Jonathan Fairbanks and Clyde Edwin Tuck

Past and Present of Greene County, Missouri • ca. 1914

Early and Recent History and Genealogical Records
of Many of the Representative Citizens

Chapter 6
County Government
by A. M. Haswell

Part 1
Officers and Courthouse

On page 1, of Book "A," of the records of the county court of Greene county, Missouri, we read, under date of March 11,1833:

"At a County Court began and held at the house of John P. Campbell, within and for the County of Greene, it being the place appointed by law for holding said courts on the second Monday in March, in the year of our Lord One Thousand and Eight Hundred and Thirty-three. Present the Honorable Jeremiah Sloane, Samuel Martin and James Dollison, Esqrs., Justices of said Court. John D. Shannon, Esqs., Sheriff of said county and John P. Campbell, Esqr., Clerk of said Court."

The above named men are therefore the first officials of Greene county, having, with the exception of the clerk of the court, been duly elected to their respective offices at an election called for in the act of the Legislature which constituted a portion of the Southwestern part of Missouri as Greene county. Their commissions were issued to them by Governor Daniel Dunklin (John C. Edwards, Secretary of State).

The first business transacted was to provide the court with a clerk, to keep record of its proceedings. And we find the next entry as follows:

"Now at this day comes John P. Campbell, Esqr., who was on the 23d ult. duly appointed Clerk of this Court, and, it appearing to the satisfaction of the Court here, that the said John P. Campbell has deposited in the office of the Secretary of State his appointment as aforesaid, together with a bond duly allowed and approved of by the Court, for the faithful performance of his duties as Clerk as aforesaid. Therefore the said John P. Campbell is here, by the Court, authorized to perform the said duties according to law.

After the clerk was thus inducted into office we read: On motion, it is ordered by the Court that Samuel Martin, Esqr., be appointed President of this Court, for the term of six months from this date and until his successor be duly appointed, according to law." [156]

On the second day of this first term of the County Court Richard C. Martin was appointed county assessor. A. C. Burnett was also appointed as collector, but he declined, and sometime later Larkin Payne was put into that office. Junius T. Campbell, at this time barely past his majority, was made county treasurer, and Samuel Scroggins surveyor. At this same session of the court, justices of the peace and judges of election were appointed for the various townships, and elections were ordered held for electing constables.

The justices of the peace mentioned above, as appointed at this term of court, were as follows:

Jackson township, William H. Duncan; Osage township, Christopher Elmore and John Riparton; Campbell township, Andrew Taylor, Richard C. Martin and Larkin Payne; White River township, Samuel Garner; Oliver township, Thomas B. Arnett. No appointments were made at this time for Mooney and Spring River townships. When Sugar Creek township was created Samuel Vaughn was appointed justice of the peace therein.

Treasurer Campbell and Collector Payne resigned their offices on June 10th, and John Fulbright was appointed to serve as treasurer, and Sheriff Shannon had the duties of collector added to his other labors. That these labors were by no means trivial we can see when it is told us that this first Sheriff frequently had to ride fifty miles to summons a witness, and for this received the sum of fifty cents! Holding office in those times consisted in something more than simply drawing the salary.

Thus the court was duly organized; the several officers of the county inducted into office, and Greene county assumed her proper place in the sisterhood of counties in the great new State of Missouri.

For three days, beginning August 5, 1833, the first election was held in Greene county. The length of time that the polls were kept open was under a provision of the law of that time, in order that the voters "from the back districts" might have time to reach the polls and exercise their rights of franchise.

On the 12th day of this month of August the first term of the Circuit Court of Greene county convened, in Springfield. Hon. Chas. H. Allen, known in all the region as "Horse Allen," was the judge; Thos. J. Gevins was circuit attorney; Chas. P. Bullock, a son-in-law of Judge Allen, was clerk, and John D. Shannon was sheriff.

These with the officials before mentioned constituted the entire machinery of government in and for Greene county.

It was quickly evident that some means must be devised for providing a court house, and jail for the rapidly growing community. And this was a matter of no little concern to the County Court, responsible for devising ways and means to accomplish this end. For it must be remembered that although the county had an immense area it was settled only by a few scattered communities of newly arrived immigrants. People who, while willing to sacrifice to the extent of their ability for the public benefit, were yet so poverty smitten that the entire revenue collected for county purposes, amounted to less than $500 in any one of several years, and barely sufficed to defray the modest expenditures of the county, and would, even if applied in their entirety, have proved totally insufficient to pay for the needed buildings.

Again there continually loomed up the question of where the permanent county-seat would be located. It was inevitable that the great territory included in the county limits should be divided and subdivided, as other counties were curved out of its overgrown domain. What shape would the boundaries finally take? Would Springfield be near enough the center of the territory covered to hold the seat of government, or would the little town find itself off to one side, and so forever debarred from her ambition of being the county-seat?

However, on the 5th day of January, 1835, the Legislature of the state passed an act appointing Jeremiah Slone (Sloan), George M. Gibson, of Barry county, and Markham Fristoe as a commission "For the purpose of selecting a permanent seat of government for the county of Greene."1

These gentlemen duly met and selected Springfield as the "Permanent seat of justice, for the County of Greene." That was supposed to settle one part of the problem confronting the County Court, but in no way cleared up the weighty question of raising the funds needed for erecting the county buildings.

And then there appeared the good angel of Springfield, and of Greene county. John P. Campbell, often mentioned in previous chapters of this work, and often to be mentioned in later parts of this history, came to the rescue. His proposition was that he would deed to the County Court, with- out cost to the court, a fifty acre tract for a town site. That this site was then to be laid out into lots, and these lots were to be sold, all proceeds above the expenses of survey and sale to be deposited in the county treasury for a fund to erect the buildings needed by the county.

