If the Union County courthouse
building could talk, these might be some of the stories it would tell about it's long and interesting past.
Hello, I am the Union County
courthouse. I was born in Marysville in 1880 and was
erected next to the county jail. I guess I'd say my conception
actually occurred in 1871 when the Commissioners purchased a lot
in Marysville for the purpose of erecting a county jail.
The Commissioners then purchased two adjacent lots in 1880 and
less than 100 days later, my construction was under way. Six weeks
prior to construction, Comissioner Whelpley was authorized to contract for 600,000 bricks.
I bet you wouldn't have guessed that number!
Let me tell you about my family. David W. Gibbs of Toledo
is my architect. There are five of us in the family here in Ohio. My twin is the Henry County courthouse on the left
bank of the Maumee River in Napoleon, Ohio. We can pass for identical twins, because we are so much
alike on the exterior. My twin doesn't have a nice
big lawn like mine, and it's clock tower is painted white instead of the nice yellow color that goes with my sandstone trim. My
Commissioners tend to brag a little about me having the gold one while Henry has the silver!
We were both constructed at the same time
using the same
contractors, a partnership of Karst and Woodruff. In my old age, I've forgotten where they
hailed from, and no one else seems to remember either.
Construction began on the Henry County courthouse in July of
1880, and my construction began in September of that same year.
There is another set of twins in Ohio, the Marion County
courthouse and the Washington County courthouse. I guess Mr. Gibbs wasn't above
selling his courthouse blueprints multiple times.
fifth family member is the Butler County courthouse in Hamilton,
Ohio. Now don't let the fact that Mr. Gibbs was in the
blueprint resale business taint your thoughts! Today, all five of
us are still standing strong and serving our counties as intended. A few years ago, my
Henry County twin received a major renovation, making enough room for
several additional county departments that weren't even in
existence in the 1880's. My brother in Marion County had major surgery on his bell tower
tower not long ago. I remember back about 30 years ago, my bell tower wasn't in very good shape either, and the
Commissioners even thought about removing it, but they
ultimately decided to loosen the purse strings
and pay for the needed repairs.
And speaking of repairs, I was in
need of repair even before my first dedication! In early December
of 1881, a crack "of considerable proportion" appeared in my south wall, caused by
the settling of my foundation. Karst and Woodruff went to
work right away on the problem and by the following week, the
local newspaper reported the crack was substantially removed.
This problem may have been only masked back then however, because
contractors performing renovation work in 1993 found out that
many of the floors on my south end were still way out of level. But at least my south wall has
held firm all these years.
Now I want to tell you more about my bell tower. It reaches up 168 feet from the ground. My original clock was built by
Howerd & Co. of Boston, Massachusetts, with dials
seven feet in diameter. Winding my clock was a weekly chore for the courthouse
janitor in those early years.
The weights had to be wound up once a week with a crank on a
shaft. He had to ascend three flights of stairs to reach
the attic, then ascend into the tower section using a couple
weights were fastened on steel cables, which wound around a drum. Their descent by force of gravity provided the locomotion for the clock works.
All went well until 1942, when one of the rusty cables finally parted
and let its weight loose on a free fall that took it down through the skylight
of the courthouse rotunda and onto the tile floor outside the Common Pleas
courtroom! Arthur Lowe, a court reporter at that time, happened to be starting down the steps
of the courthouse when the clock weight fell behind him and literally chased him down
the stairs to the landing, but fortunately didn't quite hit him.
Soon afterward, my clock was electrified and did a much better job of keeping time.
In 1973, during some repair work on my exterior, my original clock faces, which were
originally translucent and lit from within, were
replaced with new faces. My clock also received a new motor and rooftop lights were
installed to illuminate my tower and clock faces. I like how these lights
illuminate my tower and clocks, but I do miss the days when the clocks were white circles of light
visible in the night sky. Fairly recently, the clock motor failed
and was replaced with a new motor which had the wrong gear ratio
by mistake causing the clock to gain 15 minutes per hour!
The Columbus newspaper humorously reported that "time passes rapidly in Marysville".
When the county custodians sent that
one back leaving my clock inoperable temporarily, the paper then reported that "time stands still in Marysville".
Finally, I got the right parts and now time marches on once
In my early days, a gas
apparatus lighted the rooms. Natural gas wasn't here yet, and that machine needed to be pumped up by hand to keep the pressure to the
light fixtures. The chandelier in the rotunda was a gas fixture until converted
to electric. Originally, I was to be heated by stoves in each office suite, but
in 1881 the Commissioners decided to contract with Brooks and Kemper of Dayton to install a low pressure steam heating apparatus,
warranted to heat all
the rooms and halls of the building to 70 degrees in the coldest
weather. It was to be fully tested during 60 days of cold weather to the
satisfaction of the Commissioners and architect before being paid for.
The heating system may have passed this early test, but in later years, the northwest corner of the second floor, which was the Common Pleas Judge's chambers, seemed to always be cold.
