History of Ontario Co. & Its People

Vol. 1, Pub. 1911  Pg.  51 - 61

Thanks to Deborah Spencer for transcription of these pages.

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They Reflect the People’s Respect for Law and Regard for the Unfortunate--In the Court House Centers the County Consciousness--Successive Jails--The County Alms House--The County Laboratory and the County Tuberculosis Hospital, the First Institutions of the Kind in the State. 

As the record of church building and school building in towns affords an index to the moral and intellectual progress of the people, so the story of the buildings in which a county houses its courts, preserves its archives, confines its criminals, or cares for its poor, evidences its consciousness of a community of interests and its apprehension of its responsibility to the unfortunate. 

About the court house especially centers the county consciousness.  In the history of its development may be found marks of the growing respect for law and order, respect for authority, respect for all that constitutes organized government.  As the court house has fallen into decay or been enlarged or replaced, so is the attitude of the people toward the administration of justice. 

In Ontario county, development along these lines has been marked in striking measure by the successive steps taken to provide an appropriate house for the courts.  (From Page 52, under picture:  (First Ontario County Court House.  Erected in 1794, in the public square in Canandaigua, immediately south of present court house.  Was moved, in 1825 to N. W. corner of Main and Cross streets, where it stood when this picture was made, and was used as a post office; was moved to Coach street in 1859, used as a store house and was demolished in 1899.  Scene of the trial of many famous cases, including that of “Stiff Armed George,” whom RED JACKET, the Indian orator, defended against the charge of murder.)   

The county had need of a court before it had time or money with which to erect a proper building for its use.  The records show that the first court in the county was held in an unfinished room in Judge ATWATER’s house, in June, 1792, with Judge Oliver PHELPS presiding.  Subsequently and until a court house was erected provision was made by lease for the use by the courts, at a yearly rental of 10 pounds, of the chambers in said house, which was located on the west side of Main street, on what is now the post office corner.  Previous to 1850, when the Atwater Hall building was erected on that corner, the old ATWATER house was moved some rods to the west, and at the demolition of that building in 1910, to the north, where faced around toward the east it now stands.

But the young county, moved by a spirit of enterprise and liberality which has happily ever characterized its provision for public needs, lost no time in erecting a building to be devoted to the use of the courts, and within five years after the first white men had settled in Canandaigua such a building, commodious, well proportioned and well furnished for that day, was completed and put into use.

This was in 1794, when the entire population of the county did not much exceed a thousand souls and when the tax entailed, 600 pounds, constituted a burden much larger in proportion than that involved in the recent $100,000 improvement.  It marked the first step in the determination of the pioneers to keep abreast--nay, ahead--of the times in matters of public improvement. 

The first court house was a woolen structure and was located on the public square, immediately south of the present building.  In it were held the courts of Common Pleas, presided over by the first judges of the county, Oliver PHELPS, Timothy HOSMER, John NICHOLAS, and Nathaniel W. HOWELL, and at its bar practiced such lawyers as John C. SPENCER, Peter B. PORTER, Mark H. SIBLEY, Jared WILSON, Francis GRANGER and John GREIG.  In it were conducted many of the famous trials of the early days, including that of Jemima WILKINSON, the “Universal Friend,” who was brought here in the year 1800, from her “New Jerusalem” on Keuka Lake, to answer the charge of blasphemy.  The grand jury failed to find an indictment against her, and upon invitation she delivered a sermon before the presiding judge, Ambrose SPENCER, and the jurors and others in attendance on the court. 

In this building also took place the trial of the Indian, “STIFF ARMED GEORGE,” on a charge of murder, when the famous Seneca orator, RED JACKET, made an eloquent plea for the defense. 

This first court house served the purpose 30 years, and then to meet the demands of the county, rapidly developing in wealth and population, though already shrunken territorially to its present size, a new and more substantial building was erected.  This was in 1824, the year following the county’s last loss of territory, that now embraced in Wayne and Yates counties.  The corner stone was laid on July 4 of that year. 

