Historian recounts construction of original court house

As we approach the start of the upcoming court renovations we thought it would make sense to look back at the origins of the courthouse that opened in Wampsville in early 1910. The property was originally owned by John Wesley Coe who proposed building the courthouse on his land during the 19th century. He donated much of the land but continued to live at his home behind the courthouse until his death in 1913.

In 1907 after much debate the Board of Supervisors voted to “submit a vote of the people” to move the courthouse from Morrisville to Wampsville by an 11 to 7 vote. The move was controversial at the time. While the majority of the population lived in Sullivan, Lenox and Oneida, Morrisville was near the center of the county and more convenient for those in the central and southern portions of the county. In November of 1907 the move to Morrisville was approved by a margin of 685 votes. Lenox, Sullivan and Oneida accounted for a margin of over 3,000 votes in favor of the move, meaning the rest of the county voted against it.

In June of 1908 the Board of Supervisors opened sealed bids and awarded construction contracts for the building of the courthouse $104,900, the jail $51,900, and architectural fees $$7,850. They also budgeted for items which included sewer ($3,000), water ($8,000), furniture ($5,000), administration and inspections ($6,000), contingent
expenses ($5,000), electroliers (electric powered chandeliers, $10,000), extra heating $250.00, 150 feet extra frontage for site ($1,200), piping for gas ($250) and grading ($5,000). All told the additional expenses totaled $43,700. The total budget was $208,350 (over $5.5 million dollars in today’s dollars).

Skilled laborers were paid $5 a day for six days a week, unskilled labor was paid between $1.50-$1.75 per day. Weather caused some significant delays and there was at least one significant workplace accident that took place during the construction. As the project neared completion additional expenses would be added including fire proofing, addition of a telephone system and some miscellaneous expenses that led to the final cost of $226,298.31 (Just over $5.9 million dollars today). The courthouse was built in approximately 16 months starting in late August of 1908 and holding its first court sessions in January of 1910, followed by a Board of Supervisors meeting held there in February of 1910.

On Jan. 7, 1909 the County Government had a special ceremony to set the corner stone. The ceremony was attended by more than 2,500 people by some counts and featured state leaders of the Masons. A time capsule was placed in the northeast corner of the building. The markings are still on the stone today. As part of the renovation, this time capsule will be removed and opened in the near future. The items inside will be put on display for the public to see, assuming they are in acceptable condition.

When the courthouse construction commences I will be posting on social media from the daily journal of
Hamilton B. Peckham, the inspector in charge during the original building of the courthouse from 1908-1910. The daily journal gives updates as to what was happening, interactions with workers and supervisors, and tidbits into Peckham’s personal life. I will also on occasion post some of the photos pertaining to the construction of the courthouse.

I encourage you to like our Madison County, NY History Facebook page to share in this history. For more information about Madison County history, call 315-366-2453 or email matthew.urtz@madisoncounty.ny.gov or visit madisoncounty.ny.gov/historian/home.

Matthew Urtz is the Madison County Historian.

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