Public Buildings in Nodaway County, Missouri
From: The History of Nodaway County, Missouri
National Historical Company
St. Joseph, Mo.: 1882


Notwithstanding the fact that a large number, probably a majority of the people in every county, have very little practical experience in the courts, and although they have the legal capacity to sue and be sued, never improve their opportunities, and never appear in court, unless it be on compulsion as witnesses and jurors; yet, as the one great conservator of peace, and as the final arbiter, in case of individual or neighborhood disputes, the court is distinguished above and apart from all and every other institution of the land, and not only the proceedings of the court, but the place of holding court, is a matter of interest to the average reader.

Not only so, but in many counties the court house was the first, and, usually the only public building in the county.

The first court houses were not very elaborate buildings, to be sure, but they are enshrined in memories that the present never can know.

Their uses were general, rather than special, and so constantly were they in use, day and night when the court was in session, and when it was not in session, for judicial, educational, religious and social purposes, that the doors of the old court houses, like the gates of gospel grace, stood open, night and day, and the small amount invested in those old hewn logs, and rough benches, returned a much better rate of interest on the investment, than do those stately piles of brick or granite which have taken their places.

The memorable court house of early times was a house adapted to, a variety of purposes, and had a career of great usefulness.

School was taught, the gospel preached, and justice dispensed, within its substantial walls. Then it served, frequently, as a resting place for weary travelers, and, indeed, its doors always swung on easy hinges.

If the old settlers are to be believed, all the old court houses, when first erected in this western country, often rang on the pioneer Sabbath with a more stirring eloquence than that which enlivens the pulpits of the present time. Many of the earliest ministers officiated in their walls, and if they could but speak, they would doubtless tell many a strange tale of pioneer religion that is now lost forever.

To those old court houses ministers came of different faiths, but all eager to expound the simple truths of a sublime and beautiful religion, and point out for comparison the thorny path of duty and the primrose way of dalliance. Often have those old walls given back the echoes of those who sang the songs of Zion, and many an erring wanderer has had his heart moved to repentance thereby more strongly than ever by the strains of homely eloquence.

With Monday morning the old building changed in character, and men went thither seeking not the mercy of God, but the justice of man. The scales were held with an even hand. Those who presided knew every man in the county, and they dealt out substantial justice, and the broad principles of natural equity prevailed.

Children went there to school and sat at the feet of teachers who knew little more than themselves; but, however humble the teacher's acquirements, he was hailed as a wise man and a benefactor, and his lessons were heeded with attention. The old people of the settlement went there to discuss their own affairs, and learn from visiting attorneys the news from the great world, so far away to the southward and eastward.

In addition to the orderly assemblies which formally gathered there, other meetings no less notable occurred. It was a sort of a forum, whither all classes of people went for the purpose of loafing and gossiping, and telling and hearing some new thing.

As a general thing, the first court house, after having served the purpose of its erection, and having served that purpose well, is torn down and conveyed to the rear of some remote corner lot, and thereafter is made to serve the purpose of an obscure cow stable on some dark alley. The old court house at Maryville, however, after having accomplished its mission, was used for a much higher and nobler purpose, being converted into a school house, and thereafter devoted to the education and instruction of the youth.

There is little of the poetic and romantic in the make up of Western society, and the old court house, after the building of the new one, ceased to be regarded with reverence and awe.

In a new country, where every energy of the people is necessarily employed in the practical work of earning a living, and the always urgent and ever present question of bread and butter is up for solution, people cannot be expected to devote much time to the poetic and ideal. It therefore follows that nothing was retained as a useless relic which could be turned to some utility; but it is a shame that the people of modern times have such little reverence for the relics of former days. After these houses ceased to be available for business purposes they should have been preserved, to have at least witnessed the semi centennial of the county's history. It is sad that, in their hurry to grow rich, so few have care even for the work of their own hands. How many of the early settlers have preserved their first habitations? The sight of that humble cabin would be a source of much consolation in old age, as it reminded the owner of the trials and triumphs of other times, and its presence would go far toward reconciling the coming generation with their lot when comparing its lowly appearance with the modern residence, whose extensive apartments are beginning to be too unpretentious for the enterprising and irrepressible "Young Americans."