This plan, so simple and practical, at once met the approval of the court, and at an extra session called for the purpose, on the 18th of July, 1835, a plan submitted by Mr. Campbell, and, we are told, a duplicate of the plan of the town of Columbia, Tennessee, where he had lived before coming to Missouri, was adopted. D. B. Miller was appointed a commissioner to lay off the town and sell the lots. [157-158]


Now although, as we have seen, the commissioners appointed by the state had duly decided that Springfield was to be the permanent county-seat, there were not lacking those who wished to set aside that arrangement and move the seat of government elsewhere. Thus the matter of selling lots seems to have been held in abeyance for some months. We find that early in 1836 a petition was circulated by Josiah Danforth asking that the county seat be located upon a site he offered upon his farm, some eight miles east of Springfield. This petition, of course, had to be acted upon by the General Assembly of the state. The representative in the Legislature that year was John W. Hancock, and, being a canny politician, Mr. Hancock refused to take sides in the controversy, but bound himself to work in the Legislature for that site whose advocates could send in the longest petition. That put the Campbell men actively to work, and they sent in a petition so largely in the majority as to forever settle the question in the favor of Springfield.

(1). Chapter 349, Page 432, Volume 2, Territorial Laws.
So on the 27th day of August, 1836, a deed from John P. Campbell and Louisa T. Campbell, his wife, was executed, giving to Greene county for county-seat purposes, fifty acres of land, whose metes and bounds are given as follows: "Beginning at a point at the middle of the channel of the branch; running through the northwest quarter of section 24 township 29,range 22, where the West boundary line of said quarter section crosses said branch; running up said branch, meandering the main channel thereof, eastwardly, to a point where the north boundary line crosses said branch; thence with said line eastwardly to a point north of the spring which the said John P. Campbell uses, on said quarter section; thence southwardly to a point immediately east of said spring, ten feet; thence south 23½ degrees, 23 7-11 poles to a black oak tree; thence east and south for complement in the proportion that 80 bears to 100, so as to include the quantity of fifty acres."

There appears to be an omission in the records of the county pertaining to the matter of the original court house. We have seen that the court convened for its first term March 11th, 1833, in the house of John P. Campbell. In the June term of that same year we find it provided that "The house of John P. Campbell be the place of holding courts until otherwise provided by law."

Nothing further is said about a court house until at the June term, 1834, a bill is allowed Mr. Campbell in the sum of $59.48, "For fees in transacting county business proper, ink, quills, etc., from December term 1833 to June term 1834, and for office rent from March term 1833 to June term 1834." That evidently indicates that the Campbell house was still the only court house. At the appeal term of the court, July 19, 1834, the general election to be held in August following is directed to be held "At the court house, in the town of Springfield." On the same day it is ordered that "There be built a bar in the court house in the town of Springfield," and then a bar is described of proportions which seems entirely too large to find space in the room of a pioneer log cabin, especially as specifications for eight benches are also recorded. [159]

But unless there is some record missing, the house of John P. Campbell was the place where this bar and benches were installed, for here is certainly nothing on record of any other place of meeting for the courts until construction of the buildings from the proceeds of the sale of lots.

When Mr. Campbell had first made his proposal to give the county a site for a county-seat the court had appointed, July 18, 1835, Daniel B. Miller as a commissioner to lay out the town and sell lots. At this session of the court Mr. Campbell's plan, spoken of before, was approved "and received as the plan of the town of Springfield. And the county commissioner for Greene county is hereby ordered to lay off the town of Springfield accordingly, viz: to lay off the public square and one tier of blocks back from said square. The square to contain an acre and a half, and each block to contain one acre and a half, and to be divided into six lots or parts by said commissioner, or by some person for him." The size of the square was afterward increased to two acres.

As we have seen the attempts to change the county-seat to some other, location delayed matters for over a year, but after the location was finally' settled in favor of Springfield we find that in August, 1836, Daniel B. Miller was ordered to "Employ a competent surveyor to lay off the town tract of Springfield, donated to the county by John P. Campbell, and to file plats, and field notes of the same." Mr. Miller was also ordered to sell two lots as soon as surveyed, by advertising for two months, by three insertions, in the Missouri Argus, published at St. Louis, and the Boone's Lick Democrat, published at Old Franklin, Howard county, and also by setting up hand bills at the county-seats of Greene, Pulaski, Barry and Polk counties." Two lots were ordered reserved, one for a building site for a clerk's office and one for location of a jail.

October 31st of this year, 1836, Mr. Miller filed plats and field notes of the survey of Springfield. The court ordered that "lot 18, block 5, where the present court house is situated, is hereby reserved from sale at present."

On November 9th Commissioner Miller made a settlement for all lots sold up to November 1st, to the amount of $649.88. Bidding on lots was said to be spirited, all now having become convinced that Springfield would permanently retain the county-seat. Miller was allowed $131.51 as the total cost of survey and sales to date.

Early in 1837 Mr. Miller made a further deposit in the treasury of the county, to the building fund, of $847.73, proceeds of sale of lots since his first settlement.

The County Court now decided that they were warranted in beginning to erect the new building that they stood in such need of. They therefore appointed Sidney Ingram superintendent thereof, and directed him to prepare and lay before them a plan for a court house. On the 28th of November Mr. Ingram's plans were submitted, examined and approved. And a court house was ordered erected in the center of the public square of Springfield. This was to be a two-story brick structure, forty by thirty-four feet. And the sum of $3,250.00 was appropriated for paying for it. [160]


This, the first building in Greene county especially put up for a court house, was a substantial and useful edifice. It was a credit to the community at the time it was built, and served its purpose well for more than twenty years. And it was finally destroyed by fire when its successor was nearly ready for occupancy.

