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Early Court House, Judicial
From History of Greene and Jersey Counties, Illinois, Springfield, IL: Continental Historical Co., 1885, pp. 100 – 117. Not a complete transcription. There will be typographical errors.
The old court house was built in 1840 by subscription of citizens, and was originall 40 feet square. Aaron Rue and Peyton C. Walker did the carpenter work, and Peter Perrine the brick work. In 1862 an addition, 16 x 30 feet in size was added on the north side of the building, which was used for jail purposes, but about 1873 or 74, some prisoners escaping by digging through the rear wall, the county commissioners ordered that it be lined with 2 x 4 pine scantling laid flat and spiked and covered with common sheet iron. On the early morning of January 6, 1884, as Charles Lipscomb, the janitor of the Baptist church, was going to that place of worship at 4 o’clock to build the fire, it being one of the coldest days during that winter, he smelled smoke, but attaching no attention to it, supposing that somebody was building a fire.
He remained in the church until after 6 o’clock, when going out he discovered smoke issuing from the jail windows. He at once proceeded to awake G. C. Cockrell, who lived near by and then to inform Sheriff C. S. Frost. Finding that C. Blay, the janitor of the jail, had the keys of the jail, and knowing that several prisoners were in confinement there, he hastened to the house of the above, half a mile distant. When they arrived at the jail, they found it filled with a dense smoke, and the prisoners not able to come out. Charles Keith, James Powel, W. Hibble, J. E. Cory and M. Cockrell at considerable risk to themselves plunged into the room and soon brought out the dead bodies, for they were nothing else. These victims were Walter Dunsdon, in jail under accusation of murder; Emile Koehler, for horse-stealing; August Shultz, for purloining a coat; James Griggs, for petit larceny.
The fire is generally believed to have been owing to a defective flue and the pine wood close to it catching fire early in the night and being closely confined between the iron casing and brick wall, smouldered until it broke out about six or seven o’clock in the morning. The flames soon wrapped the whole building and soon the edifice was but a smoking ruin, and Jersey county was without a court house or jail. All the books, furniture, even the bar railing and the matting on the stairs was taken out of the building and saved.
The subject of building a suitable court house in Jerseyville is at the present writing, 1885, under consideration, and no doubt in the near future the county will find itself in possession of an edifice of that character. The present depressed state of trade and low price of farm products, causing a stringency in the times, is all that is deferring the matter.
The first term of circuit court in Jersey county convened Nov. 25, 1839 in a small frame school house which then stood in the southwest corner of the old Morean place, now owned by John Smith. The building was afterwards moved about two squares further northwest, when it was owned by Mrs. Abijah Davis as a dwelling. It was torn down in the summer of 1884. It was also the first school building erected in Jerseyville. Judge William Thomas, of the first judicial circuit, presided at this session.
The certificates of appointment of Robert L. Hill, clerk, John N. English, sheriff, and Nelson R. Lurton, coroner, were produced.
The sheriff returned the panel of grand jurors selected and summoned for the body of Jersey county. The following constitutes a list of those present: Elijah Van Horne, William Draper, John D. Gillham, Thomas Hamilton, Samuel L. McGill, James Davis, John Corson, George Hoffman, Josiah Rhodes, John Hawkins, Henry Coonrod, Maben Anderson, John Kimball, George Smith, John Brown and Robert B. Robbins. Elijah Van Horne was selected and sworn as foreman.
The first case which came up for hearing before this body was that of J. M. Hurd, for the use of Ezra Hurd, plaintiff, against John W. Slaten, defendant, being an appeal from the justice’s court. John W. Scott and Edward M. Daley, plaintiffs, against Alexander H. Burrett, defendant, being an action for trespass, was the second case. Both cases were continued by the attorneys who appeared for the parties concerned.
