COWLEY COUNTY'S FIRST COURTHOUSE
When Cowley County was organized in 1870, government was created and had to be housed. At first the county used office space donated by progressive merchants, because taxation had not been established so no rents could be paid.
The next year taxes were collected so the merchants started charging rent for space used by the various departments of county government.
On petition of citizens, a election was called for to vote bonds for a court house but the opposition voted down the proposition and the county offices continued without a home.
A second election was called for and again the bonds were voted down.
A third election was called for and for the third time, the courthouse bonds were voted down.
Since all efforts at voting funds for the court house had failed, on April 19, 1873, the county commission ordered the county clerk to enter into a contract with the city of Winfield to construct a temporary courthouse of brick and stone. It would be financed by $10,000 of county warrants or by $8,500 of county funds, if the city of Winfield would also construct a county jail at a cost of $2,500.
A committee composed of J.D. Cochran, S.C. Smith and W.E. Tansey was appointed to drew up plans and specifications.
While this was going on the commission considered various sites which had been offered free to the county.
E. C. Manning and J. C. Fuller had platted a towns site on September 21, 1871. Their plat reserved the south half of the block bounded by Ninth, Tenth, Loomis and Fuller streets.
A. Menor platted his addition to Winfield on December 11, 1871. He reserved a full city block for a courthouse square. This block was bounded by 14th, 15th, Main, and Manning streets. He also named Blanden street (now 13th), Courthouse street (now 14th), Maple street (now 15th), Walnut street (now 16th), and Bridge street (now 17th). In 1880 the City commission changed the name of Courthouse street to Park Street. In 1892 The City commission changed the other streets to conform with the numerical sequence.
The City Commission finally accepted the south half of the block that the court house is currently on. May 30th, the seven bids were opened and the highest bid was $8,000 and the low bid of $6,500 by Bailey and Sloan was accepted.
The June 10 county commission meeting exploded a bombshell. It was determined that the county must pay its indebtedness in county warrants, and that under the law bids for cash could not be legally considered and the whole matter was set aside. In view of this, the commissioners ordered that sealed bids for erection of the building be received by the county clerk until 2 p.m. the next day, and that the county attorney inform the bidders of the letting.
On June 11 three bids were submitted and opened, and the contract was let to Stewart and Simpson at $9,000 in county warrants. The building was to be built of brick and stone. S.C. Smith was appointed to lay off the site so work could commence at once.
As work on the court house progressed, the commission determined that additional work would be necessary. On September 3, they ordered that the upper story walls be built two feet higher, that two additional gables be built on the east and west, a tower in the center, and two additional chimneys on the north.
A second contract, stating a cost of $1395, was made with Stewart and Simpson.
In anticipation of the new building the commissioners let a contract to S.H. Myton to furnish ten cords of wood, oak and walnut, at $4.50 per cord for firewood. They also contracted for six 25 inch box stoves, complete with zinc and pipe, at $18.00 each. They let a contract to the Iola School Furnishing company for seats for the courtroom, with the stipulation that they be made of black walnut. September first the tax levies were set for 1873. The school levies ranged from 6 mills to 100 mills. The township levies ranged from one to three and one-half mills.
December 9, 1873 the new building was inspected and approved.
In January of 1879, the county commissioners adopted plans to repair the courthouse. The plan calls for a wing 20 x 20, two stories high, on both the east and west side of the courthouse. It also calls for two sets of fire proof and burglar proof vaults for the safe keeping of all the records, documents, and funds. The estimated cost is $3,000. When the bids were received the commissioners vetoed the addition.
APRIL 24, 1879 - Under this head the Semi-Weekly dishes up a column and a half editorial to prove that the county ought at once to go to a large expense in building additions to, and in remodeling the courthouse.
It says that "whoever is responsibile for building the courthouse where it is, with a swamp between it and the business portion of the town, demonstrates his unfitness to be entrusted with public interests, and has a small soul; that "Winfield has in days gone by been cursed by incapacity and cupidity;" that the courthouse, the school house, and the lost bridge "are the ear marks that indicate jobbery and rascality, "the indubitable evidences of "gigantic fraud" in those responsible for their construction.
