Chapter XIII
County Seat and County Buildings 

County Seat Established -  Lots Donated for Public Buildings -  First Court-House and Jail Erected -  Erection of the Academy -  Building of Present Jail -  Erection of New Court-House -  Dedication of Court-House -  Address of Judge Campbell

Although the county of Jefferson was established in 1804, there was no county seat located until the year 1830. Previous to that time all business of a legal or official character had to be transacted at Indiana, where all the county records were kept. The county of Jefferson then comprised nearly all of Forest and a portion of Elk, and persons who were obliged to attend the courts, or go to Indiana on other legal or military business had to travel, in some instances, from fifty to seventy-five miles.

By an act passed April 8, 1829, commissioners were appointed to select a site for the county seat of Jefferson county, and it was located at the mouth of Sandy Lick, and called Brookville.

Then, by an act passed April 2, 1830, the citizens of the county were given "all the rights, powers, jurisdiction, etc.," to which they were entitled, and it was made the duty of the commissioners "to demand and receive from John Pickering, esq., sufficient deed or deeds, in fee simple, for the use of the said county, for all lands, or lots, which the said John Pickering, Esquire, has agreed to give for the purpose of aiding in the erection of public buildings, agreeably to the Act of April, 1829, entitled an act authorizing the appointment of commissioners to fix a proper site for the seat of justice in Jefferson county, and also for one public square in the said town of Brookville, for the purpose of erecting public buildings thereon, and the said commissioners shall procure the said deed or deeds when recorded in the office for recording deeds, in the county of Indiana, to be recorded in the proper books directed to be kept for the county of Jefferson, and the said commissioners and their successors in office, or a majority of them, shall, and are hereby authorized to sell and dispose of the said land or lots, aforesaid, and to make and execute deeds to the purchasers, and the moneys arising from such sale, shall by them be applied to the erection of the public buildings for the use of said county of Jefferson.

"That the said commissioners shall, as soon as may be, proceed to lay out the said town of Brookville, and file a draft and return of the survey of the said town, together with the proceedings, under and by virtue of this act, in the office for recording of deeds, in and for the county of Jefferson, and in exemplification of the same act of 2d of April, 1830. The 5th section of the same act provides for the transfer of suits and dockets from the county of Indiana to be delivered to the prothonotary of Jefferson county, the expense of copying said docket to be paid for by the prothonotary of Jefferson county and reimbursed by the said county, on warrants to be drawn by the commissioners of Jefferson county on the treasury thereof."

In 1830 the commissioners set about the work of erecting public buildings in accordance with the provisions of the acts cited. They first built the jail, which was a two-story edifice, built of common flag stones. It contained besides the prison, the sheriff’s house and office. This building occupied the northwestern corner of the public square, fronting on Pickering street. Daniel Elgin was the contractor and builder, and the carpenter work was done by Robert Larrimer. The entire cost of the building was $1,823.24.

Mr. Uriah Matson, one of the oldest and most prominent citizens of the county, says that he worked on this building for twenty-five cents per day, and boarded himself. He would bring with him from his home each morning, a loaf of rye bread, in which he had hollowed out a space large enough to contain enough butter to spread the bread, and this, with a jug of buttermilk, constituted his fare. Each Saturday night after the week’s work was done, he would go out to Port Barnett to draw his pay, and would return with the princely sum of one dollar and fifty cents in his pocket.

The jail was finished in 1831, and court was held in this building until the court-house was built. The old building stood for many years as one of the old landmarks, and before it was torn down in 1866, to make room for the new court-house, was used as a butcher-shop.

The court-house was also contracted for in 1830, as the following from the county records shows: "Article of Agreement made 14th day of December, 1830, between Thomas Lucas and Robert Andrews, Commissioners of Jefferson County, of the first part, and John Lucas, of Jefferson county, and Robert Barr, of the county of Indiana, of the second part. The party of the second part agrees to build court-house, two offices -  one fire-proof - within two years from the 1st day of January next. The Commissioners, on their part, agree to pay Contractors the sum of three thousand dollars, in manner as follows: $2,000 as the work progresses, and $1,000 in full on the 1st day of January, 1833, to be paid out of the money arising from the sale of lots in the town of Brookville, if there shall be sufficient; if not, to be made up of the county funds.

(Signed) Commissioners


The court-house, a one-story brick building, was finished in 1832. It was built of brick, and occupied part of the ground upon which the present courthouse stands. The two offices specified in the above contract were a low, brick structure, on the west of the court-house, and were for the use of the prothonotary and commissioners.

