Pat Crisp

Pat Crisp

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Jackson County Courthouses Part 3


In 1871 the County Commissioners were Washington Chapman, Chairman, with W. Pope, Irvin Allen and A. Wynn. John Q. Dickinson was the Clerk of the Court and Homer Bryan was the Tax Collector. The following information was taken from their minutes over a two month period.

On January 30, 1871, the bids were opened for a new Courthouse and the contract was awarded to E. L. Williams for $7,000. Two days later, Mr. Williams executed the required Faithful Performance Bond and the specifications were released by the Board.

“The building was to be 60x40 feet with two 13 foot stories. The sixty foot sides shall face North and South. There shall be an observatory on the center of the top and thereon a belfry and then a spire. There shall be two porticos, one at the center of the North and one at the center of the South side with a floor at each story.”

“Courthouse material base or formation to be of hard or surface rock. Main walls of sawed Jackson County rock laid in mortar, framework and finish to be of good merchantable pine, roof to be covered in iron, doors, sash and blinds to be of white pine, mortar to be of sand and lime, white paint to be of No. l lead.”

“In the lower story there shall be a passage 16 feet wide in the clear extending through the building from one portico to the other. The West section thus made shall be 20 feet wide. Both the East and West sections bisected by a partition running east and west. The upper story shall be divided by a North and South partition directly over the West passage wall of the lower story and the West section thus made shall be bisected by an East-West partition.”

“There shall be four chimneys of rock built on the inside of the walls, two at each end and with two fireplaces in the Courtroom and one in every other room, all the fireplaces to be lined and hearths made with brick. The chimneys shall extend higher than the highest point of the roof and be finished with a proper moulding at the top.

“The foundation shall be 20 inches in depth….with 8 inches above the surface of the ground at the ? corner. The outside walls shall be 20 inches thick to the height of thirteen feet and 16 inches thick for the remaining 13 feet above, and the sleepers of the upper floor shall rest on the jog thus made in the wall. The basement shall be ventilated by holes 2x8 inches in the wall at 3 feet intervals and on the top of the foundation.”

On February 6th, a delegation of citizens representing a majority of the citizens of the county asked that the new courthouse be built of brick instead of limestone. The fact that there were “glaring omissions” in the current specifications and that the current contractor declared he would be willing to withdraw if a suitable contract could be made with someone else, prompted the Board to rewrite the specifications. On February 24. 1871, the Board entered into a new contract with John B. Williams to build a brick Courthouse for $10,000 which should be paid in three installments.” It is later stated that the contract was with Williams and Jeffers who also did bridge work.

The revised specifications were greatly expanded and were completed February 11th. These appear to be hand written specifications which are equally interesting: “16 door frames for outer doors shall be same as windows frames only the sill shall be 12 inches wide. 17 windows shall have 18 lights glazed with 12x14 glass, and hung with cords and weights. The shutters to have stationary blinds, and properly hung and fastened.

The roof shall be self-supporting and covered with iron roofing 1/16 inch in thickness. The main roof, and that of the observatory, Belfry and portions shall be correspondingly hipped.

There shall be an observatory on the center of the roof 10x12 feet and 10 feet high built of wood, handsomely finished with corner posts, panels and blinds. Its roof shall be of iron. On the center of the Observatory, shall be a belfry, of wood with iron roof 6x8 feet and 8 feet high finished in style corresponding with the Observatory. On the center of the belfry shall be a Spire (vane) of wood 30 inches square above and running to a point of fifteen feet in height.”

The BOCC minutes later state that the new Courthouse was accepted and received by the Board and final payment was made September 4, 1872.

An interesting later development was: The photograph below was our only visual of the 1871 Courthouse and it was faded almost beyond use. After the specifications were found, Jane Pender, a local artist, took the specifications and used that information to reestablish the appearance of the building. We are forever indebted to her for the beautiful presentation of the 1871 Courthouse. Please note that the photograph, now a pen and ink drawing, shows the Confederate Monument which was erected in 1881, which still stands on the front of the present Courthouse. Therefore, the original photograph was taken sometime after 1881.

It appears that there was a fence around the Courthouse square which could be used as hitching posts for the horses which brought all visitors who were not Marianna residents to town to tend to their business at the Courthouse.

We will continue the Courthouse story next week with the building of the 1906 Courthouse after a long discourse was held about adding a much needed annex to the 1871 Courthouse.

