son of Judge James Armstrong. He was a member of Congress and United States commissioner of Railroads. Others of note were John W. Maynard, who was assistant law judge of the courts of Philadelphia and afterwards president judge of the Fifth Judicial District at Easton; Henry Johnson, who was a state senator and the author of the constitutional amendment which gave the Civil war soldiers the right to vote in the field and made the second election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States possible. Among others were: Aaron J. Dietrick, David Montgomery, Joshua W. Walbridge, R. J. C. Walker, afterwards a member of Congress from the district of which Lycoming County was a part; James M. Gamble, Verus Metzger, and Charles J. Reilly.

The present members of the bar from Williamsport are: Herbert T. Ames, the present mayor of the city; Marshall R. Anspach, William P. Beeber, Charles F. Bidelspacher, Addison Candor, John G. Candor, William W. Champion, Louise L. Chatham, Emerson Collins, William D. Crocker, Frank P. Cummings, Oliver J. Decker, William Russell Deemer, Rogers K. Foster, C. Edmund Gilmore, Charles F. Greevy, Chester E. Hall, Thomas H. Hammond, John A. Harries, Carl W. Herdic, Henry C. Hicks, A. M. Hoagland, William H. Holloway, Anthony R. Jackson, J. Fred Katzmaier, Otto G. Kaupp, Dan D. Kline, Don M. Larrabee, Seth T. McCormick Jr., Edward S. McGraw, Michael J. Maggio, George B. M. Metzger, Charles W. Mink, Max L. Mitchell, Edgar Munson, William E. Nickles,

Elbert A. Porter, John G. Reading, Mortimer C. Rhone, John C. Rogers, George E. Sands, Carl A. Schug, Ira F. Smith, Clarence E. Sprout, Joseph R. Straub, Harry G. Troxell, Harvey

W. Whitehead, Thomas Wood, John C. Youngman. Those from outside of Williamsport are: Wilson A. Evert, Montoursville; Ermin F. Hill, Hughesville; Robert K. Reeder, Muncy; William E. Schnee, Montgomery; John T. Hyatt, M. Edward Toner and Clyde E. Carpenter, of Jersey Shore.

SOURCE:  Page(s) 257-266, History of Lycoming County Pennsylvania, Col. Thomas W. Lloyd, Volume 1, Topeka – Indianapolis; Historical Publishing Company; 1929

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