This building marked the second step of progress and cost $6,000, four times as much as its predecessor.  It was erected on the southwest corner of the public square, and there for the 87 years which have since elapsed it has stood unmoved, though barely avoiding collision with the intruding railroad. 

In it also were conducted many trials famous in the State’s history, the most notable of which perhaps was that of the men implicated in the abduction of William MORGAN, the renegade Mason.  Today, as the town house of Canandaigua and maintained for the joint use of the town and village, it remains a useful and handsome public building.

Upon the completion of this more substantial and dignified building, as stated, in 1825, the “old” or first court house was moved across the street and located at the northwest corner of Main street and Cross street, now West avenue.  While in this location it was long used as the post office and as lawyers’ offices and its second floor as a lecture and concert hall.  In July, 1859, after the completion of the third court house, and following the sale of the second court house to the town and village for a consideration of $4,000, it was concluded that the old “Star Building,” as it had come to be called, had outlived its usefulness in the public service, and it was sold to Thomas BEALS, the banker, for $100, and moved by him to a vacant lot on Coach street, where it continued in use as a storehouse as late as May, 1899, when it was torn down to make room for Mr. ANDERSON’s big store building. 

After another 30 years, was taken the third step in the history of the county as marked by court house building.  It was in November, 1856, after much discussion in the newspapers and otherwise, and after sharp criticism of the second court house as antiquated and inadequate, that the supervisors finally resolved upon the erection of a new building, appropriated $15,000 therefore, and appointed as a building committee, Evander SLY of Canandaigua, James SOVERHILL of Seneca and William CLARK of Victor.  Mr. SEARLES of Rochester was employed as the architect.  At this juncture the cooperation of the United States Government was secured and an appropriation of considerable amount obtained from Congress on condition that the new building should include quarters for the United States court and the village post office. 

On February 12, 1857, plans and designs were adopted, the cost of the proposed building being estimated at $40,000, and a few days later a section of the Gorham lot, north of the original square, was purchased at a cost of $6,000. 

There followed a serious contest over the question of just where the new building should be located and in which direction it should front.  At first it was planned that it should face to the south; then the supervisors, moved by the agitation of the citizens of the village, ordered the front put to the west.  Then followed threat of an injunction, public meetings and newspaper discussion, but in May, 1857, the matter was finally, and as it seems to us happily, settled by the adoption of a resolution at a special meeting of the board of supervisors, by a vote of 9 to 6, deciding that the building should front toward Main street and be located partly on the square and partly on the newly acquired Gorham lot. 

Thereafter work on the third court house building was rapidly pushed, Kelsey & Wells of Canandaigua having the contract for the wood work and Thomas CRAWFORD of Geneva that for the masonry.  The corner stone was laid with appropriate ceremonies on July 4 of that year, and on June 24 of the next year, 1858, the structure was so far completed as to permit the placing on top its handsomely proportioned dome of the statue of “Justice,” which has since remained a distinguishing landmark, and which has been replaced on the enlarged and fireproofed building. 

On December 26, 1858, the board of supervisors met and accepted the new court house, the resolutions adopted giving especial credit to the chairman of the building committee, Evander SLY, who had had personal charge of the construction work and to whose ability and faithfulness was due its satisfactory and prompt completion. 

Then followed, early in the year 1859, the removal of the post office from the “old” or first court house building and the removal of the clerk’s and surrogate’s offices from the buildings formerly occupied by them on the west side of the square, which, it is interesting to note in passing, were sold to Joshua TRACY for $225, to be taken down and the material removed. 

On Monday, January 10, 1859, the court room in the new building was first put to its designed use, at a term of the circuit court, at which Hon. Henry WELLES presided.  It is reported that there was a large concourse of people present on this occasion and that Judge WELLES made an appropriate address.  The portraits which had been brought together in the old court house through the efforts of the indefatigable William WOOD were re-hung in the county court room in the new building and constituted the nucleus of the priceless collection which has in later years made that room a gallery mentioned widely in the public press and in historical publications, one that is viewed with interest by many visitors and with pride by all residents of the county.  The collection contains the portraits not only of men famous as pioneers or for the prominent part they had in the later history of the county, but of those also who, born in or otherwise identified with the county, attained high place in the State and Nation. 