The brick work on this building was done by Thomas M. Barr, and the carpenter work by Robert Larrimer.

The old jail was used until 1855, when, it proving inadequate to the wants of the growing town, the present jail building was erected. The contract was given to Messrs. Byrnes and Dowling, May 23, 1854, and the building was completed in November, 1856.

The building cost, when finished, $14,200. It is a two-story brick and stone building, the first story front being used, until the erection of the new court-house, for the offices of the treasurer, commissioners and sheriff, since which time it has been used for other offices -  the post-office having been kept in the building for about fifteen years. The second story front is used for the residence of the sheriff or jailor. The rear part of the building is built of cut stone and divided into cells for prison use.

This building, which was never a safe receptacle for prisoners, as we find that the newspapers of the day chronicled the escape of one of its inmates the first year it was occupied as a prison, is now entirely inadequate to the growing wants of the county, and will soon have to give place to a prison built on a more modern plan, with better sanitary regulations, and constructed in such a manner that it will hold its inmates in duress without the vigilance that has now to be exercised for their safe keeping.

The next public building that claimed the attention of the county officers was the academy, the erection of which was authorized by an act of the Legislature, approved April 13, 1838, whereby the treasurer of the Commonwealth was authorized to subscribe two thousand dollars to be applied to the erection of suitable buildings for an academy in Brookville.

The trustees appointed by said act were C.A. Alexander, Thomas Hastings, John J.Y. Thompson, Levi G. Clover, John Pierce, and Richard Arthurs.

May 29, 1841, a supplement to the former act authorized the commissioners of Jefferson county to subscribe five hundred dollars. Five hundred dollars additional was raised by private subscription, making the cost of the academy three thousand dollars.

The site selected was the lot yet known as the "Academy lot," on the corner of Jefferson and Barnett streets, donated for the purpose by John Pickering, Esq.. When work was commenced, the lot was covered with pine trees and underbrush, and the commissioners paid ten cents each for having the trees cut down.

The work was done by Robert P. Barr, Thomas M. Barr, and Robert Larrimer, the building being completed in 1843. The first school was taught by Cyrus Crouch. From that time until 18 - , when the building was leased by the school directors of the borough of Brookville, it was used as an academy. It was then used for common school purposes until it was condemned as unsafe by the grand jury at the September term of court, 1877, when it was torn down, and part of the stone, etc., used in the construction of the new school building. During all the years that the academy was in existence, trustees were annually elected; but the office was not a very burdensome one, as it scarcely ever occurred to the persons elected that there was such an institution as the Brookville Academy.

The growing importance of the county and the increase of legal business made the old court-house entirely too small and unsuitable for the accommodation of the courts, and in 1866 steps were taken towards the erection of a larger and more modern building.

July 28, 1866, the commissioners contracted with James T. Dickey, of Kittanning, Pa., for the erection of the new court-house, James W. Drum being the architect. Mr. Dickey’s bid was $57,000 for the work. Mr. Dickey, after finishing the foundations, which he built in a splendid manner, and getting the building ready for roofing, found himself financially unable to finish the work, and a new contract was made with Messrs. Daniel English and R.J. Nicholson to finish the building for an additional cost of $21,742, making the entire cost of the structure $78,742. It was finished in September, 1869. The building is a very handsome one, and the work was all done in a thorough manner. The court-room, which is in the second story, with commodious jury-rooms in the rear, is a large, handsome room, well lighted through beautiful stained-glass windows, and is well appointed in every respect, the only defect being in the acoustic properties, making public speaking in it rather difficult. The lower floor contains the county offices of the prothonotary, treasurer, sheriff commissioners, and county superintendent of common schools. These offices are all large, well lighted, and nicely fitted up for the use of their incumbents, the two former having fire-proof vaults.

The bell for the court-house cost $688, and the clock $725; this, with the amount paid for fitting up the court-room, offices, and jury-rooms, made the entire cost of the edifice, complete in all its appointments, $86,413.

On Monday evening, September 13, 1869, the court-house was dedicated as the "Temple of Justice" of Jefferson county. The meeting was organized with the following officers: President, Andrew Smith, of Washington township; vice-presidents, Charles Gahagan, Charles R.B. Morris, Robert Hamilton, H.A. Smith, Joseph McKinley, William McKinstry, G. Montgomery, J.C. McNutt, J.G. Graff, I.M. Temple, A.M. Clarke, Oran Butterfield, J.R. Kahle, D.C. Gillespie; secretaries, F.A. Weaver, G.N. Smith.

