The Daviess County Courthouse

Daviess County’s first court house was a private residence — the home of EHsha B. Creekmore. Here both the county and circuit courts met. At the march term of the county court, 1838, the question of the erection of a court house and jail was discussed, and the following order was made:

Daviess County’s first court house was a private residence — the home of Elisha B. Creekmore. Here both the county and circuit courts met. At the march term of the county court, 1838, the question of the erection of a court house and jail was discussed, and the following order was made:

“It is hereby ordered by the court that Philip Covington be and is hereby appointed Superintendent of the court house and jail which is to be built in Gallatin, and that he draft a plan of said building and report to this court at its next regular term.”

On March 26, 1838, this plan was presented and approved and an appropriation of $6,000 made for the erection of the building. May 25, 1838, was set as the day on which the contract for the building would be let to the lowest bidder. The order further provided that the contractor should be bound in a sufficient bond for the completion of the building within three years, and that one-third of the payments be made annually.

Mr. Creekmore’s home being outside of the county seat, the court, in May, 1839, ordered that court from that time on should be held in Gallatin. Mr. Creekmore was paid $13 for house rent for circuit court. He was treasurer for the first eighteen months, and he evidently paid no attention to the court order that business was to be transacted at the county seat, for he later made that statement that for the first half of his term of service he received no salary and that he was finally dismissed because he persisted in keeping his office at home instead of in Gallatin.

Just when the contract for the court house was let is not known, but at the March term of the county court, 1839, a contract with Thomas N. Aubrey, Robert P. Peniston and William P. Peniston was rescinded, and “Philip Covington, superintendent of said courthouse is hereby authorized to give up the bond for the completion of said building to the said contractors on the receipt of his obligation for the payment thereof.” Evidently Aubrey and the Penistons had taken no steps towards carrying the
contract into execution.

The court then tried two men — Jacob Stollings and W. C. Livcy. Their plans were accepted in March, 1840. The specifications provided that the foundation was to be three feet thick, the brick wall of the first story to be 18 inches thick, second story 13 inches thick ; the building was to be four square, two additional windows in the upper story, one over each door, the wall and the roof were to be painted Venetian red, doors to be painted a beech yellow, the door and window casings and sash to be painted with white lead. The window blinds were to be green and the window
frames were to be put in plain and arch braces and mouldings to be put in afterwards. The contractor was to be put under bond to put up the walls and roof in one year and the remaining part in two years, each part payable when completed.

Daviess County’s first courthouse, authorized in 1940, erected in 1843, and torn down in 1886. Architects: Jacob Stollings and W.C. Liney (from Illustrated Historical Atlas of Daviess County, Missouri 1876)

In writing of the building of this first courthouse, J. F. Jordin says: “So it was that these sturdy old pioneers with the entire revenue amounting to but $286.44 started boldly to build a $6000 courthouse and a $400 jail. But there were giants in those days! Men who were in the habit of doing impossible things, men with civic pride who realized that their lot had been cast in a land rich in latent natural resources and with brave hearts and willing hands they approached the task of proving themselves worthy of such a heritage. * * * * Coonskins were current money of the realm and at 50 cents apiece it would have taken 12,800 coons to pay for these public improvements.”

Work was begun in the summer of 1840. The enterprise seems to have been backed financially by Benedict Weldon. Various changes were made in the plans, more time was granted, there were changes in contractors, and finally on May 1, 1843, the following court order was made:

“Now on this day come Joseph L. Nelson and prayed the court to receive the court house as finished (except the repairing of two windows which have been broken since the completion, one bolt on each of the outside doors, repairing the plastering in second story and penciling chimneys) and that the court would order the Superintendent to deliver to him the said Nelson the bonds executed to the county by Benedict Weldon for the completion of said house. Whereupon the court proceeded to examine the house, after which mature deliberation being thereupon had, it is
ordered that the house be received as finished with the exceptions above named; that Tobias Miller, the superintendent, deliver up to said Nelson the bonds of Benedict Weldon aforesaid.” The total cost of the courthouse was $8094.55 Its dedication went uncelebrated. A writer in the Gallatin Democrat of Oct. 8, 1908, gives the following description of the building:

“The old courthouse was square, probably 40×40, no record existing of its exact dimensions. There were two double door openings, one each on the west and south. The courtroom took up the entire lower floor. The rostrum was on the north side built high so that the feet of those on it were above the eye level of the seated spectators. The courtroom was furnished with wooden benches. Here it was that James S. Rollins and R. M, Stewart, candidates for governor, met in a joint debate and would have pummeled each other with their fists but for the prompt intervention of
friends.

“The stairway leading to the second floor was at the southwest corner. There were four rooms upstairs, one too small for practical use on account of th(e stairs, but was the office for many years of the early day lawyers beginning with the late John A. Leopard. The probate office was in the northeast room, the recorder’s in the northwest and the sheriff’s in the southeast.”

A single story, two room structure was built about 1858 just east of the courthouse and in it the circuit clerk and recorded, the offices being under one official at that time, and county clerk’s offices were established. There were no vaults in the offices and the records were kept in desks or racks having little or no protection.