About three months ago the editors of the Semi-Weekly came to this place utter strangers to the people of this city and county and found the city so prosperous and promising, the result of the labor and exertions of its earlier citizens, that they concluded to establish themselves here and reap a part of the harvest these earlier citizens had sown. Finding that in their gleanings they did not at first accumulate sheaves very rapidly, they concluded that the fault must be in the rascality and incapacity of those whose labor sowed the seed, and hence, we have this wholesale attack upon our best and most valued
The persons who projected and carried out the building of the courthouse and jail were W. H. H. Maris, then Mayor; S. C. Smith, R. B. Saffold, C. A. Bliss, H. S. Silver, J. D. Cochran, S. Darrah, then councilmen; J. M. Alexander, city attorney; Frank Cox, of Richland, John D. Maurer of Dexter, and O. C. Smith, of Cresswell, county commissioners.
Fifty-eight leading men of Winfield were most active in this matter and guaranteed the title to the courthouse ground and many prominent men of the county approved the measure.
The persons who projected and carried out the building of the school house were John B. Fairbank, District Clerk, J. D. Cochran, Director, S. H. Myton, Treasurer, and some others.
J. P. Short was the trustee and O. F. Boyle the treasurer by whom the contract to build the bridge was let, and during most of its construction, and H. S. Silver, E. S. Bedilion, and B. F. Baldwin were the township officers who made the final settlement with the contractors.
Here we have an array of names honored in this community, names of men never before charged with rascality and incapacity, men in whom we older settlers believe and trust and yet the sages of Mt. Pulaski in three short months have seen through all these men and found them guilty of incapacity, unfitness, jobbery, rascality, and gigantic fraud.
It may be that these gushing freshmen meant to attach these pet words to other than those mentioned above, to the members of the "Old Town Company, or rather Town Association," for instance. If that is the case, the records are open to inspection and we state distinctly that no member of the Winfield Town Association had any connection whatever with the building of the courthouse except to give a deed of the half block of land on which it stands to the county, and two lots on which the jail stands to the city, (all they ever agreed or were ever expected to give) in compliance with the bargain between the city council and county commissioners, that the county should build a courthouse and the city a jail in which the county should have a right to keep prisoners. One of them protested against the building of the courthouse.
One member of that Association, Fuller, was district treasurer when the contract for building the school house was let, but Myton succeeded him before the work commenced.
The original plan of the school house was made by John B. Fairbank, District Clerk, who requested Millington to help him in drafting and making specifications and estimates, which he did, but that plan was finally widely departed from in the construction, and therefore Millington is not entitled to a particle of the credit of that structure.
Millington only, of that Association, had anything to do with the letting of the contract and building of the bridge. He was temporarily the township clerk at that time and claims his share of the credit with his colleagues, Short and Boyle, and with other leading men of the town.
We challenge Mr. Conklin or anyone else to show that any member of the Town Association had any connection whatever with the building of either of these three structures except as above specified.
Now as relates to these three structures, built at that early day when there were no civil engineers or architects within reach and to procure such would cost such large sums, when everything was high and hard to get and when our citizens were beset by every kind of hardship and discouragement, we think these structures, though not beautiful nor even sufficiently substantial, were very creditable monuments to their enterprise and energy, the terrible denunciations of our neighbors
Now, Mr. Semi-Weekly man, we expect you, we challenge you to state precisely what were the "gigantic frauds," the jobberies and rascalities, which you charge in such sweeping and general terms, as to stigmatize the whole community at that time. Be specific and give the names of those who perpetrated them. If either of the gentlemen we have named, or any other citizen is guilty, give us the name and make specific charges against him that he may have a chance to defend himself. Then no longer make assassin and cowardly attacks in the dark, calculated to bring odium upon almost every man of note in the city without giving anyone an excuse for defending himself.
It is a very poor way to secure the desired additions to the courthouse to endeavor by misrepresentations and charges of fraud against the entire business population of Winfield and thereby making Winfield odious to the people of the county.
If you really desire the improvement you advocate, we would suggest that you examine the records of the past and give the facts.