In the records of the County Court of Nodaway County for the February term, 1846, are found the following orders for the erection of a court house in Maryville:

"Ordered that an appropriation of two hundred and fifty dollars be made for the purpose of building a court house in Maryville, the seat of justice of Nodaway County, Missouri.

"Ordered that the building of a court house be let out to the lowest bidder on the first Monday in March, 1846, of the following dimensions, to wit:

Thirty two feet long and twenty feet wide, with a partition wall, so as to make one room twenty feet long and the other twelve feet long, and each twenty feet wide - all to be of good logs and durable timber. Rooms each to be nine feet between floors, and all covered with good shingles; lower floor to be of good oak plank, well seasoned and pointed; to be sealed or plastered overhead nine feet from the lower floor; one door and window in the small room, and one door and three windows in the large room; windows to be of twelve lights, glass 10x8, and good sash. Doors to be good, strong plain doors. There shall be six good stone pillars under the sills, one foot above the surface of the ground. The whole building to be well chinked, and pointed with good lime mortar. A good stack chimney in the middle of the partition, so as to make a fireplace in each room; to be of good bricks, all to be finished in workmanlike style by the first day of September, 1846."

The ground where this old court house stood is now occupied by Ditmer's agricultural establishment. The old court house was not completed until the next spring, and was not plastered when the spring term of court was held. It served the purposes of the county for nine or ten years, when it gave place to the brick court house recently taken down.


The following order appears on the record of the county court of Nodaway County, for the July term, 1853:

"Ordered that James Ray be, and he is hereby appointed superintendent of the building of the court house in Maryville, the seat of justice of Nodaway County, Missouri, and that thirty five hundred dollars be appointed for building the same."

It was subsequently ordered that:

"The plan of a court house submitted by James Ray, to be built in Maryville, the seat of justice of Nodaway County, Missouri, is received as to size and materials, but a full set of specifications accompanying the plan shall be submitted for inspection of bidders and contractors on the day of letting out the same. And that the same be let out to the lowest and best bidder."

The following is also a matter of record:

"James Ray presents an account against the county for contingent expenses as superintendent, for $3.05, which is allowed, and a warrant issued therefor."

The old brick court house served the purposes of the county until the summer of 1881, and was used on all occasions up to that time, except during the trial of the Talbott boys, when it was deemed unsafe, and the circuit court adjourned to Union Hall. Immediately after that trial the question was agitated, and a proposition submitted to the people to erect a new court house adequate to the wants of the county. Said proposition was carried, and seventy two thousand dollars worth of bonds sold at a premium of three per cent. Steps had already been inaugurated to take down the old court house, and during its process of removal the briefest session of the circuit court ever held in Nodaway County occurred. We give a humorous pen and ink sketch of this session, which only occupied thirty six minutes:

"The briefest term of circuit court, perhaps, ever held in Nodaway County, was in session on the evening of the 11th inst. The 8 o'clock train on the Kansas City Road brought the Hon. H. S. Kelley, David Stotts, and Estella May Howard up from Savannah, Missouri. Miss Howard was charged with having, on the 14th day of July last, stolen about ninety dollars' worth of wearing apparel and jewelry from Mrs. C. Q. Smith, of this city. It being more than sixty days before the next regular term of circuit court, the prisoner desired a special term for the disposal of her case. When Judge Kelley reached our city, he learned that our county court had failed to provide a room for holding circuit court while the old court house is being removed and the new one erected. He decided to hold the special term on the upper floor of the old court house, which, at the time, had been unroofed by the workmen. The scene was picturesque, reminding one of " The Alhambra by Moonlight," or " The Coliseum at Rome.' The twelve grand jurors, squatted in one corner of the old ruins, resembled more a council of warriors than a legal body. The forms of law were dispatched by this tribunal in a few minutes, and "A True Bill" was brought to the other corner of the open square, where it was filed in due and ancient style with the circuit clerk, who was at the time sitting on the sill of what had once been a window of the old court house. The grand jury was discharged, and the members scattered to convenient nooks and corners of the old edifice and leaned against the walls to await the coming events. What a novel scene! The openings in the walls at irregular intervals allowed the rays of the moon to play upon the lime littered floor. The plaintive strains of a dozen crickets from the old walls and adjacent trees breathed forth a requiem for the departing temple of justice. Ever and anon a star would shoot across the arched canopy above, while the dry summer wind rustled along the unprotected walls of the building, and small twirls of dirt and dust sought to creep into the very eyes of those who were engaged in upholding the majesty of the law. The light upon the improvised stand in front of the court went out, but the light of the moon, assisted by the irregular flashes of a Democratic campaign torch, rendered ocular efforts tolerably certain. Estella, tremblingly, ascended the rickety, decaying stairway, accompanied' by bailiffs, who lingeringly followed behind. When the prisoner reached the open area in front of the court, like a startled hare, she cast quick glances at the half concealed forms in the several corners, then, quivering with emotion too wild for expression, she sank into a chair at hand and buried her face in her handkerchief. What a stillness prevailed throughout that open forum! The tremulous breathings of the prisoner were muffled by the moon beams, while each pulsation caused the beads, which dangled from the margin of her gypsy hat, to tingle like distant bells and to glisten in the light like so many miniature chandeliers. All remained quiescent. Fortuitously, a huge bat might have been seen to flit from its hiding place and perch upon an open volume of the statutes which lay in front of the court. This intrusion broke the spell. The court, in low and measured tones, informed the prisoner of the charged preferred against her, and asked, "Are you guilty, or not guilty?" The prisoner, shyly lifting her drooping head, half whispered, "I am guilty." The court pronounced her sentence to be two years in the State Penitentiary, remarking, "If you are a good girl, one fourth of the time will be remitted you." She answered: I always was a good girl. My mother always said I was the best girl she ever had."

The prisoner was reconducted to jail. The term of court stood adjourned. Time, thirty six minutes.


As thee people of Nodaway County have a deep interest in the new court house, we have in this volume presented an elevated view of the building, and here give a description of the same. The building will be 111 feet and six inches in length and seventy six feet in width. The height from the grade line to the cornice will be forty six feet, and from the grade to the highest part of the tower, 140 feet. There will be a basement excavated for the fuel room and heating apparatus, in the south end, thirty feet in length and nine feet in depth. The floor in the basement will be cement.

The first story is fifteen feet eight inches in the clear. This contains a recorder's office sixteen by twenty nine feet; a county clerk's office of the same dimensions, and each of these offices has a fire proof vault ten by twenty feet. There is also a probate judge's office and a county judge's office, each twenty nine by sixteen feet. The probate judge's office has a fire proof vault nine by ten feet, and the county judge has a private office ten by twelve feet. The county recorder and the county treasurer each have an office sixteen by eighteen feet, and each has a fire proof vault six by nine feet.

At the opposite part of the building, and corresponding, is a second grand jury's room sixteen by eighteen feet, and another room of, the same size not assigned to any specific use. There is a large room for a wash room and janitor's room twenty eight by eleven feet.

On the second floor there are rooms for the clerk of the circuit court and county attorney, and two jury rooms, each of which are sixteen by eighteen feet. Attached to the county attorney's office there is a consultation room, eight by eleven feet. The office of the clerk of the circuit court has a fire proof vault, six by nine feet. The court room, situated on this floor, is forty five feet six inches in width and seventy feet in length. The height of this story is twenty four feet. But the rooms in this story excepting the court room, are sixteen feet in height.

On entering the house from the east and west, one comes into a corridor ten feet in width, and extending the whole length of the building. There is a cross corridor at the west end, where the general stairways are located, eleven feet wide by fifty feet long. This corridor is floored with marble tiling. The two main stairways to the second floor are constructed of iron. They are five feet wide, and have a landing at about two thirds their height. At the east end of the building there is another stairway for the judge, similar to the other stairway, only it is constructed of wood. On the second floor, on each side of the court room, are corridors eleven feet wide, extending the whole length of the building. Large double doors enter from these corridors into the court room. The court room is arranged in the usually manner, with the judge's desk, clerk's desk and jury box. In addition to the rooms already given, are witness' rooms, sheriff's room, and judge's retiring room, each twelve feet square, and also a wash room, eleven feet square.

