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The 1906 Courthouse

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The 1906 Courthouse

Evidently the 35 year old 1871 Courthouse had not held up very well.

The 1905 Board of County Commissioners were G. W. McNealy, Chairman, Frank Peacock from Greenwood, James M. Barnes, S. M. Miller from Graceville and H. M. Fulgham who were receiving multiple complaints from citizens and officials almost constantly. Many were suggesting that they build an annex onto the existing building. They specifically complained that during Circuit Court days the space was inadequate for the large numbers in attendance. During Grand Jury hearings there was no way to separate the Grand Jury and the witnesses from the body of the Court; there were inadequate restroom facilities and overcrowded offices with lack of vaults needed by officials for safety. At this time all county functions were located within the Courthouse---Judges, the Clerk of Court, Supervisor of Elections, Tax Collector and Appraiser, Board of Education, Sherriff’s Department, County Commissioners, the Courtroom, etc.

On May 29, 1905, the Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) met with intentions of building a much needed annex to the existing Courthouse. J. D. Smith, W. H. Milton, M. L. Dekle, J. M. Calhoun, W. B. Wynn, William B. Farley, J. C. Davis, Dr. Theophilus West, and C. C. Liddon, representing the Board of Trade for the Town of Marianna, came before the Board and asked that the Board reconsider its order for the building of an annex to the Courthouse and “build in its stead a new building throughout and in every way modern.” The Board withdrew its order to build the annex and arranged to receive plans and specifications with the old Courthouse being “town away” and the new Courthouse to be constructed on the same location. The June 7, 1905 minutes of the BoCC show that the 1871 Courthouse was insured for $10,000 and was divided equally between three insurers.

Records show that both Greenwood and Cottondale citizens were not in favor of the new building and petitioned against the construction of such a building, but the commissioners went ahead with their plans.

On July 17, 1905, the BoCC ordered a new Courthouse be built; with a budget of $60,000 proposed by W. H. Milton, but the budget agreed upon was $45,000 which resulted in a taxation of 2 mills. Alexander Blair of Macon, Georgia, was selected as the architect, with Captain J. F. Kehoe to serve as the general supervisor of construction. The bid was advertised and on October 2, 1905, the Board awarded the bid of $46,625 to M. T. Lewman & Company of Louisville, Kentucky to build the new Courthouse. However, five days later they agreed that the new Courthouse should be “fireproof” and increased the amount budgeted to $50,000 which changed the original plans from a frame structure to a “fireproof” version with specified brick.

Note: The 1827 Courthouse had burned November 30, 1848, and the Courthouse built in 1849 was of brick construction. The plans were finalized and work was scheduled to begin on December 1, 1905. The building continued to have a very large basement area with two floors above.

J. D. Smith (remember he started Citizens Bank across the street in his new two-story building he had just completed), and W. H. Milton, of the First National Bank, (located in the 1902 First Bank Building on Caledonia Street) were asked to finance a $60,000 bond which would be repaid with the 2 mill taxation proposed. The vote concerning this taxing proposal to finance the building of the Courthouse was passed by a slim margin of 605-512 votes.

On March 15, 1906, the bricks arrived and were quickly rejected by the Superintendent representing the Board due to the “class of brick” received. The plans specified buff bricks and those delivered were red bricks. Alexander Blair, the architect, who was supposed to supervise the construction and expedite the building process, arrived in Marianna late Saturday evening, the 24th, spent a few minutes at the site on Sunday morning, the 25th, and condemned ALL the bricks, stating that the shipment was mixed with red bricks and buff bricks. However, Mr. Blair did not bother to meet with any member of the BoCC while in town.

The contractors were unable now to continue since they had no further instructions and no bricks to be used, and according to the contract, could not purchase brick from any other source other than from Mr. Blair’s selected brickyard in Augusta, Georgia. The Board instructed W. A. McRae, Clerk, to write Mr. Blair a Special Delivery letter requesting his presence at the next Board meeting on April 10th. Mr. Blair responded that he was unable to attend the Board meeting as he had “important business on hand to which he must attend.”

By now the work had been stopped for almost three weeks and on April 10th, the Board discharged Alexander Blair who had only been in Marianna two times since January 1906 and had only remained in town a few hours each time. It seems he was not too fond of the “present contractors who would not be permitted by him to complete their contract made with said Board, and if they did complete it, he would make them lose money on the same.” He was replaced by R.L. Moore.

On March 13th the BoCC had ordered that the old cistern located at the northwest corner be excavated down to the bottom and the contractor was ordered to put in 612 cubic feet of additional concrete.