The origin of the fire that thus consumed the court house of 1837 is worth recording here. The day, in 1861,when the first Northern troops marched into Springfield was naturally a time of intense excitement in the entire region. Union men and secessionists had already struck blows, some of them on both sides, in most cowardly and bloodthirsty fashion too, and the passions which have always rendered civil wars the worst of all wars flamed in men's hearts. Naturally when these troops were approaching the Unionists were elated, and the Confederates correspondingly depressed.

There lived in Springfield at the time a harmless insane man named Peter Ernshaw, and the common excitement worked upon his weak brains until he was wildly exhilarated. When he knew that the troops were near at hand he went out and met them and marched into town with them, leaping, dancing and shouting as he came. All day his excitement grew until at night someone, probably, some of the soldiers, shut him up in one of the vacant rooms of the court house, both for his own protection and to keep him from harming others. In some way the poor fellow had possessed himself of matches, and late at night he set fire to the room where he was confined, and perished in the flames which quickly destroyed the building.

In the engraving in this history, showing the funeral of the dead of Freemont's Body Guard, in October, 1861,the ruins of this court house will be noted to the right of the picture.

It was at the term of County Court held on August 28, 1858, that the first steps were taken by the court towards the erection of another court house. The twenty years that had passed since the court house in the center of the public square of Springfield, had been completed had been a period of rapid and steady growth for both Greene county and the city of Springfield. This can best be shown by a comparison of the income derived from taxation by the county in 1838 and 1858. The records give these figures as follows: [161]

1838 the entire receipts of the county treasury were five hundred and eighty-two dollars, thirteen and a fourth cents (582.13¼). Twenty years later, in 1858, the assessed valuation of the county was $3,882,045, on which was collected a total tax of $22,118.62. Of this tax the county received $12,923.63. That is to say, in twenty years the income of Greene county had increased more than twenty-two fold. All this increase of taxable property meant a corresponding growth in population, and that of course meant greatly augmented county business and necessitated undertaking the building of a new court house commensurate with the growing importance and wealth of the county.

So at the August term of County Court a board of commissioners was appointed by the court to select a suitable location for the building of a new court house and jail, and to choose plans and report the probable cost. This commission consisted of W B. Farmer, Warren H. Graves and Josiah Leedy, and the exact wording of the order setting forth their duties is, as follows:

"Regular term of County Court, August 28, 1858, ordered by the Court that W. B. Farmer, W. H. Graves and Josiah Leedy be, and they are hereby appointed a Board of Commissioners on Public Buildings, and they are hereby instructed to view all the localities in the City of Springfield that may be considered suitable for the erection of a Court House and jail, together with what said lots can be bought for. And also a plan or plans for said buildings, to be built separately or in connection. Also the probable cost of the same, and that they report to the October term of this Court."

October 4th the commissioners made their report, and advised the purchase of the lot owned by Charles Sheppard and J. B. Kimbrough, located on the northwest corner of College street and the public square. The same day the court appropriated $3,000.00 to pay for the lot thus recommended, and the deed was procured and placed upon record. That day, also, the following order was made:

"Present James W. Gray, P. J. Joseph Rountree and J. R. Earnest, justices, A. G. McCracken, clerk, and H. Matlock, sheriff.

"Ordered by the Court that there be and is hereby appropriated out of the treasury, of any money not otherwise appropriated, the sum of forty thousand dollars for the purpose of erecting a Court House and jail in Greene county."

Next day we find: "Ordered that the sum of $163.25 be, and the same is hereby appropriated, to pay the bill of architect and expenses of J. Leedy for procuring drawing and detail of the plan for jail and court house."

It is unfortunate that the name of the architect who furnished Mr. Leedy with the plan of this building is not on record. For certainly, whoever he was, he made a, dignified and well balanced design. Men who have been trained in the arts of architecture have repeatedly pronounced this building as almost a perfect model of that particular style of architecture. A fine picture of this court house appears in this history. [162]

In the latter part of December sealed proposals for putting up the new structure were submitted to the court, and on Christmas day the contract was awarded to Josiah Leedy for $36,000. The highest bid having been $45,000. Leedy was given until the end of 1861 to complete his contract, for it is of record: "Said J. Leedy is to be paid as the work progresses, the last payment to be made on the last of December, 1861."

The method of advancing money to the contractor was original, for we find it said: "Ordered by the court that Josiah Leedy have the loan of any sum not exceeding $8,000 out of county revenue, without interest, he giving bond and approved, security for the same. And that a warrant or warrants issued in his favor for the same, in sums to suit his convenience, at any time while court is in session."

Thus were the interests of the court and the convenience of Mr. Leedy effected to the entire safety of the money invested, and the aid of the contractor in promptly meeting the necessary bills.

By the time the court met in its December term, in 1859, it seems to have gotten into deep water in its building operations, for we read: "December 19,1859, Benjamin Kite, superintendent of public buildings, files a report that, owing to the organization of Christian county, and heavy costs in criminal cases against Greene county, it is found that the County Court cannot meet the liability and defray the ordinary running expenses of the county. That to protect the public faith the County Attorney be directed to prepare a bill and send to our representatives in the Legislature, requesting them to have it passed, allowing the Court in its discretion to borrow the sum of $16,000." This bill was passed by the Legislature on January 10, 1860. The minutes of the June term of the County Court of 1860 tells of the appointment of R. B. Owen and J. W. D. L. F. Mack, as agents of Greene county, to negotiate a loan of $10,000, under the terms of the above law.

So the work progressed until the spring of 1861. Mr. Leedy was evidently well up with his contract, for by this time he had the building finished on the outside and some of the offices ready for occupancy. Three rooms were finished April 1st and the clerks of the County, Circuit and Probate Courts moved into them at once. He would certainly have had the building complete by the end of that year, according to contract.