Note: Information for this article was taken from Jerrell Shofner’s Jackson County, Florida – A History, and from J. Randall Stanley’s History of Jackson County. The excerpts from the Jackson County Commission minutes of various meetings, was painstakingly recovered by Sue Tindel, Jackson County Archivist, who has spent years organizing and researching the records found in the basement of the Jackson County Courthouse. We are deeply indebted to Sue for this tedious work. Researching, reading and typing the information from old hand-written records is exhausting!

Jackson County Courthouses Part 2


June 1, 1849 County Commissioner’s meeting minutes reveal that Horace and Charlotte Ely have a contract to build a new Courthouse to replace the one recently burned.

This one is to be 40x35 feet but it says that Dr. Ely had produced a 40’x60’ plan. These specifications require basement walls being 36 inches thick and three feet higher than the ground. The center passage to be twelve feet wide, south to north, with the SOUTH ENTRANCE TO BE THE FRONT OF THE BUILDING. (Remember the main road out of town over the river was Jackson Street. The bridge over the Chipola River was at the end of Jackson Street, not Lafayette Street as it is now.)

It goes on to tell how large the rooms are to be on each floor, how many windows, their placement on each wall, they are to be raised and lowered by weights, and the number of panes in each window. The window and door frames boxing strips and mouldings are to be neat and substantial finish and in proportion to the size of the windows, etc., and all to be of the best heart pine.

It tells how wide the staircase should be and where they were to open onto each floor, with bannisters and hand rails to be placed where necessary and to be neat and substantial.

The floors should be of heart pine quartered, full one and ¼ inch thick, clear of knots, neatly dressed, tongue and grooved, neatly laid down and securely nailed with twelve penny brads.

There shall be two chimneys on the east end and inside two fireplaces in each one below and one above (one on each floor with each chimney,) a total of four fireplaces. The size and placement of the girders are outlined including the size of the rafters. The ceiling on both floors must be six inch quarter ceiling of the best heart pine clear of knots with the inside walls being finished and plastered with three coat work (hard finish) to be done in the best manner and with good material.

The roof must be hipped and covered with juniper or cypress shingles and painted with two coats of white paint. The boxing to project over the walls and the cornice and facing is to extend two feet below the boxing.

Shortly after the agreement is reached about the specifics of the building, there is some very interesting discussion in the old County records, as Dr. Ely sent a disclaimer several weeks after the contract was awarded, informing the Board that he had entered into the contract for the benefit and profit of his wife, Charlotte. She was a local lady and was his second wife. She was the sister of William R. Daffin, a prominent local family (who has many family members still very active in life in Jackson County.) It is unknown whether the County was unaccustomed or unwilling to contract directly with a female, but it certainly was unlikely to have been considered a normal process in 1849.

Dr. Ely, who came to Marianna around 1835, practiced medicine here when he arrived. The history books state that he had amassed and lost a large fortune in shipping and various industrial activities in Massachusetts before moving to this area. Stanley’s History of Jackson County tells an interesting side story, stating that when he married his first wife, Mary Jane Roulhac, her parents insisted on a marriage contract. When she passed away in 1835, her estate, preserved by her marriage contract, was all that was left of the Ely fortune.

After coming here, Dr. Ely had a sawmill in Calhoun County in 1850, had a fleet of freight wagons which were used to carry freight and farm products back and forth to the river, was an entrepreneur in several areas and owned a hotel in Marianna. There are County Commission records telling that Dr. Ely was also a bridge builder, having the contracts for the Bellamy Bridge and the Dry Creek Bridge. He was the father of Francis Ely, a very successful business man who built the Ely Mansion in the early 1840’s.

The 40’ x 35’ Courthouse would be finished with brick, which was to be brick which Dr. Ely was planning to produce in his own kiln. As the job progressed, it appears that the brick he was manufacturing and using in the Court House were not as attractive as the Board of County Commissioners wanted, and they set about to purchase a sufficient amount of suitable bricks from another source to frame in around the entries.

The records show that Horace Ely, Charlotte M. Ely, Robert S. Dickson, Benjamin G. Alderman, and Benjamin Holden were bound by contact for $7,000 on June 1, 1849, and the building was completed in 1850, the same year as Dr. Ely’s death. The Courthouse was damaged during the Battle of Marianna in 1864 and reportedly, portions of the building were not usable thereafter. However, it stood as the official Courthouse until it was replaced in 1871.