The first state case was that of William Dixon, alias Captain Dixon, indicted for passing fictitious notes and for forgery. This called into requisition the first petit jury, which was composed of the following named gentlemen: Joseph Duncan, James Ritchie, Josiah Jackson, John Keys, Thomas H. Chapman, Richard Simmons, Moses Cockrell, Ambrose S. Wyckoff, Chilton Smithe, Isaac Barree, William Palmer, William K. Miner. The jury found the defendant guilty, in the manner and form as was alleged against him in the indictment of the grand jury, and instructed that he should be confined in the penitentiary for a term of four years. The day following, the court executed the verdict of the petit jury, by sentencing defendant to 46 months at hard labor in the penitentiary. Dixon was also held for larceny, by an indictment of the grand jury, but the attorney for the state refused to further prosecute the case, and it was consequently dismissed.
The term of court beginning on Oct. 28, 1840, Judge Thomas presiding. At this term the first murder case, of which Elias Cockrell was defendant, was heard. The defendant pleaded “not guilty,” and filed his affidavit and move the court for a change of venue, whereupon the court ordered that the venue be changed to Greene county.
At the term of court which convened April 26, 1841, Judge Samuel D. Lockwood occupied the bench for the first time in this county. He presided at every session until that of September 1848, which was his last in that capacity.
At the term of court which convened May 14, 1849, Judge David M. Woodson presided for the first time in this court. He occupied the bench at every session of the court in this county from that time until April 1867, with the exception of the October term, 1851.
He was born in Jessamine county, Ky., May 18, 1806. His parents were Samuel H. and Ann R. (Meade) Woodson. His father was a leading lawyer in Kentucky, and had several times represented Jessamine county in the state legislature. In 1831 David M. was himself elected to the legislature, on the whig ticket, and cast one of the votes which elected Henry Clay to the United States senate. When elected, Mr. Woodson was carried through the streets of the village in which he lived, on men’s shoulders, which attested his popularity, even then. On October 6, 1831 he was married to Lucy McDowell, daughter of Major John McDowell, of Fayette county, Ky. He came to this state in the autumn of 1833, and chose Carrollton, Greene county, as his future home, and then returned to Kentucky for his family, whom he brought out the following year. He had studied and practiced law in Kentucky, and when he came to Carrollton, entered into his partnership with Charles D. Hodges, which continued 14 years, being terminated by the election of Mr. Hodges to a judgeship. His first wife died in Kentucky, in August 1836. He was again married, Nov. 1, 1838, to Julia Kennett. At the session of the legislature of 1838-39, he was elected to the office of state’s attorney, to fill a vacancy to which he had recently been appointed by Governor Duncan. In August 1840 he was elected to the legislature from Greene county. In 1843 he ran for congress from the 5th district against Stephen A. Douglas, but was defeated. He was a member of the state constitutional convention of 1847. The next position to which he was lelcted was the circuit judgeship of the first judicial district, which he held until 1867, when he retired from the bench. He was elected to the house of representatives from Greene county in 1868, on the democratic ticket. He was the father of one son by his first marriage, John M. Woodson of St. Louis. By his second marriage there was one child, a daughter, now the wife of H. C. Withers.
George W. Herdman, the present judge, presided for the first time at the March term, 1883. George W. Herdman is a native of the state of New York, and was born March 6, 1839. In the fall of 1854 he located in Jersey county, having previously moved to this state with his parents. His early life was spent on a farm. At the age of 24 years he commenced the study of law, and in the spring of 1867 received a diploma from the University of Louisville, Ky. He commenced practice in Jerseyville, the same spring. In the fall of 1870 he was elected to the legislature as representative from Jersey and Calhoun counties. In 1876 he was elected state senator and served four years. In July 1882 he was elected judge of the 7th judicial circuit, to fill the unexpired term occasioned by the death of Albert G. Burr, and in June 1885 was re-elected for a term of six years. He has also been a member of the Jerseyville board of education three years. In February 1880 he was united in marriage with Helen A., a daughter of James W. Parrish. He is a democrat.