But the spring of 1861 brought much more pressing matters into Greene county than even the completion of a new court house! Beauregard's guns were thundering against the walls of Sumter, in Charleston Bay, and at the sound the dark clouds of civil war swept over the land from Atlantic to Pacific. Through that four years of storm the new court house, in its unfinished state, served the contending armies alternately as a hospital for the wounded, a prison for sympathizers, of one side or the other, and as a barracks for soldiers. Under many successive coats of paint upon the solid cotton rock pillars, in the front of the old building, are cut the names, companies and regiments of many scores of men, on the one side or the other in that great conflict. Forty years ago those pillars were veritable autograph albums of military names, but in the course of time most of them have been erased and replaced by those of the army of loafers, whose own particular resting place, the portico of the old building, has ever been. [163]


Within a week of the writing these lines (June, 1914), the last brick of the old court house and jail has been torn out of its resting place of more than half a century, and the historic old building is henceforth but a memory, and on its site is to rise a modern merchantile and office "skyscraper." The only things which will be preserved as mementoes of the old structure are the pillars, which are to be set up upon the lawn in front of the present "New Court House," there to bear silent witness to the solid character of work done by Old Josiah Leedy in the days "before the war."

I have mentioned the jail of the county several times, and a word about it is not out of place here. The first jail, as has been stated, was a solid log affair built by public spirited citizens, even before the first court house was erected in the center of the square. The county had no money for the purpose at the time, and a jail was badly needed, for, say what we may, there were bad men even in "the good old times" we hear so much about. So the jail was built and donated to the county. Evidently, however, the first County Court considered the gift as an obligation due to the men who made it, for the first money paid out from the sums received for town lots went to repay the men who had paid for the jail in the "several amounts contributed by them."

When the court house of 1858 was built it had a wing projecting along the side of College street, at the west side of the building. A two story edifice, the lower story of which was used for the jail and the upper story for the residence of the sheriff or jailer. After a while the entire building was needed and used as a jail.

In 1889 Hon. E. C. O'Day, then representing the Springfield District in the Legislature, procured the establishment of the Springfield Criminal Court, and, the county being sadly in need of more office room, a two story brick building was put up upon ground presented to the county for the purpose, on the northwest corner of Robberson avenue and Center street. The upper story of this building was used for the purposes of the Criminal Court, and the lower story as a jail. In the course of a few years the jail became so crowded that it became necessary to fit up the entire building for the needed additional cells, and the Criminal Court was removed to the third story of the Diemer block at the corner of Commercial and Jefferson streets. It remained here for some time, but at last a case arose in which an attorney in defending his client raised the point that the location of the court, being outside of the original "seat of justice" of Greene county, invalidated the verdict against the defendant. This claim being sustained by a higher court, the Criminal Court was hastily removed to the south, and shared the old court-house on the square with the Circuit Court, which had never been moved from that location. [164]

The location of the jail and Criminal Court upon the lot at Center street and Robberson avenue had, however, an important bearing upon the final settlement of the much debated question of the location of the new court house, that everyone acknowledged the county was compelled to build as soon as possible. This importance was recognized at once, by both parties to the controversy. Indeed it was the sole reason for the presentation of that particular lot to the county, for the purpose of erecting the new jail.

Dr. E. T. Robberson, always an active worker in any cause to which he gave his adherence, and John H. Bouslog, who at the time was a prominent citizen of Springfield and a property holder on Center street, were the leading spirits in the plan to procure a lot and give it without cost to the county for the location of a jail. The court accepted the gift, one member, Judge Hosea G. Mullings, dissenting to the action. Then followed some efforts to enjoin the expenditure of county funds for erecting the jail on that location, all of which efforts failed of their purpose, for, as has already been said, the jail was built there and the Criminal Court held there for some time.

The question of building a new court house grew in importance, as the old building on the square, day by day, became less fitted for accommodating the rapidly growing business of the county. Indeed, the old building had served its purpose long and well. So long, in fact, that the county had outgrown it far more than the county of 1838 had outgrown the log house of John P. Campbell, or the county of 1858 had outgrown the court house in the middle of the Public Square. So badly had the county offices overcrowded the court house that the matter of a new shelter for the courts and county offices was the subject of perennial debate for a score of years. But a new element had entered, into the equation. A mile and a half away to the north of the Square a new town had sprung into existence, as will be told in detail in another chapter. Never large enough to be a formidable rival of the older city, it was nevertheless active, much more than in proportion to its size, in reaching after those things which its people desired. [165]


For years, whenever the question of the new courthouse was broached, the matter of its location instantly sprang up. The new town and its friends urged a location to the north of the square; the old town and its adherents as strenuously advocated some point near the old building. Thus there was a prolonged deadlock. After nearly eighteen years of separate corporate existence, Springfield and North Springfield were at last, in 1887, united under one city government, and the one name of Springfield. The vote for consolidation had been all but unanimous, and many enthusiasts thought, and said, that all our troubles about the location of a new court house were now at an end. As a matter of fact, they were just fairly getting started!

The united city had been divided into eight wards. The four south divisions covered, a large part of what had been the old city of Springfield. The north four wards took in the northern portion of the old town, and all of the original North Springfield. In this division the four south wards had a vast majority of the wealth of the city, and the north four wards a majority of the votes. The first trial of strength came up over the location of the government building which Congress had allowed to Springfield as the result of the labor of Hon. William H. Wade, who was then our Congressman. The older portion of Springfield naturally wished to have the new post office at some point close to their center of business, the Public Square. The north end argued with much plausibility that the postoffice should be near the center of population, which would mean somewhere in the neighborhood of Boonville and Center streets.

The fight continued for two or three years. It took delegation after delegation to Washington, and bombarded the national officials with hundreds of petitions, affidavits and other documents without number. The late Paul Roulet, who was one of those sent to Washington to urge the northern location, about the middle of the struggle, told the writer after his return that when the Secretary of the Treasury, on whom he was calling ordered the papers referring to the Springfield building brought in, that six attendants came bearing between them three large willow clothes-baskets piled high with the documents that had already accumulated in the struggle.