Jackson County Courthouses Part 1

Following the recent very impressive dedication of the outstanding exterior renovation of the present Court House, it seemed natural to think about all the Court Houses which have been on that block of land in the center of Marianna, Florida since 1829, 183 years of history on that piece of downtown Marianna real estate.

To tell about Jackson County Court Houses, one must go back to 1821 as the territorial government was established when Pensacola and St. Augustine were the only towns. The land was wrestled away from Spain and Florida became a United States Territory, with Andrew Jackson serving as provisional governor. Florida was soon divided into Spanish east and west Florida. West Florida, also known as Escambia County, was the land west of the Apalachicola River to the Alabama and Georgia lines, while the land east of the river to St. Augustine was the other county, St. Johns. Serving his last few months as provisional governor, Jackson proposed that another county be established which would be the land between the Choctawhatchee River and the Suwannee River. On August 12, 1822, the third county in Florida was established and it was appropriately called Jackson County, for an obvious reason. Soon other counties were being formed from this block of land, which eventually encompassed seventeen Florida counties.

Soon settlers were rushing into this area known as Jackson County, which was considered the most attractive section, specifically that area also known as Chipola Country. The area boasted of caves, springs, and one of the South’s most beautiful rivers, the Chipola, believed to mean “Beautiful Waters” from the Indian’s “Chapully”.

In 1823 a committee of two was formed to find a site approximately half way between Pensacola and St. Augustine, specifically one which would not likely have yellow fever and malaria epidemics. The hilly area where Tallahassee is now located was chosen, and a road between Pensacola and Tallahassee was commissioned, cutting through Jackson County to the Apalachicola River. Rapid population growth was experienced in this area, which demanded a system of local government. County courts were established which performed all administrative functions and had jurisdiction in such civil matters as our courts now handle. This general method of government served Jackson County and the territory until Statehood was established in 1845, even though the site for court moved from one place to another. In 1825 an effort was made to establish “The Town of Chipola” as the county seat where it was proposed that a town be established on a bluff overlooking the west side of the Chipola River. The move died for apparent personal reasons of the leadership involved.

In 1827, Jackson County’s first town, Webbville, was settled about nine miles north of The Town of Chipola (later Marianna), with Colonel James Webb as the leading settler. However, some major mistakes were made when the leadership failed to follow the proper procedures and the people accidently settled on the sixteenth section of land which was always set aside for the establishment of public schools for families in the new territory. The exception to this rule could only be made by an act of Congress, but the leadership of Webbville continued to ignore procedure and proceeded to settle the area and seemed determined to establish Webbville as the county seat. Congress was not in session, which gave Robert Beveridge and his associates extra time to move forward to have Marianna named the county seat.

Beveridge had moved to the area in 1827 from Maryland, having emigrated from Scotland. In Tallahassee in 1827, he purchased 240 acres on which the Town of Chipola had been platted. He laid out his plan for the city of Marianna. (There is historical speculation that he named the city for his wife, the former Anna Maria Forney, OR that they had two daughters. Anna and Maria, OR that his partner had a wife named Maria or Anna and they combined the names of the two wives.) Beveridge seemed to turn all his energy into getting Marianna designated as the permanent county seat. After much infighting and maneuvering all the way to Washington, Marianna finally became the county seat, even though history says that neither Congress, nor any other legal entity, ever decreed it so.


In 1828, while Webbville was attempting to get legal designation, Beveridge moved full-steam- ahead, offering the county a public square in the center of Marianna, on which he and his associates agreed to build “the largest and finest Court House in the territory.” He pledged $500 and his associates pledged another $1000 toward the cost of the building.

While the battle for the county seat continued, Beveridge and associates built the Court House, and in 1829, Congress directed the county and Superior courts to meet in the new Marianna Court House, and established fines against any officials who refused to do so. The fight with Webbville continued well into the 1830’s, but finally, most of the Webbville leadership moved away from the area, some to Washington to serve in various leadership positions, others to Tallahassee as attorneys or in state leadership. Some moved to Apalachicola and other cities to search for their place in the new territory while others established themselves in leadership positions in other states. Webbville just slowly faded away. There is no sign of it on the land today. Its location would be very near where Highway 73 and US 231 intersect south of Cambellton. Chipola Historical Trust has placed signage there several times, but the sign continued to be removed or damaged. The historical markers have now become too expensive to risk to theft or vandalism.