May 8th saw R. L. Moore, W. H. Price and W. A. McRae appointed as the committee to decide furniture requirements for the new Courthouse. As the bids were being considered, both steel and wood, the BoCC realized that they had not allowed adequate time for fair bidding and they delayed the bid process until June 8th. Low bid for the metal furniture was $2694 from M. Bunker & Company and $3500 from J. S. Smith/Hudson School Furniture, and the bids were awarded.

On June 14th the BoCC determined that the SEWER PIPE WOULD BE 12 INCHES IN SIZE AND WOULD RUN FROM THE COURTHOUSE TO THE RIVER, WITH THE CITY OF MARIANNA HAVING CONNECTION PRIVILEGES! On July 18th the Town Committee and the BoCC selected the route for the sewer for the Courthouse and the Jail to the river. (This would have most likely been along Jackson Street since that was the most direct route, straight down the street.)

The Board decided that one of the Courthouse features in the Courtroom would include pilasters (a shallow rectangular feature projecting from the wall, imitating the form of a column.) It would also have a belt of molding above the pilasters and steel ceilings. The trim color for the Courthouse would be decided by Mssrs. Hand and Moore.

The Courthouse was now insured for $15,000 to cover the construction completed.

On September 10th the Board agreed to allow the following new extras: Two windows on the north side, and a mantle and grate in the records room, making the parapet walls 13 inches thick instead of 9 inches which was a cost increase of $154.20. They also agreed to put wire over the louvers in the eight tower windows, extra plumbing on the 3rd floor in the west end, and one pair of sliding doors in the Circuit Judge’s room.

Around October 16th, the Board realized that the Courthouse would not be completed in time for the fall term of Circuit Court and they secured the space from J. D. Smith above his store, the space above the store of George Farley and the second floor over Citizen’s State Bank. (These businesses were all on the corners of Lafayette and Jefferson Streets.)

On October 26th, the Board purchased 12,000 red brick to be used to construct a coal house for the new Courthouse.

December 12th saw R. L. Moore, Superintendent and acting Architect, notified the BoCC that M. T. Lewman & Company was in default regarding the completion of the Courthouse. He said, “They have failed to provide sufficient labor and material to property execute the work.” All work was practically suspended due to insufficient material for completion effort. Work had been ongoing for 295 working days, now 95 days past contracted completion date, and the following is an interesting list of some of the items to be corrected and/or completed:

Marble base in corridors on 1st floor, fluted columns in Courtroom on 2nd floor, venetian blinds, steel rolling shutters in record room, broken glass in windows and doors, plate glass in record room, plumbing on 2nd floor, calcimining the walls in all the rooms, and, marble tablets on the front buttresses. Rejected work included: all wood floors, all wooden base, metal ceiling in courtroom, numerous light defects in various parts of the building and a lack of a certificate from the Board of Fire Underwriters for the electric wiring.

On December 13th the Board issued a resolution claiming “failure to perform” by M. T. Lewman & Company and gave them fifteen days to resolve the conditions or the Board would have the Courthouse completed and bill M. T. Lewman & Company for all costs incurred.

On December 27th W. C. and L. D. Lewman appeared before the Board and assured the Board of their intent to complete the Courthouse to the satisfaction of the Board and they agreed to the following rather interesting list of items to be corrected or completed:

Marble base in halls re-ordered, marble tiling to be reset and left clean of cement, dirt, etc., wooden flooring on 1st floor to be re-laid with riffed flooring per specification, resin treated paper to be laid over the present floor before other flooring is laid, halls on the 2nd floor and main Courtroom be treated in same way, floors on the 2nd and 3rd floors to be planned to even out the uneven joints, and be oiled with boiled linseed oil, all face brick on building to be cleaned, Set One to have one coat of raw linseed oil, plumbing fixtures for 2nd floor to be installed and of the same quality as those on the 1st floor, redo all woodwork, all wooden bases to be replaced, vault floors to be cleaned and left smooth, calsoming to be completed, hearth strips to be put around all hearths and be property filled, secure Underwriter Certificate, overhaul plumbing on 1st floor, all vault door sills or thresholds to be in cement, overhaul all defective doors, windows and staircases, overhaul sliding door in Judge’s room, iron columns under gallery to be provided with shell bases and Corinthian caps, metal ceiling in Courtroom condemned but will be accepted if same can be put in acceptable condition, steel rolling shutters ordered and to be shipped, marble tables on front buttresses to be changed to one marble panel to be placed in the corridor on the 1st floor and to be lettered as agreed. $500 was allowed in lieu of placing venetian blinds in building.

On February 7, 1907, the BoCC accepted the new Courthouse from Lewman & Company.

One would never have known from the finished product that there was so much distress in the building of the great old typical Southern Courthouse! It certainly served Jackson County well for the next fifty-four years.