But, at last the question was decided in favor of the north end, and the building went on its present location, in the block south of Center street, on the east side of Boonville. But the settlement of this controversy by no means served to adjust the difference of opinion as to the location of the proposed new court house. The north end men, who advocated a central location, were elated at their victory, in getting the government building where they wanted it; and the friends of a location near the Public Square claimed more strenuously than ever that they were entitled to the court house, as their opponents had won the post office. [166]

Years passed; County Courts were elected or defeated on the single issue of their opinions on the location of the new court house. The old building, patched and tinkered over times without number, steadily deteriorated until the paper hung flapping from its walls and great sections of plastering fell from the ceilings from time to time, to the terror of those compelled to frequent the place. And when a county court in self-defense did any repairs there was a cry at once raised that it was a waste of public moneys to put another dollar into the old building.

Some time about 1903, the County Court consisted of John Y. Fulbright, presiding justice; Judge Charles Bennett, judge for the first district, and judge O'Neal, for the second district, Judge Bennett, who favored the central location of the court house, said to Charles P. Ollis, a leading real estate dealer and prominent citizen of the north side: "Mr. Ollis, I believe if you could get the land we need at Center and Boonville, optioned at a fair price, that judge O'Neal would vote with me for its purchase." Such a hint was all that Ollis needed and he quickly and quietly proceeded to get the options upon the different lots which constituted, the proposed site. This was a task which required not only full knowledge of the values of the property in question, but also such tact and acquaintance with human nature as few men possess. But Charles P. Ollis was the right man for the place, and he rapidly tied up lot after lot. The owner of one lot was a resident of St. Louis, and when Mr. Ollis went to that city and called upon him, the price set upon the Boonville street frontage of the lot in question was $100 a front foot. This was double the figures at which other lots had been optioned, and Mr. Ollis naturally demurred at the figures. But the owner was obstinate.

"Why," he said, "if you gentlemen down there have lost confidence in the future of Springfield, I have not. My property is worth a hundred dollars a foot to me today, and it will be worth more soon." Mr. Ollis finally got around this difficulty by getting an agreement with the St. Louis man that he would exchange his lot for another across Boonville street. Then Ollis went home and optioned the other lot. But the matter of locating the new court house still hung fire.

We find in the records of the court, under date of July 5, 1906, the following entry:
"At a session of the Greene County Court, July 5, 1906, present, the Hon. B. J. Diemer, Presiding Judge of the County Court; Hon. T. K. Bowman, Associate Judge for First District; Hon. H. B. East, Associate Judge for Second District; Hon. Roscoe Patterson, Prosecuting Attorney; M. O. Milliken, Sheriff; H. E. Patton, County Clerk. [167]

"The Court took up the matter of a contract dated June 24th, 1904, between Greene County and B. U. Massey. This contract sets forth: That, whereas the County of Greene is desirous of erecting a new and suitable Court House for said County and of purchasing suitable property in the city of Springfield, the county-seat of said county on which to erect said court house, and it is the intention of the County Court of said county to submit to voters of said Greene county, when a proper petition therefor is submitted to the Court, a proposition to incur a bonded indebtedness of this county to raise money to build said Court House, and the said County Court will need the advice and counsel of some person learned in the law to advise and direct as to the technical requirements of the law in each particular step in said contemplated proceedings and undertakings on the part of the county, and by agreement the County Court of Greene county, acting in behalf of said Greene county, does hereby contract with and employ said B. U. Massey, as an attorney-at-law, to aid by counsel and advice this Court in the matter of purchasing property upon which to build a court house; examine the abstracts of title to said property, * * * to prepare and put in proper form such orders as this Court may see fit to make, and in the event that there is presented to this Court a petition for an election to vote upon a proposition to vote bonds of this county, to erect a court house, to give to this Court advice as to said petition, and put in proper form.

The same date, July 5, 1906, an order was made as follows: "In the matter of the purchase of a lot or parcel of ground upon which to erect a new Court House at the City of Springfield, the County seat of Greene County, Missouri. Order to purchase lot."

The court then sets forth at great length the urgent necessity of a new court house; the dilapidated condition of the old building; the fact that it was wholly inadequate in size and internal arrangements for the uses for which it was designed, and for which it was been used. The danger of the destruction by fire of the records in the office of the recorder of deeds, the County Court records, and those of the Circuit and Probate Courts. That such destruction of the records "would inflict an irreparable loss upon the real estate owners of this county, and a loss almost as serious and severe upon the citizens of the county generally." "To longer neglect action on the part of the officers of the county, to whom is entrusted the charge, care and management of county affairs, in presenting to the citizens of this county an opportunity to build a new court house, seems almost unexcusable."

The statement of the court goes on to set forth that the county already owns the lot at the northwest corner of Robberson avenue and Center street, upon which the county jail has been erected, and the inconvenience now and always of transferring prisoners hence to and from the present court house, "and as the property west of the jail lot, and fronting west on Boonville street, is very near the geographical center of Springfield, and very near the center of population of said city, and as well as said locality is accessible to the citizens of Springfield and to the citizens of the entire county as any locality that can be readily acquired for a court house, and as the property can now be bought at a reasonable sum, that is to say for the sum of $11,825.00, it is believed by the Court that it would be the part of wisdom to now buy said property for the purpose of erecting a new court house thereon." [168]


After the above action the court appoints Benjamin U. Massey "as Commissioner of this Court, to negotiate for and purchase from the owner or owners thereof the said property, above referred to."

The same date the court orders the treasurer of Greene, county to transfer the sum of $6,000.00 from the road and bridge fund to the contingent fund. This action was taken so that there should be sufficient money in the contingent fund to meet the payment upon the lots wanted.