Hon. Isaac G. Gordon, W.P. Jenks, and Richard Arthurs, esqs., made appropriate addresses.

Mr. Gordon paid a fitting tribute to the county officials who had in charge the erection of the building, to J.W. Drum, the architect, and the contractors, Messrs. Dickey, Means, and Nicholson, for the able and excellent manner in which their work had been performed.

Mr. Arthurs, as the only representative of the bar first instituted in the county, told of his experience, and of his associates at the bar, nearly all of whom had passed away with the course of time. He also told of early life in the forest, giving the names of those families who had hewed out the first homes in the then wilderness.

Hon. James Campbell, of Clarion, the president judge of this judicial district, was then introduced, and made the following address:

"LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: A court is defined to be a place where justice is judicially administered. So much importance is attached to the idea of a specific and fixed locality, that even a justice of the peace can do no business outside of his office. Hence in all civilized nations and well regulated communities temples of justice are found occupying and adorning prominent and commanding positions, and are held second in importance only to temples of religion. By the fundamental law of our State, every county constitutes a separate judicial organization, and is required to have a place for the administration of justice, at least as soon as organized, for judicial purposes. This place may be wherever the county authorities see proper to make it; but it is generally found to keep pace with the population, intelligence, and enterprise of the county.

(Then follows the organization, etc., of the county, which has already been given.)

"In 1830 the town of Brookville was laid out, and some time between that and 1840 the old court-house was erected. In 1840 there were a number of resident lawyers. Colonel Hugh Brady, the two Dunhams, C.A. Alexander, Thomas Lucas, and Richard Arthurs were the most prominent. The latter alone remains the connecting link between the past generation and the present. Of those who were present at the opening of the old court-house, but few remain. Of the voices that then addressed the court and jury, nearly all are silent. In the march of those thirty years nearly all the old settlers have fallen by the way; and with the new court-house have come new men, new ideas, a more advanced intelligence, and a new order of things. The interminable forests that retarded the settlement of the county have become the great source of her wealth; the tortuous streams running between precipitous hills have become highways of commerce; floating argosies of wealth to the markets of the South, and soon those hills will echo with the shrill scream of the locomotive. Long before the hills are stripped of their evergreen pine the wealth hidden below the surface will be brought to light, and the coal and the car will give a new direction and a new impetus to the activity and energy of her inhabitants. As her forests fall, fields of grain, flocks and herds, furnaces and manufactories will take their place, and instead of dying out, her prosperity will be promoted, her wealth increased, and her onward march hastened.

"It is creditable to the authorities of Jefferson county, and to the intelligence of her people that they have enlarged views of the present prosperity and future wants of this county. It evinces a high appreciation of the blessings of liberty, the wholesome restraints of law, and a great appreciation of the correct administration of law and justice, that at a cost of eighty thousand dollars the people of the county have erected this goodly structure, at once an honor and an ornament to the town and the county; where the titles of their property may be securely kept; their wrongs redressed and their rights vindicated. It belongs to every man, woman and child in the county. They have a right to be proud of it; to guard it from injury, to protect it from harm. Let no vandal hand deface or defile, or write upon its walls. Let none of its halls be a resort of rowdy boys, or drunken men. Let all take a pride in preserving it neat, clean, and orderly.

"There is a moral idea attached to this building. It is now a familiar fact that a picture of vastness enlarges the human mind; that a picture of correct proportions, symmetry and beauty elevates and refines. Let a man view for the first time a vast building, let him wander through halls of architectural beauty, and although not a soul is in sight, he will unconsciously be on his good behavior, and try to act like a gentleman. The faculties and susceptibilities of the mind are greatly enlarged and influenced by the surroundings, and may we not anticipate that this stately building and this beautiful hall will exercise an elevating influence on the court, the bar, the officers and the people; that these doors will never be closed to the cry of the oppressed; that this forum will never be desecrated by the sacrifice of justice, but that with an even hand wrongs may be redressed, rights vindicated, crime suppressed, or sternly punished. To this end we solemnly set apart and dedicate this temple of justice. May it stand a monument of the enterprise and liberality of this county long after the present generation is sleeping with their fathers; and when its walls are grown mossy and gray with age, and its builders are forgotten, may it still stand a temple of justice, and fragrant in the hearts of those who shall attend in it; and may its halls still resound to the tread of a free, prosperous, and happy people."

* Smith’s Laws, Act of April 2, 1830, sec. 5 - 10, page 163.

Source:  Page(s) 107-112, History of Jefferson County by Kate M. Scott. Syracuse, N.Y., D. Mason & Co., 1888.

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