THE 1849 COURTHOUSE
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.