On the same date as the above orders we find that B. U., Massey presents to the County Court the following decree and order from the Circuit Court of Greene county:

"In the matter of the title to property proposed to be purchased by the Greene County Court, for a site upon which to erect a new court house: Now at this day, comes Benj. U. Massey, heretofore appointed by the County Court of Greene County as Commissioner to purchase and procure a deed or deeds to the property hereinafter described, from the owner or owners thereof to Greene County, for the purpose of erecting thereon a new court house, and here submits to this court abstracts of title to said property. And said abstracts being now seen and examined by the Court, the Court doth find and doth now certify to said County Court of Greene County, that the title to the following described real estate (here follows detailed description of the several lots covering the site wanted, and including the tract from Boonville street to Robberson avenue, fronting south upon Center street, and extending north 263 feet to the boundary of the lot occupied by the jail and the sheriff's residence)."

The Circuit Court finds that the title to this real estate is "good and valid in Richard A. Ollis, and that the deed, here exhibited in Court from said Richard A. Ollis to Greene county, will when delivered vest in said county, a good and perfect title to said property."

Upon receipt of this decree and certificate of the Circuit Court the County Court directs B. U. Massey to accept the deed for the property, and orders the clerk of the court to issue to Massey a warrant "Upon the present Contingent fund for the sum of $4,500.00, and further issue to said B. U. Massey Commissioner as aforesaid a warrant for the sum of $7,325.00 upon the Contingent fund which will be collected for this year, and apply said warrants to the payment of the consideration mentioned in said deed." On the same date a warrant is issued to Benj. U. Massey in the sum of $500.00. "Now due upon his contract heretofore made with this Court." [169]

But the controversy was not yet fought out, and an injunction was sued for by some of the advocates of the other location, which delayed matters for another long space of time. Meanwhile the land as described by Mr. Massey was held by the Bank of Springfield, until such time, if ever, the site should be needed for a new court house.

On the 27th of November, 1906, a petition was presented to the County Court asking for an election to be held to vote on a proposition of increasing the county indebtedness $150,000.00, and of a special levy of 25 cents on the $100.00 valuations for four years to pay for the same. Also, that at the same time the question of selection of a site for the court house be submitted to a vote of the people. The court granted this petition and set the 27th day of December, 1906, as the date of the election.

The form of that part of the ballot referring to a court house site was to be as follows:

"For the location of a new court house on the northeast corner of Boonville and Center streets, in Springfield, Mo., if the indebtedness carries."

"For the location of a new court house south of Wilson creek and Water street, as near as practicable to the location of the present court house, now standing on the Public Square, if the indebtedness proposed carries."

To this order Judge Diemer, the presiding justice of the court, entered of record his dissent, for the following reasons:

"1. Because a petition in due form signed by a sufficient number of qualified petitioners, asking for an election to vote on the issuance of $150,000.00 of bonds of the county for the purpose of building a court house was filed before the petition now acted upon was filed, and is still pending in this court.

"2. Because the Court has no jurisdiction, in my judgment, to make any order relative to calling said election at this term of Court.

"3. Because said order embraces the call to vote on a court house site, and this Court has no authority to call an election on that question.

"4. Because it would be a violation of law for this Court to spend any money for such an election.

"5. Because further time should be taken by the Court to investigate, matters, and to act now would be undue haste." [170]

But the advocates of the Center street location were not idle, and we find that A. J. Eisenmeyer, G. W. Miller and others applied to Judge James T. Neville of the Circuit Court for an injunction to prevent holding of the election. On December 11, the County Court; engaged H. E. Howell, P. J. McCammon, J. J. Gideon and W. T. Tatlow to represent them in the litigation. The election was not held at the date first set, and another day was appointed, this time December 17, and still the pending litigation prevented its being held. Then on January 28, 1907, we find that the County Court, referring to the calling of the election, entered this order:

"The Court is now of the opinion that said order was improvidently made, and without authority of law; the order for such election is hereby set aside and rescinded."

A separate order of the same date also rescinds the order for an election to settle the court house site. Judge J. T. Phillips goes on record as dissenting to these rescinding orders. The same day F. S. Heffernan, E. B. Bently and W. A. Reed and one hundred others ask and obtain permission to withdraw their petition (this is the one referred to by Judge Diemer above, as pending when he made his dissent against the proposed election). This petition was granted and the former petition was withdrawn.

On the same date another petition was presented asking that an election be called to vote on a proposition to increase the county indebtedness $150,000.00 for building a new court house, and carrying with it a levy sufficient to pay the debt in four years. This petition was signed by G. W. Campbell, W. H. Wade, Della Carter and more than one hundred others, and says nothing about the location of the new court house. This petition was granted and an election was called to be held on Tuesday, March 26, 1907. Judge J. T. Phillips dissented to this action.

But the time had not yet come, and this proposition was defeated at the polls. At the election of 1908 J. P. Reed was elected associate judge for the first district, and S. D. Appleby associate for the second district, judge B. J. Diemer being the presiding justice held over for another two years. [171]

And now there began to be something definite doing in the matter of the new court house. At the regular session held on the 4th of February, 1909, the court made an order setting forth at length, and in much the same language as that used in 1904, the urgent need of a new court house, in which the priceless records of the county would be safer from destruction by fire, and the county officials properly housed. After this recital of the facts that every person in the county, well knew, the court took a radical step in advance of any action that had preceded it. They did not call an election to vote on an increased county indebtedness, but proceeded to announce that: "All obligations against the county for 1908 and all preceding years have been fully paid or provided for, and there remains no unpaid debt, debts, obligation or obligations of the county, against the general revenue fund thereof for the year 1908, or any previous year not provided for, and whereas after all past obligations for the year 1908 and prior years have been fully paid or provided for with cash in the treasury to pay the same, there now remains in the hands of the Treasurer of the County, a surplus of $50,000.00 from the assessment and levy for county purposes for 1908 and prior years, which has not been otherwise appropriated and is available for the purpose of building a new court house for said county; and whereas the circumstances as well as the best interests of said county, will admit of a sale of the present Court House and the land or lot on which it is situated, which is worth, and for which the county can obtain $50,000.00 and whereas the circumstances of the county will therefore permit the court to erect a court house to cost, together with the land on which it is located, the sum of $100,000.00, it is therefore ordered by the Court, that the said surplus of County Revenue Fund now apportioned by the County Treasurer, on his books from the various County Funds, to, wit, the sum of $50,000.00 now in the hands of the County Treasurer be, and the same is hereby set aside and appropriated for the purpose of purchasing a site and building a new court house for Greene county.