Many Commissioners knew the wrath of a judge with cold feet and cold
On June 19, 1883, after the offices had been occupied for six months, the
Commissioners contracted with the Midland Telephone Company to
install two instruments in
the courthouse, on a trial basis. The board agreed to pay $4 rent on each instrument per month for a term of three months.
The last major contract
during my construction period was between the Commissioners and Harvey S. Wood & Co. for planting
the following trees on the courthouse property: 25 elm, 25 soft maple, 25 hard maple, 12 European mountain ash, 8 Austrian pine, 8 European birch, 8 Norway spruce, and 8 balsam firs.
Wood & Co. warranted the trees and would be responsible for
replacing any decayed or dying trees in the spring of 1884. The
Commissioners paid 30 cents each for the 75 forest trees and $1 each for the other
trees, to be paid as follows: 2/3 due at the time of planting, and
the remaining 1/3 due in May 1884 after warranty replanting.
Incidentally, I hear that
my recently completed renovations were not
without some legal problems. So, what's new? Karst
and Woodruff, my original builder, sued the Commissioners for breach of contract in 1888.
The case was settled out of court for $150. That was the last bit of litigation
on the original contract, and came 7½ years after
Paying for my
construction was not without controversy. Let me relate some of
the details. On December 8, 1880, the Commissioners authorized Commissioner J. B. Whelpley to sell all of the bonds at par for 5% per annum from date of issue. Ten days later, Commissioner Whelpley reported to the board that he had sold the bonds as
instructed, half to the Farmers Bank of Marysville and half to the Peoples Bank of Marysville.
At the meeting of the board on December 18,
resident A. B. Robinson came to the board to protest the sale for these reasons:
"First, there was not sufficient opportunity given for completion in the sale of the
Second, the bonds were sold for less than their real value.
had offered $500 premium to buy them himself.
Third, the sale is unlawful for the reason that one of the
Commissioners is an interested party being a stockholder in one of the banks concerned."
Robinson made his protest in the interest of the taxpayers of the county. On December 22, 1880,
after a board meeting to consider the protest, A. B. Robinson was fully heard in the matter. Commissioner Whelpley was not present.
Without taking action, the board adjourned and set a meeting for
8:00 a.m. the next day. Commissioner Whelpley was again
absent for the 8:00 a.m. meeting. Both banks filed statements. J. M. Southard, President of the Farmers Bank, told the board he contracted with Commissioner Whelpley in good
faith, had the money in hand to pay for the bonds, and he expected the board to complete the transaction. C. S. Chanpman, Cashier of the Peoples Bank, gave the board an almost identical statement about his bank's
desire to close the deal. He added that Commissioner Whelpley would have no interest in said bonds nor would he derive any benefit from them as a stockholder of Peoples Bank.
The Commissioners called upon R. L. Woodburn, the prosecuting attorney, for a written opinion of the law on all questions in the proceedings. They adjourned until 1:00 p.m. December
27, 1880. At that time, Prosecutor Woodburn
advised the board that the contract negotiations so made by
Commissioner Whelpley with the two banks at that point were not legal or binding. Commissioner Mahaffey moved to
affirm the sale of the bonds to the two
banks and Commissioner Whelpley seconded the motion. When the
board vote was taken, Commissioner Whelpley voted yea, while
Commissioner Mahaffey and Commissioner Howard both voted nay
defeating the motion. On January 26, 1881 the Marysville Tribune reported that the
bonds were sold with a large premium of $1,275 on the $65,000 issue.
WALL COVERING SYMBOLS USED IN THE COURTHOUSE
Both courtrooms have wall coverings containing 24 symbolic circled images, depicting various scenes of importance to Union County.
Each of Union County's 14 townships is represented, with the name of the township and the date it was established included.
Allen township has its covered bridge. Claibourne township
has its opera house which is now a police station. Liberty
township has its shield. York township depicts a
farm scene in commemoration of its reputation for fine
agriculture. Dover township depicts a train as it was the first railhead in Union
County. Paris township shows a blockhouse as the first fortification
here. Jackson township and Washington township contain the image of the respective
U.S. President for which each was named. Union township contains the replica of the buggy works formerly located
there. Millcreek township contains the stream for which the township is
named. Leesburg township has its "magnetic
spring". Taylor township has Broadway's J. J. Watts general store.
Darby township is represented by Chief Darby, for which it is
named. Lastly, Jerome township has, as its symbol, the Civil
War statue located in New California.
The map of the
county itself, represents Union County, with the various municipal corporations shown by stars. In addition, each of the four
buildings used as Union County courthouses since the county
was formed in 1820 are shown, with the dates of use. The courthouse cannon is shown, representing those Union County natives who served in this country's wars and
conflicts. The Scales of Justice, "Miss
Justice", and the Lamp of Knowledge celebrate the dedication of these rooms to fairness, wisdom, and justice under the law. The last circle contains the peace pipe, symbolic of
the Greenville Treaty, whose treaty line extended through northern Union County.
The artist for the wallpaper designs is Mrs. Yasue Sakaoka, of Columbus, Ohio.
The Union County Bar Association, the
Commissioners, and the judges hope that you enjoy the pictorial images of our heritage, closely allied with and now displayed in our court system.