FEBRUARY 5, 1880. - With Col. Alexander we think it time something was done about the courthouse. The county has records that have cost thousands of dollars, and their loss would entail upon the citizens of the county hundreds of thousands of dollars in almost endless litigation. Were the courthouse the safest building in the county so far as the danger of falling is concerned, it is not a safe place to store the records. We commend the manly course of our correspondent in writing over his own proper signature. Like him we were skeptical about the dangerous condition of the courthouse, but we were always ready to urge that vaults should be constructed to preserve the records. We think the time has come when the courthouse should be reconstructed under the supervision of a competent civil engineer in such manner as to save the present building and add to it what is needed, and we urge the matter upon the immediate attention of our county commissioners.
Feb 5, 1880 - Look at the condition of our courthouse. When its unsafe condition was first made public, I, with others, was incredulous, and thought that, perhaps, the report was invented in order to give someone a job, or to satisfy somebody's personal convenience. But after our own citizen architect, Mr. Hoenscheidt, and a celebrated architect from abroad, Mr. Bartlett, had examined the courthouse and pronounced it unsafe in its present condition; and after learning from our District Court Clerk, Mr. Bedilion, that he had experimented with measures, and found that the walls were gradually spreading, I became convinced that something ought to be done immediately to make the building a safe one to occupy.
Judge Campbell will not hold the District Court in it, and the county is now paying Manning from $360 to $400 a year for his Opera House to hold the court in. Here is economy with a vengeance! But this is not the worst feature of it. The courthouse, unrepaired, is a death-trap in which the lives of our county officers are liable at any moment to be sacrificed. It is true, the structure might stand for years as it is. So might the Tay bridge, but it didn't; and how long brick walls may stand, that are gradually and surely spreading, the Lord only knows. I know this: that, if the courthouse should fall and destroy a single human life, I should thank my God that I was not one of the respectable and responsible Board of County
To repair the courthouse, means to make it better than it ever has been, and to enlarge it to meet the progressive demands of the county. It means, also, to provide a receptacle for the records of the county. And it can be done at an expense, trifling to the county; at an increase of taxes that might cover to the individual the cost of a single plug of tobacco. Yet, the Honorable Board plod along undisturbed, as though the county was too poor to own a respectable building, and pay out every year for rent enough to pay the interest on a much larger sum than would be necessary to make the courthouse what it should be.
Only think of it. The great county of Cowley - the banner county of the state - unsurpassed in her increase of population, her agricultural and horticultural productions; her superior standard of schools, education, intelligence, and refinement; with two railroads and the prospect of more; with a courthouse that could be built today for the paltry sum of $3,000, and in a shabby, tumble-down condition, which ought to bring the blush of shame to every citizen of the county. If the County Board believe that the people of the county prefer the "Penny Wise and Pound Foolish" manner in which this courthouse policy is con-ducted, I, for one, hope the Board is mistaken.
Respectfully, J. M. ALEXANDER.
FEB 19, 1880. - The Commissioners made arrangements to build an addition to the jail to be used by the sheriff as an office, and rented the upper part of the jail from the city for $10 per month. It will be occupied as heretofore by the jailer. An order was made to have four more binding rods put in the courthouse.
March 25, 1880 - The work of "bracing up" the courthouse is progressing finely. Mr. Tamsey, who has the job in hand, is making a clean breast of it, and will leave it in first class condition. Four iron rods have been put in beneath the floor of the second story, and four more will be put in just below the upper ceiling. Six pillars, 8 x 8, have been put beneath the girders of the roof on the partition walls of the first story, which are built up solid to the second story. This allows the roof to rest upon the central partitions of the building and relieves the pressure from the walls. It is to be replastered and painted, and will be ready for the next term of court. The commissioners are to be commended for taking action in the matter before it was too late.
July 29, 1880 - The county commissioners met last Friday and adopted plans and specifications for the courthouse vaults and additions. Bids are called for on excavations, masonry, etc. The plans and specifications may be seen at the office of the County Clerk.