"And it is further ordered that the present court house and the lot or land on which it is located be sold for the sum of not less than $50,000.00 in cash, and the sum so realized be appropriated and added to the aforesaid appropriated sum of $50,000.00 for the purpose aforesaid.

"It is further ordered that a new court house for Greene county be built with the funds so provided, to cost with the sum necessary to be expended for a new site therefor, not to exceed the sum so provided."

These orders have been quoted in full because they mark the adoption by the court of a new and unique method of providing the funds for erecting the new court house. The plan of using the surplus funds in the hands of the treasurer of the county for this purpose was a wise and brilliant device. These funds, accumulated by the care and economy of the court itself, and apportioned by the treasurer into their various funds, were practically idle, drawing but the low rate of interest given by the banks in which they were deposited. With the imperative need for a new court house, with the plan of issuing bonds to supply that need defeated at the polls, the court would seem to be at the end of their resources, until the present plan was evolved.

That there would be strong opposition to this procedure was a matter of course, and the court lost no time in pushing its plan to a point where any interference should be of the least serious delay. So at this same session of court an order was made appointing T. K. Bowman, of Springfield, one of the former members of the court, to superintend the erection of a court house.

The order recites: "The county not owning suitable ground for such location the said T. K. Bowman is also ordered to select, a proper piece of ground within the corporate limits of Springfield, and to purchase, or receive the same by donation, for a site for a court house, and take a good and sufficient deed for the same to the county, and make a report of the proceedings to the circuit court of Greene county at its next sitting, and to this court for its approval." To all these orders Judge S. D. Appleby is recorded as dissenting. [172]


On February 11th, T. K. Bowman reports to the County Court that he has selected and purchased, from the Bank of Springfield, a location lying between Boonville street and Robberson avenue, and fronting Center street, for a consideration of $12,825.00 cash. From this sum the county is to deduct the sum of $3,500.00, that being its lien upon the property by virtue of a decree of the Circuit Court of Greene county, in the case of T. B. Holland et al. vs. B. J. Diemer et al. (This was one of the suits brought in the endeavor to prevent the location of the new court house at its present loca- * * * Circuit Court of Green county, and files with his report a certificate of that tion.) The balance Of $9,325.00 to be paid the Bank of Springfield on delivery of the deed.

Mr. Bowman also reports having submitted the abstract of title to the Circuit Court of Greene county, and files with his report a certificate of that court approving the title in question. The County Court then approved the selection of a site as made by their commissioner, and ordered the county clerk to issue a warrant to the Bank of Springfield, upon the court house fund, for $9,325.00. Judge S. D. Appleby again goes on record as dissenting against this order.

Thus the question of the ownership of the site at Boonville street, Center street and Robberson avenue was at last settled. It belonged to Greene county. Whether it was to become adorned with the new court house was still to be determined, for the opponents of that location had not yet given up the fight, as will shortly be told.

Meanwhile, the commissioner was ordered to sell six houses which occupied the new purchase, and order their removal. Charles P. Ollis was allowed $150.00 "for balance due for services in purchasing the court house site." To both of which orders appears the familiar record: "Judge S. D. Appleby dissenting."

The firm of Miller, Opel & Torbitt, of Springfield, had been selected by the court as the architects for the new court house on April 17, but by some oversight this order was not then entered of record, so it was passed again and duly recorded on July 31. This order sets the compensation of the architects at 2½ per cent. of the cost of the building for plans and specifications, and 1 per cent. of the cost for the details thereof. "Judge S. D. Appleby dissenting. [173]

But, to go back a short time: Meanwhile J. E. Decker, a wealthy farmer of Republic, and others had joined in a suit against "the judges of the County Court as such, to forever enjoin the court from entering into any contract to pay for plans, site, superintendent," in a word, anything in any way pertaining to the locating or building of a new court house at the Center street site.

The court engaged Roscoe Patterson and E. P. Mann as their attorneys to defend this suit, at a fee of, $500.00. "Judge S. D. Appleby dissenting."

But the filing of the suit did not halt the proceedings of the court for a day. January 6, 1910,the County Court appointed T. K. Bowman as commissioner to advertise for bids for purchase of the old courthouse and the lots on which it stood, subject to approval of the court. Mr. Bowman is instructed to retain a right for the county to occupy said building for two years, at a rental equal to 6 per cent. of the sum of the successful bid. "Judge S. D. Appleby dissenting."

January 26, Commissioner Bowman reports that he has received bids on the property at the corner of the Public Square and College street, as follows: P. D. O'Toole, $49,950.00; A. B. Crawford, Trustee, $50,000.00. The court thereupon orders Bowman to execute a warranty deed to A. B. Crawford, Trustee, and take back a lease for one year, with option to extend it for two years from date, at an annual rental of $3,000.00. S. D. Appleby dissenting."

On February 17, 1910, Commissioner Bowman submitted to the court the plans for the new court house, drawn by Miller, Opel & Torbitt, and the court, after examination of the plans, approves of them, and orders the commissioner to advertise for bids for erecting the building in accordance with these plans. "Judge S. D. Appleby dissenting."

