Marion Courthouse History

Marion Courthouse was first merely the clerk’s office on the square, first occupied May 4, 1840 by the circuit court over which Judge Walter B. Scates presided. Gabriel Sanders, who was an 1838 election clerk in Harrison’s Mill precinct, took the contract for this first Williamson county building December 2, 1839 and was paid $108 for its construction.

Court House 1938

Marion courthouse 1938

John Paschal built the courthouse in 1841 at a cost of $3,500. The two-story building was forty feet square and built of brick. In 1859 it was taken down and the brick used to build a farmhouse.

This courthouse on the square was the scene of the great festivities in October 1848 when Captain John M. Cunningham brought his company home from the Mexican war. The best cooks of the county rivaled each other in feeding the returned soldiers.

At the March term of the circuit court in 1856 the prosecuting attorney solemnly wrote out an indictment against twelve men who did “unlawfully and willfully disturb the peace and quiet.” Henry D. Brown, Robert M. Hundley, Marion C. (“Curt”) Campbell, William Wiley, Robert L. Pulley, Henry Hopper, John Hudgens, John Morris, James D. Pulley, Robert Ingersoll, Samuel Hurl, and Hezekiah F. Ferrell were charged with “loud and unusual noises, tumultuous and offensive carriage, threatening and quarrelling.” Robert L. Pulley was county treasurer at the time, James D. Pulley the drainage commissioner. The others held equally important positions in the community, or were sons of such men.

This violent behavior occurred when these young men about town serenaded with traditional charivari the newly married George W. and Hannah (Lowe) Binkley. The bride and groom were staying with the bride’s sister, Mrs. William P. (“Pitt”) Springs. Mr. and Mrs. Springs, Dr. George Clifton, Joseph McCormick, T. S. McElvoy, the bridegroom and his lawyer George W. Goddard went before the grand jury to lodge complaint. John N. Calvert as foreman brought out a true bill, and John A. Logan as prosecuting attorney wrote the indictment with bail set at $100 each. But there was never a prosecution.

Robert G. Ingersoll’s name in this indictment recalls his residence in Marion as son of the Presbyterian minister. Rev. John Ingersoll lived in the manse on west Main Street and preached in the church that was rebuilt as Crossroads. His daughter, Mary Jane Frisby, taught school in the church. The youngest son joined the family in the early summer of 1853 after teaching at Metropolis. He studied law in Judge Willis Allen’s office and was admitted to the bar before the state supreme court at Mount Vernon December 20, 1854, the same day “Josh” Allen became a lawyer. The Ingersoll brothers moved to Shawneetown in 1855, but Robert G. Ingersoll retained his interest in Marion, where he bought three acres and subdivided the Ingersoll addition to the city in 1857.

Robert M. Hundley, who was employed to “shrub off” the hazel brush on the square in 1839, was awarded a contract to build a new courthouse March 19, 1858. The agreed price was $9,500 of which the greater part was to be paid in county orders bearing interest at eight per cent, the remainder from the swamp land fund. Mr. Hundley’s bond was $19,000 with the provision that the building must be finished November 15. The work was completed on schedule, Mr. Hundley was paid $245 for painting the building, and Napoleon B. (“Bone”) Calvert furnished the courtroom for $305.

The second courthouse was a plain brick building and stood on lot 2, block 5 of the original survey in the southeast corner of the square. The two-story building measured about 50 x 70 feet, with a hall, county offices, and jury room on the first floor. The first of the Vendetta trials were held in the courtroom on the second floor, but this courthouse burned May 30, 1875 with the other buildings in the block. The lot was sold by the county for $1,775 the following June 19.

The court obtained a room from Goodall and Campbell at an annual rental of $500. Their building stood on the square west of north Market Street. County officers transacted business where they could. Then the entire second story was taken for Courtroom and offices at a rental of $1000 a year. After ten years this rent was reduced to $800 annually.

At the election in November 1875 the voters defeated a special tax that would accumulate a building fund for a new courthouse in five years. The question was argued for ten years. A special tax of 35c on each $100 of taxable property for a period of three years was approved at an election November 2, 1886. A fund of $18,000 was collected by this means, and the third courthouse was constructed in the middle of the square.

The plans and specifications were accepted during the first week of June 1887. Charles E. Brush of Carbondale was the architect whose plans were judged the most suitable after a competition in which many able men took part. Mr. Brush was the third son of Colonel Daniel H. Brush, one of the founders of Carbondale, and a cousin of the coal operator whose name remains on the county map in Brush junction. After his work at Marion, young Mr. Brush moved to Chicago where he became a leading architect. The buildings of the state normal at DeKalb were his work.

Work began on the foundations of the new courthouse that summer. J. J. Elliott furnished the stone. Isaac M. Rapp of Carbondale was employed at $5.50 a day to supervise the building which continued through 1888 and 1889. The red brick walls slowly rose and the cupola crowned the work.

Many have been the scenes running the whole gamut of emotions enacted in the building. For fifty years it has housed Williamson county officers.

Many another generation will walk its halls unless some accident occurs. In 1938 a Works Progress Administration allotment was secured to aid in remodeling the building at a cost of $40,000. New wings were added, the brick was painted white, tile floors were laid, the basement vaults enlarged, and all the rooms redecorated.

Note: This court house in the center of the Marion Square was demolished in 1972 after a new court house was rebuilt on the location of the old Washington School just northwest of the square.

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(Extracted from Pioneer Folks and Places, Barbara Barr Hubbs, 1939 which is on sale at the Williamson County Museum)