AUG 5, 1880. - On Tuesday the county commissioners let the stonework of the vault wings of the courthouse to Archie Stewart for $545, and the iron work of the vaults to John Seaton, of Atchison, for $430. The work will commence at once. John Hoenscheidt, the architect, was on hand with the plans and specifications.
Aug 12, 1880 - Pryor & Kinne have a telephone in good working order connecting their office with E. S. Bedillion's offfice at the courthouse. It saves them a great many journeys to the courthouse to make inquiries about the public records. They are agents for the Telephone Company, and will soon be in a position to put up more telephones.
Nov 25, 1880 - The courthouse repairs are going on apace. The work on the new wings has been stopped on account of the recent "spell" of weather. The inside work is beng done by P. W. Watkins. He has removed the partitions and has made four rooms instead of six in the lower story of the old building. With the present improvements, our courthouse is one of the most commodious in Southern Kansas.
The new courthouse vaults are the finest in the State. They are large, roomy, and completely fireproof, built up from the ground, and arched over with solid masonry. The walls and ceilings are twenty-four inches thick, laid up with brick, and filled in with dry sand.
Jan 13, 1881 - The expenditures were much greater than first anticipated or intended; but where such radical changes to the interior arrangements were made, the amount necessary to make them could not be calculated, and as is always the case, they were much greater than any person expected. The entire cost of the work on the courthouse was $4,220; divided as follows.
Archie Stewart, stone mason work, $545.00
Beaton & Connor, contractors, $1,987.00
Iron work and vaults, $1,018.00
Repairing offices and furniture, $670.00
The additions are alike in size and style, and are 21 x 31 feet. The east room will be used as the office of the probate judge and the west for the superintendent of public instruction. The vaults are located in these additions and so arranged that entrance is had to them from every office in the building, yet each is independent from the other. The vaults and the iron work were made by John Seaton, of Atchison, and in a manner that is entirely satisfactory to the commissioners. The vaults rest on three feet of solid masonry, and are in every respect fire and burglar proof. The grade floor of the main building is now divided into four large offices instead of six small ones. The east part is occupied by the county clerk and the treasurer, with a window allowing communications between the offices.
On the west side a like division is made, and they are occupied by the register of deeds and district clerk. The changes have necessitated some new furniture, but the officers have been very economical and ordered nothing but what was indispensable.
The greatest change in improvement has been made in the register's office. The records are all now kept in the vault, and from the main room to the vault there is a truck on which runs a car, and in this car are placed all the books that are daily used. At night the car is run into the vault which secures absolute safety. The offices are all arranged with a view to the economy of space, time, and labor. Seaton & Connor were the contractors for this work, and they have done their work in a manner that reflects credit on them. They came here about a year ago and have worked on some of our best buildings. The commissioners speak of them in the highest terms, and say that while they, the conttractors, were much delayed by weather and other things, yet not a word of complaint was made, nor was there any attempt on thier part to avoid the contract or try to get an increased price. Swain & Watkins had a contract under Seaton & Connor to do the carpenter work, and P. W. Watkins was appointed by the commissioners to hire and superintend all the work in the old building. Their work was completed in a manner that gives entire satisfaction.
We cannot conclude this account without awarding the county commissioners their mead of praise. For years there has been a demand for the protection of our records, and as soon as they could do it by law they have answered the demand. They have carefully supervised the work, and not a dollar more has been spent than they could help. With a cost of less than five thousand dollars, we now have a courthouse that will do the county for many years to come. This is much more satisfactory than it would have been to have pulled down the old building and rebuilt, which would probably have cost twenty thousand dollars to have obtained the same amount of room. We say well done, good and faithful servants.
July 14, 1881 - The Board succeeded in getting possession of the balance of the lots in the Court House block, purchasing five lots from Mrs. Millington for $450; four lots from Mr. Fuller for $300, and one lot from Mr. Manning for $135, the City of Winfield on certain conditions, donating its lots. The city is to deed the two lots and jail to the county, which completes the block.
The above lots, bought at $90 each, would sell readily at $150 each, to other parties.
A new and larger Courthouse was built and occupied in 1909. The old courthouse was sold to W. B. Caton for $400.00. He tore it down and used the brick for a building wh was constructing in Wellington.