April 15th, 1909, Mrs. Howze Stone, President, and a committee of the ladies from the Town Improvement Association met with the Board to ask permission to place a “temporary but neat fence” around the grounds. They also asked the Board to make substantial walkways into and around the grounds. The Board agreed that as soon as the ladies had the fence in place and the grounds properly laid out, they would build the walks as requested. The ladies further stated they would begin at once to “beautify and improve the grounds and begin a hedge about the entire grounds and the walks.”

May 11, 1909, saw a committee of citizens from the town of Marianna who came before the Board and asked the Board not to enclose the Courthouse grounds in the form of a square as before and suggested the grounds would be too large and that many of the hitching racks used by the country people would be done away with. The Board disagreed and felt that the entire lot belonged to the Courthouse and it should be enclosed in a square form which would give the Courthouse larger and more symmetrical grounds.

The Courthouse housed all county offices for the next fifty years. The jail was nearby with the Sheriff’s offices on the second floor. The second floor Courtroom was a very large room with the typical Judge’s bench, jury box and tables and chairs on the floor below the Judge’s bench. (Many of these pieces of furniture original to the building are in businesses and homes throughout the area.) There was a balcony which allowed the room to seat a large number of people. There is obviously a third floor to the building, but it will take someone older than this writer to determine if that was storage or if other offices were housed there. Since there was no air-conditioning until window units became available, it would surely not have been a pleasant place in which to find yourself assigned to work.

The lower floors housed the Clerk of the Circuit Court and all the Public Records of Jackson County from the beginning of records being kept in the 1820’s, with the exception of those which burned in 1848. The Tax Collector, the Property Appraiser, the Supervisor of Elections, the entire County and Circuit Court system, and any other auxiliary county offices were housed in this building, sometimes including the Board of Education.

Our beautiful typical Southern County Seat Courthouse sat on the Courthouse Square in the center of town, welcoming all who had business within its walls. Its notable dome housed a clock which struck every hour, sounding the time all over Marianna. Interestingly, the BoCC minutes of April 1951 state that the Board accepted a bid to electrify the Courthouse clock. Until then, it was mechanically wound by hand.

The 1881 Confederate Memorial stood proudly in its present place throughout the history of this building as with the previous Courthouse. One other significant memorial sign was erected in 1961, about the time the building was being dismantled to be replaced by “The Monstrosity” which the latest Courthouse has been known since its dedication, until recently when the latest renovation was completed.

The 1961 sign was to commemorate the Battle of Marianna on September 27, 1864 and was placed there by the Florida Board of Parks and Historic Memorials.

At some point in time, a concrete coping, very similar to the one completed recently across the front of the block, was built around the entire block. It was a wonderful place for people to sit and visit. Particularly on Saturday, one would seldom find a time when people were not sitting on the coping just visiting.

The Southern Courthouse sat very stately until, around the middle of 1960, when the BoCC, after much complaining had gone on for several years as to the inadequacy of the building, seems to have taken some action to determine its fate. It appears from the records that a Grand Jury was convened to investigate the complaints and on June 30, 1960, the Grand Jury returned a long list of details concerning reasons for a new Courthouse. They said, among other things, “…..we find in general, the Courthouse is a disgrace for a county the size of Jackson County. We note that Grand Juries of Jackson County have on two previous occasions made presentments as to the inadequate and deplorable condition of the Courthouse facilities and that copies of these presentments were furnished to BoCC with the recommendation that action should be taken to relieve the situation…” And obviously “action was taken soon thereafter.”

Mr. J. M. Adams was the winning bidder of the demolition contract and the BoCC paid him $1.00 for his efforts and he owned whatever was salvageable (excluding the steel vault doors and the cornerstone.) The fuel stoves and the benches were also bid off. It appears that Mr. Adams sold the clocks and the dome after their removal. It has always been rumored that the clocks and possibly the dome are on a Courthouse in South Georgia, but no one seems to remember exactly where, and maybe that is just a “rumor/myth.” It appears that the demolition began shortly after August 1961.

Old-timers have told stories of the “Old Southern Lady” for many years. Perhaps we can get some of them to share some stories about life in the early 1900’s with our “Old Courthouse”. She truly was a treasure and we “older folks” have missed her! “She” could quite possibly be much more beautiful in our memories than she was in reality.

Note: Information for this article was taken from Jerrell Shofner’s History of Jackson County and from the Jackson County Board of County Commissioner’s minutes over the years by Sue Tindel, Jackson County Archivist, as she has researched minutes of many years’ meetings gleaning valuable information and interesting stories. Thank you, Sue!

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