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A History of Livingston County, Missouri
Published by The Livingston County Centennial Committee
April 6, 1837, Livingston County's first term of court was held in the home of Joseph Cox, four miles north of Chillicothe. The first, and practically only business attended to after naming Judge William Martin President of the court, was the division of the county into townships as follows: Shoal Creek, Indian Creek, Medicine Creek (so named because a doctor lost his pill box while crossing the stream), and Grand River. In 1839, changes were made in the names of these townships, and other townships
were named. W. O. Jennings was named the first sheriff of the county, and Thomas Ryan the first clerk. At the present time, Mr. Lee Tiberghien is the presiding judge of our county court; Mr. E. L. Lang, judge of the eastern district; and Mr. J. E. Raulie. judge of the western district. This court, which does not try cases, acts as a board of managers for the county.
The first term of circuit court began July 3, 1838 and lasted two days. Six cases were disposed of and Honorable Austin A. King of Ray county, later Governor of the State, was the judge. The first court house was built in 1837 at a cost of $50.00. The following is a literal copy of the order:
Ordered that a house, be built in toun of Chilico for a temporary cort house for the county of Livinston to be built buy the forth Mondy in march next or 1838 to be of this description to-wit. Eighteen feet from Out to Out to be raised in cabbin form to be flored with Loose plank of punce ons (puncheons) to be well hewn doun in side to be coverd with clabords (clapboards) well nailed on - joice to be 7 feet from floor with a good wood or turf chimney with back & Jams as is usal to cabbins & to be well Chinked & daubed to have a door cut out faced up & Shutters made to it. The said Commissioner to let out said house to the Lowest bidder or not to give higher in private contract than Fifty dollars to the undertaker of said house & it is further ordered that said court house be set on lot 5 block eleven.
Because the specifications called for no windows, there were none until 1839. This log court house was built where the "Kirtley" house now stands, at 808 Walnut Street. The furniture ordered purchased for the building comprised one long table with a large drawer and six chairs. In March, 1841, Chillicothe used the building as a school house.
The second term of court at Cox's began November 7, 1836. Of the twenty-four named on the grand jury, only eleven appeared. Several bystanders were drawn into service, and the jury retired for consultation, but there was no business to come before them! When they announced this to the judge, he dismissed them. Mr. Cox provided free board for the entire court, judge, lawyers, jury, litigants, and all. Under the trees he spread long tables laden with corn pone, butter, and venison, cooked in every style known to the pioneers. This log house still stands just north of the home in which the Cox family lives. For one hundred years this site has been occupied by a member of that family.
The second court house, a two-story brick building, costing $5,000.00, was erected in the center of the square in Chillicothe. There was much discussion among the pioneers, many of whom felt the exorbitant sum might bankrupt the county. This attractive structure, with its painted "cupelow," stood until 1864, when it was torn down. Its large rooms, with thirteen-foot ceilings, were at first heated by fireplaces.
A history written in 1886, gives Mr. Moses Burton credit for the second court house contract, and further states he did not receive his full pay for several years. Mr. Moses Hutchison, who now lives in Livingston county, thinks that his grandfather, Moses Burton, built the first court house. Mr. Hutchison talks interestingly of many changes made in the town of Chillicothe. He remembers the first railroad, saw the first stone laid in the jail now standing at the corner of Webster and Cherry Streets, and witnessed the construction of Graham's Mill Bridge in 1867.
In 1870, a two-story brick county house was erected in Chillicothe at the corner of Webster and Cherry Streets. Here all records were kept in fire-proof vaults, but court was held in rented rooms - the Methodist Episcopal Church basement, the old city hall, the Masonic Temple - until our large stone court house was built in 1912. At present time, the circuit court holds three terms a year, averaging about twenty-five days. Usually about one hundred twenty-five cases are disposed of, according to the estimate of Miss Bessie Abshire, deputy clerk of the circuit court. Judge Ira Beals, whose home is in Kingston, presides over the present circuit court. Judge Arch B. Davis, who now practices law in Chillicothe, and the late Judge John L. Schmitz, preceded Judge Beals.