A wooden tower surrounded by a balcony and ornamented with a brass ball the size of a washtub topped the building. On gala days the band occupied the balcony and the tower was decorated with flags. This cupola was a constant source of trouble. It would leak. As early as 1849 the court paid $85 to have it guaranteed waterproof for two years and in 1870 the total repairs on the courthouse amounted to $1500.

As early as 1865 we find the local papers complaining of the condition of the courthouse. The old building grew more and more unsatisfactory and in 1883 the Frank James trial was held in a building owned by Judge Alexander on the west side of the public square on the site now occupied by the Payne Furniture Company. On June 12, Mr. Lamkin, of the Gallatin Democrat, had published this statement: “It is said that Governor Crittenden and Phelps, General Shelby and other eminent men will be in
Gallatin to attend the James trial, and it is enough to make every citizen of Daviess County blush with shame to be compelled to point to this miserable abode of bats and owls and say to these eminent visitors, “This is our courthouse.” After the trial the county court entered into negotiations with Mr. Alexander, and the building was arranged to accommodate the circuit court and one or two county offices. The old court house was torn down in 1886, but the side building remained for several more years.

In 1890 the building owned by Judge Alexander burned and the Probate records were destroyed. The present building on the same site was then erected.

Several propositions to vote bonds for a new courthouse were voted down. In 1889 a proposition to erect a $50,000 courthouse was rejected by a majority against of 223 votes. In March, 1902, the county court, on the petition of the required number of taxpayers ordered an election to be held on April 22, on the question of erecting a new courthouse at a cost of not to exceed $75,000, to be paid for in bonds payable in five and due in ten years, to be paid by a levy of not to exceed 25 cents on the $100 valuation. A very light vote was cast and the vote stood 1526 for and 1118 against,
but since a two-thirds majority was necessary, the proposition was lost.

In September of the same year, a petition was presented to the court asking for a vote on the question of issuing bonds not to exceed $70,000, bearing 4 per cent interest and maturing in five years. At the election on Nov, 4, the vote stood 1821 for and 1054 against, Washington, Jamesport and Lock Springs precincts having a majority against.

The voters having twice within a year rejected propositions for building, the county court felt justified in making a contract for the use of the Alexander block for a period of seven years.

The question was still kept before the people by the press, and in 1905 petitions were again circulated for another submission of the proposition. It was proposed to build a $75,000 courthouse, to be paid for by a special tax of four direct levies of 20 cents each rather than by issuing bonds. More than 500 singned the petition and it was presented to the county court by D. H. Davis. Accordingly, December 9th was set as the day of election. Mass meetings were held all over the county. This time the vote was 2299 for and 803 against. Only four townships failed to give the proposition a two-thirds majority, and two of these went more than two to one against.

An advisory committee was appointed by the county court in February, 1906. The members were Frank Ray, W. T. Smith, H. R. Hill, R. E. Maupin, W. C. Pogue, John R. Handy, W. P. Minnick, D. H. Davis, W. H. Kindig, E. G. Brown, J. H. Wise, Grant McCrary, E. M. Foley and Moses Mann. The court selected as a building committee A. M. Dockery, C. M. Harrison, J. W. Meade, Boyd Dudley and Weasley L. Robertson.

This Shultz Studio photo shows the laying of the cornerstone for the Daviess County Courthouse in 1906. Former Missouri Gov. A.M. Dockery of Gallatin is standing next to the cornerstone. Dockery was involved in nearly every local event of note. He was cashier and secretary of the Farmers Exchange Bank for 13 years before entering politics and elected office.

In April, 1906, architects submitted plans to the county court, but decision was deferred for a time. The plans and specifications of P. H. Weathers were adopted, and in August the contract for the construction of the building were let to M. T. Lewman, of Louisville, Kentucky, at $69,625. Work was begun early in November, with J. W. Alexander, Superintendent of construction, and M. E. Pangburn, accountant.

Snow scene in city park on May 3, 1907. During the construction work on Daviess County’s new courthouse, shown is part of vault walls and material (newspaper clipping)

In April, 1907, the foundation was pronounced satisfactory. The cornerstone of the building was laid on May 24, 1907, the Masonic lodge having charge of the ceremony. On Monday, August 31, 1908, the court formally accepted the courthouse and final payment was made to the Louisville Company.

Members of Masonic Lodge led a ceremonial procession as part of the setting of the cornerstone of the Daviess County Courthouse on May 24, 1907. This scene unfolded on the east side of the Gallatin square.

The formal dedication took place Oct. 5th. In the morning the cornerstone of the Y. M. C. A. was laid, the Masons having charge. In the afternoon the meeting was called to order by Judge George A. McWilliams.

HISTORY of DAVIESS AND GENTRY COUNTIES, MISSOURI. DAVIESS COUNTY BY JOHN C. LEOPARD AND BUEL LEOPARD. HISTORICAL PUBLISHING COMPANY,
TOPEKA — INDIANAPOLIS. 1922

 

This card, postmarked Dec. 24, 1906, depicts groundbreaking for the Daviess County courthouse.
The west side of the Daviess County Courthouse, looking toward the east, in 1978. [Carneal study, Northwest Missouri State University]
Daviess County Courthouse, from southwest looking northeast (1992)