On the second floor, on the inside of the tower, is a winding stair. One can ascend in this one hundred feet from the ground, which will afford a grand view of Maryville, and the surrounding country, for miles in every direction.

The exterior of the building is to be faced with St. Joseph pressed brick, with trimmings of sandstone from Parkville, Missouri. The style of architecture of the building may be termed the modern Penaissance. All the windows have a transom with stained glass, as well as the outside doors. This is an innovation in the construction of court houses, but is very appropriate. The porticos of the principal entrances are of solid stone, with heavy columns, and finely carved capitals. The foundation walls will be four feet six inches in thickness, and the whole building will be of the most substantial character. The court house will be heated in every part by steam, the cheapest and most effectual method now known of heating buildings. The building will be well lighted and ventilated. It is to be plumbed for water from top to bottom, and a cistern is to be built in the basement with a force pump placed in it of sufficient power to force water into a tank in the attic. All the vaults will be fire and burglar proof, as much so as the vaults of banks. These will be shelved and fully furnished for the holding of all books and records of the different offices, and the books and records will be kept in these vaults, thus securing absolute protection from fire. The cornice of the house and the tower trimmings are to be of galvanized iron. The steep parts of the roof will be of slate and the deck of tin. All the ridges will be furnished with a cresting of cast iron. The cost of the building will be about $55,000, and, when completed, Nodaway County will have one of the best court houses, in all respects, to be found in the State of Missouri.


At the December term of 1856, the following order appears in the records of the Nodaway County Court:

"Ordered that the sheriff advertise according to law, and let to the lowest bidder on the first Monday in February next, the building of a jail in Maryville, on the plan heretofore used, except that the inside shall be lined with boiler iron, well spiked on."

At the October term of 1857, the following order appears of record:

"Ordered that the sum of three thousand dollars be and the same is hereby appropriated to build a jail in Maryville, Nodaway County, Missouri, and that Wm. a Howard be and he is hereby appointed superintendent to have the same done."

At the February term of 1858, occurs the following order:

"Ordered that James Ray be and he is hereby appointed superintendent of a jail to be built in Maryville, Nodaway County, Missouri, and that he advertise according to law and let the same to the lowest bidder at the May term 1858 of this court."

At the May term of 1858, it was "Ordered that the jail be erected on the public square, thirty feet north of the clerk's office, and the west 'side or end thereof to be on a line with the east side of said clerk's 'office to front south, and windows to be on the south side."

November 10, 1868, it was "Ordered, That the county jail of Nodaway County be granted to the trustees of the inhabitants of the incorporated town of Maryville, for such uses and purposes as they may think necessary under the incorporation law,"

This old jail served the purposes of the county very well, but was condemned by the grand jury about two years ago. It has, however, been used for all classes of criminals, but when persons charged with grave crimes were confined therein, previous to conviction, the sheriff would set a guard to watch them. This old jail will soon be replaced by the new jail, of which we give the following description:


The new jail, in its outward appearance, will be rather of a plains brick building. It will be constructed of St. Joseph pressed brick:, with Rockville sandstone trimmings. It is to be eighty feet long and forty two feet wide, two stories high in the front part, where the jailer's residence is situated, and one story in the rear, or the jail proper. The jailer's residence contains a sitting room, a dining room, a kitchen and pantry. There is a good roomy front and side hall on the first floor.

On the second floor are three large sleeping rooms and a bath room' with suitable closets. The entrance to the jail is through a guard room twelve by sixteen feet. At the end of this guard room are two cells constructed of stone and iron, designed for the confinement of juveniles and females. Each cell has two bunks, and is provided with a water closet. The door from the guard room to the department for males is of iron and is double. The inner door of the jail is bow shaped, so that a person standing in it can see all parts of the jail without going inside. The floor of the jail in the corridor outside of the cells is of stone, eight inches in thickness. The corridor is divided with grated partitions into a dining room and bath room, and an exercise corridor for prisoners. The plan of the jail is a novelty, and is believed to be the most secure jail ever constructed. There is an outer grating extending from the floor to the ceiling constructed of chrome steel, which is hardened to such a degree as to be saw and file proof. This grating has no. opening except the door opposite the main entrance door. Inside this grating are the eight cells, which are set on a revolving turn table which is operated from the outside entrance door.