But the court did not wait for any bids to be offered before breaking ground for the new court house. The prisoners of the county jail were put at work with pick and shovel to work out their indebtedness to the county in excavating for foundations for the new temple of justice. Not only were the excavations completed, but a large amount of work was thus done upon the concrete foundations, and a total of several thousand dollars was saved to Greene county.

March 23, Commissioner Bowman reports to the court that he has received eight bids for the construction of the new court house, varying from $81,749.00, from the J. E. Gibson Construction Company, of Tulsa, Okla., to $100,771.59, from the Springfield Planing Mill and Lumber Company, of Springfield. These bids were for a building constructed of stone from the quarries at Phoenix, Greene county, thus making the building that was to be, wholly a Greene county product. [174]


On receipt of this report the court instructs Mr. Bowman to enter into a contract for erecting the building with the J. E. Gibson Construction Company. "Judge S. D. Appleby dissenting."

The next day the J. E. Gibson Construction Company filed with the court an assignment of their bid to Hiram Lloyd, of the H. L. Lloyd Construction Company, of St. Louis, Missouri, who agrees with the court to fill the contract at the figures bid by the Gibson Company. The H. L. Lloyd Company's bid had been $85,997.00. The court approved the assignment. "Judge S. D. Appleby dissenting."

The Lloyd company quickly got to work, and the walls of the new court house, so long needed and wished for, at last began to rise. It was evident to the most casual observer that the sum of $100,000.00, which was all the cash the court had when this contract was let would not nearly pay for the erection of such a building as shown by the plans and specifications of Messrs. Miller, Opel & Torbett. In fact, the contract as let to the Lloyd Company called for little more than the outside walls of the building, with enough of the inner parts divided into rooms as to furnish a partial accommodation for the county offices and records. All realized, however, that unless the suit now pending in the Supreme Court to enjoin any expenditure of county money on this location was decided against the County Court, the question of location was forever settled. All uncertainty was soon ended by the decision of the highest court in the State, which not only declared that the County Court had acted entirely within its lawful authority in all that it had done, but went further and congratulated that court for the way in which they had brought their court house into being without so far increasing the county indebtedness by a single cent.

At the election in the autumn of 1910 Judge B. J. Diemer was a candidate for re-election to his office as presiding justice, but was defeated by W. H. Perkins, thus proving that not only republics, but also counties are sometimes ungrateful. For certainly to no one man does Greene county owe her new court house so much as to B. J. Diemer. Without his determination and courage, his consistent and persistent work in the face of all obstacles, the age-old deadlock over the location of a new court house would without doubt still be in full force. "Honor to whom honor is due."

On the 21st of March, 1911, a strong petition was presented to the newly formed County Court, asking that an election be held to vote once more on the proposition to issue $150,000.00 in bonds to complete the court house. This petition was granted by the court, and Tuesday, April 18, 1911, was set as the date of a special election on the bond question.

It had been suggested in the petition concerning this election that $25,000.00 of the bonds be in the denomination of $100.00 each, this to encourage small investors to purchase them.At the election the bonds carried by a good majority, the vote being a light one and as follows: For the bonds, 3,716; against the bonds, 755.

On the 20th of April the court ordered the bonds issued, $25,000.00 of the denomination of $100.00, to run five years; $50,000.00 of the denomination of $500.00, to run five years, and $75,000.00 of the denomination of $500.00, to run ten years, all to bear interest at the rate of 4½ per cent. per annum.

To meet these terms the court ordered a levy for an interest fund of 3 cents on the $100.00 valuation for each of the first five years hereafter, and 1½ cents on each $100.00 valuation for the next five years. Also a levy to provide a sinking fund, as follows: Six cents on the $100.00 valuation for each of first five years, and 5 cents on the same valuation for each of the next five years. "For the faithful performance of all of which the honesty, integrity and commonwealth of the citizens of Greene county are solemnly pledged."

So ended perhaps the longest and hardest struggle of the sort on record anywhere in the Western States. A struggle fought with determination and vigor, by men who believed wholly in the justice of their respective causes, but which was fought to a finish and the result accepted in a spirit that has left no sore spots, no heartburnings, and which today rejoices as one man that the question that has been a nightmare in Greene county for so long is at last eliminated, and the priceless records of the county are forever safe from sudden destruction by flames, which had been their hourly menace for thirty years at least.

Of the new court house itself, it is safe to say that there is not a person in the entire county who is not proud that the old county has such a splendid capitol. Massive and dignified; with its solid walls of the white Phoenix limestone, as near marble as possible without actually being so; with its superb location high above the surrounding streets; its marble-lined corridors and stairways, it is,and will ever be, in great and growing ratio, a joy and pride to the people who own it, and forever a monument to the energy and pluck of the court through whose persistence it was built.

Greene county, as we have seen, was organized in March, 1833, with an immense expanse of territory, and but a small population, but even in its first year of existence we find the County Court called upon to afford relief to a pauper. At the December term of 1833 Mrs. Sarah Craig applied to the court for help, and after due consideration she was given a grant of $30.00, payable at the end of the year. When we remember that the entire income of the county for its first year of existence was less than $500.00, this appropriation, small as it may seem to us, was a surprisingly large percentage of the total means at the court's command.

In 1835 we find record that the first insane person was brought before the County Court. This was one James Renfro, and after due examination the court declared him insane and incapable of managing his own affairs, and appointed Joseph Porter and Benjamin Chapman to act as his guardians and trustees. Thus from an early day has Greene county given that care which humanity demands to those who, through misfortune or the loss of their faculties, become unable to care for themselves.

As the county increased in population the number of these grew in equal ratio, until it became imperative that some central place should be selected, and proper accommodations provided for them. Thus we, find that in the April term of the County Court in 1855, Judge W. B. Farmer was authorized to select a location for a poorhouse, ascertain the cost of such location and report to the court. [175-177]

1 Chapter 349, page 432, volume 2, Territorial Laws.

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