History of Court Houses in McLean County, Il
From: History of McLean County Illinois
By: Jacob L. Hasbrouck
Historical Publishing Company
Topeka-Indianoplis 1924

Court Houses. - In the course of its history, McLean County has built four court houses. The first building used as a court house was really the residence of James Allin, situated on the block bounded by East, Grove, Albert and Olive streets. Here the first term of court was held in September, 1831, but it did not do any business except receive the report of the grand jury, which had held its session out of doors under a tree. James Allin was clerk, Cheney Thomas sheriff and Thomas Orendorff bailiff. In the year 1832, September, the first jury trial was held at the same place, the case of Steer vs. Dawson, growing out of the defendant taking up cattle without advertising. The first divorce case was Neville vs. Neville, the wife being granted a divorce. An important case of that time was that of the Illinois Central Railroad Company against the county of McLean, involving the power of the legislature to exempt the road from taxation on its paying a certain sum. Abraham Lincoln was the company's attorney, and he afterward sued for his fee of $5,000, which the jury allowed him.

All four of the court houses were built on the square bounded by Jefferson, Main, Washington and Center streets. The first was a one story frame building 18x30 feet, divided into three rooms. It was built in 1832 by Asahel Gridley for $339.25. It was used also for a school house and public meetings.

The second court house was erected in 1836 and used for 30 years. Leander Munsell was the builder, and the cost was S6,375. It was brick, two stories high, 40x45 feet, contained five rooms. It had doors on alt four sides. It was used for many political meetings, but the commissioners refused its use to the Abolitionists, as they were considered enemies of the country. One of the stirring scenes in this building was on May 25, 1862, when within a short time a military company of 248 men was recruited for emergency guard duty at Springfield to replace other companies who had been sent to the front. Many noted judges presided in this building, including Samuel H. Treat, T. Lyle Dickey, Oliver L. Davis, Charles Emmerson, David Davis, John M. Scott. Among the noted lawyers were Abraham Lincoln, John T. Stuart, Stephen T. Logan, James Shields, James A. MacDougall, Edward D. Baker, Leonard Swett and Robert G. Ingersoll.

The third court house was erected in 1868 and was used until it was ruined in the big fire of 1900. A. B. Ives, as chairman of the board of supervisors, cast the deciding vote on the question of building a new court house. It was 11 years later, in 1879, that the building commission reported the building completed at a cost of $404,727.51. The exterior was of Joliet limestone, and the structure was large and beautiful and convenient. In the fire of June 19, 1900, the wooden window frames and other parts caught fire and the heat ruined the stone facings, so that the board voted to tear down the building and erect another.

The fourth and present court house was built of Bedford sandstone with interior finishings of marble and scagliola. It is conveniently arranged, and contains besides the offices for the county officials large rooms where the Historical Society and the old soldiers had headquarters until the McBarnes Memorial building was erected in 1922, when these latter organizations were removed to that structure. The total cost of this building was $474,000, which was paid off in five years after the building bonds were issued. During the building of this court house, all county business was done in old Turner Hall on South Main street.

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