While there was never a legal solution to the county seat designation, Marianna just remained the county seat. While the $1,500 contributed by Beveridge and his associates did not complete the Court House, public funds were used to complete it in 1833. It all seemed to be settled when a federal judge complained in 1833 that there were “six places where U.S. courts are held twice a year in West Florida, and save in the County of Jackson, there is not a single Court House in the district.” Historical records state that in 1838, Jackson County’s population was about 4,500 people.

Of course, we have no photographs of the first Court House built in 1829, but county records state that it was a large two-story building, resplendent in white paint, green blinds and octagonal shaped cupola with a bell, surrounded by a balustrade. There was a door opening out on the walk around the cupola from which visitors could get a fine panorama view of the town, grouped immediately around the Court House square. It is stated that the business buildings were mostly on the northwest and southeast corners of the surrounding blocks where the Court House was located, which is the same area on which the Court House sits today.

Sadly, the building and most of the public records burned in November of 1848, destroying some of the valuable records of those first very important twenty-five years of our recorded history.

However, many of the records were saved. It is reported by the present Court House staff that the estate books from the 1830’s forward were saved, along with the 1831 County Court Book, which detailed the daily workings of the County. Among the files burned were the marriage records and the actual original estate files (which were faithfully recorded in the estate books, which means we still have access to the estate records.) We also still have the originals of the census records, the tax rolls, the children’s census, including the names of household census. Some of the more valuable records were saved by some wonderful quirk of fate.

The Saga of the Court Houses will continue over the next few weeks, telling about the 1849 Court House, the 1871 Court House, the 1906 Court House and the Court House which was built in 1962 which stands today with its beautiful new “facelift”. There are wonderful old stories in those County Commission records. Good stories! Note: Information for this article was taken from Jerrell Shofner’s Jackson County, Florida – A History, and much of the 1822 information from the Chipola River Recipes by the Marianna Junior Woman’s Club which seems to be a fairly accurate synopsis of the historical information.

Good Bye Ugly Remediation Building at Russ House

During the time that the Florida Historical Preservation Grant was being finalized for the restoration of The Russ House, around 1995, the Restoration Committee and the City were made aware that there was a Florida Department of Transportation grant available for cleaning contaminated gas station sites on US 90. We were all very excited when we were told that Marianna/Jackson County could be considered for funds to possibly purchase and decontaminate the gas station property immediately east of the Russ House.

The application was made immediately and quite soon the city was notified that the funds were available for Marianna’s use. In fact, the funds made available were approximately $1,000,000! Plans for a park there, to enhance those being made for the restoration of The Russ House, were begun, and about the same time the house restoration was completed the Russ House Commons Park was finished also. The serene setting of the park was enhanced by the beautiful highlight of the park being the water feature of the centered pool with a lovely fountain making an enjoyable soothing waterfall sound all day throughout the year.

However, there was one very unpleasant aspect of the park. The decontamination process involved a very complicated series of electrical grids under the surface of the entire site. This was powered from a concrete block building on the northeast corner of the park. Not only was there an unsightly building in the park, there was a constant loud humming noise which was present when you were anywhere near the park area, even outside of The Russ House. This humming noise was just the process necessary to decontaminate the soil involved in the damage the gas station leakage had done. It was required to run 24/7, 365 days a year until deemed totally decontaminated.

This noise and the process began around 2000, and it was ongoing until it was announced in May 2011 that the soil had been determined to be cleaned of the decontamination and the humming noise could be turned off.

For several days now the demolition crew has been working to tear down the 14 year-old concrete block building and to break down the decontamination equipment housed there. It has been a very arduous and hot job in this 100 degree weather. However, very soon now there will be no unsightly concrete block building on the property and all evidence of the decontamination process will be gone.

Several weddings and receptions have been held at the park over the years. Everyone is invited to sit and enjoy the beauty and the soothing sound of the fountain and the beauty of the area. There is designated parking available beside the park and plenty of benches on which to relax. It is not only a lovely approach to The Russ House, our Jackson County icon and Visitor’s Center, welcoming all travelers to the area, it is our park to enjoy 365 days a year!

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