When a prisoner is placed in a cell, there is no possible way of getting him out but by revolving the jail until the cell door is opposite the jail door. And this apparatus can only be operated from the guard room, where the jailor can stand and bring his prisoners out one by one, without coming in contact with them. W. H. Brown, Esq., of Indianapolis, is the patentee of this jail, which is considered the safest one ever devised. All the arrangements of the building for heating, lighting, ventilating and bathing are complete.

In the half story over the jail there is a hospital with two cages for prisoners, with sleeping rooms for the guards, and closets for clothing and for other uses. The cost of the jail will be $19,400. The building will be completed during the year 1882. Messrs. Eckel & Mann, of St. Joseph, are the architects. When the building is completed, Nodaway County will have one of the safest and most substantial jails in the State.


The County Court, at its February term, 1871, took the initiatory step towards the purchase of a poor farm by making the following order:

"Ordered that Joseph E. Alexander, Thomas L. Robinson and Solomon Shell, be and they, are hereby appointed by this court, commissioners in behalf of Nodaway County, to make a selection of a poor farm for the use of Nodaway County, in behalf of the dependent poor of said county, and that they report their proceedings, together with their recommendations concerning the same to the County Court, at its adjourned term to be held on the third Monday of March, 1871, and that said commissioners take under their consideration the law regulating the County Court in such matters as laid down in Wagner's Statutes, page 403, chapter 4o, relative to the poor, and that the clerk of this court notify said commissioners of their appointment."

At the February adjourned term, March 21, 1871, the commissioners made their report, which is as follows:

"To the Honorable County Court of Nodaway County:

Your commissioners appointed at the last term of the court to select and report in regard to the Poor Farm, beg leave to make report as follows: Having examined a number of farms, we have found it very difficult to get a place with sufficient timber and adjoining the tillable land, and we have concluded to recommend the purchase of the southwest quarter of section sixteen, township sixty four, range thirty six, less one half acre, that has been sold, and does not belong to the tract. The owner, Mr. Andrew W. Henchman, proposes, if he sells, to give possession only of the dwelling house on the premises, he having made arrangements to raise a crop on the place and wishes to retain possession of same until the crop is gathered. The east half of the quarter is fenced with a very good worm fence, and three sides with a cattle fence, between the improvement and adjoining farm on the east. There are about sixty acres of very good firewood timber on the west half with a stream of water running through it, which, we are informed, affords water nearly the entire year. There is a very good one and one half story frame house, with a good well, and a good bearing orchard of apple and pear trees of about sixty trees. The place would not have to be paid for before the first day of January, 1872. The price is $30 per acre, amounting to $4,785. In view of the locality being not more than five miles due west, (and on a county road with good bridges and streams) from Maryville, we would recommend the purchase."

In accordance with the recommendation of the commissioners, the county court made the purchase of the premises above described, through Solomon Shell, who was appointed special commissioner to make the necessary arrangements, the order in reference thereto limiting the land to be purchased to 160 acres, the same to be paid for in county warrants.

In May following, 1872, Solomon Shell filed with the county court a title bond for a deed for the southwest quarter of section 16, township 64, range 36, signed by Andrew Hinchman, the consideration being for the sum of $5,137, payable on the 1st day of January, 1872.

There have been three superintendents of the poor farm. George Basom was the first, and was succeeded by Judge S. T. Kennedy, who was succeeded by Henry Cady, who now has charge. William Young cultivated the farm the first three years, paying a rental of $300 per year therefor, and the county paid him a stipulated sum per week for feeding and taking care of the paupers. Henry Cady succeeded Young, the county paying him $500 annually for operating the farm and taking care of the paupers, the county getting the proceeds of the farm. The paupers during the first three years, averaged about five in number; they now average about ten each year. The house on the farm contains some twelve or fourteen rooms. There is a good well on the place, eighty six feet deep - the deepest in the county.

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