A 4th great step in the development of Old Ontario was taken in the spring of 1908, when the board of supervisors, in response to a general public demand, decided to enlarge and reconstruct the court house to meet the need of additional room for the county officers and to provide a thoroughly fire proof structure for the safe keeping of the county’s invaluable records.  The resolution finally authorizing the improvement was adopted May 21, 1908.  Messrs. Ralph M. SIMMONS, G. W. POWELL, E. B. ROBSON, E. E. CALMAN and E. E. COYKENDALL were named as a special committee to have charge of the work, and Architect, J. Foster WARNER of Rochester was employed to prepare plans and specifications.  After advertisement for bids, the contract was awarded to A. W. Hopeman & Sons’ Co. of Rochester.  The corner stone of the reconstructed building was laid with due ceremony on September 25, 1908,  in the presence of a large concourse of county officials and citizens, addresses being delivered by Lieutenant-Governor Lewis S. CHANLER, President Charles F. MILLIKEN of the Ontario County Historical Society, County Judge Walter. H. KNAPP, Hon. John COLMEY and others.  The first court was held in the reconstructed building, June 7, 1909, by County Judge Robert F. THOMPSON, but the dedication exercises were not held until November 8, 1909, when in the presence of a large and representative audience this programme was carried out, with Supreme Court Justice James A. ROBSON presiding:  Prayer, Rev. A. B. TEMPLE; historical address, Elisha W. GARDNER; address, Hon. Peter B. McLENNAN, Presiding Justice of the Appellate Division, Fourth Department; dedicatory prayer, Rev. James T. DOUGHERTY; benediction, Rev. W. W. WELLER.  The total cost of the reconstruction work and a complete outfit of new furniture was $125,838.04. 

The first county jail, erected in the early days immediately after the organization of the county, was a log structure and was located on or near the southwest corner of the public square in Canandaigua, its principal use probably was as a place of detention for drunken Indians.  It is said to have had only one door, two small windows on each side, a couple of great chains to which the prisoners were fastened and plenty of straw on the floor for bedding.  As the population of the county increased, this make-shift for a jail was abandoned, and the second story of the old Pitts tavern, afterwards the Franklin house, at the corner of Main and Coach streets, was fitted up with cells and used for that purpose, which does not appear to have interfered with the business of entertaining paying and orderly guests as conducted on the lower floor. 

In 1815 the county had become rich enough to erect for itself a building specifically designed for jail purposes and this was done on the site on Jail street on which the present or “new” jail stands.  The jail erected in 1815 was a substantial stone structure, with wards and cells for the prisoners, a high walled yard for their exercise and apartments for the family of the sheriff.  For many years it was considered a model jail, the most secure to be found in the State west of Utica, and was utilized by all the counties surrounding for the safe keeping of desperadoes.  (From page 58, under Pic:  Erected in 1815; demolished in September, 1893.  The building from which William MORGAN, the renegade Mason, was kidnapped, September, 1826.) 

The new jail was opened by Sheriff Nathaniel ALLEN, who was followed by Phineas P. BATES and Samuel LAWRENCE, the last sheriff of the county to hold office under the first constitution. 

The first sheriff under the second constitution, adopted in 1821, was Phineas B. GATES, who was followed by Joseph GARLINGHOUSE, in 1825.  GARLINGHOUSE, who lived in Richmond, appointed a Mr. HALL as jailor, who resided in the jail and boarded the prisoners. 

It was from this jail on the 12th of September, 1826, that William MORGAN, who had published a book pretending to reveal the secrets of Free Masonry, was abducted, never to be seen again alive or dead by his family or his friends, and in the same jail were confined for 18 months several prominent citizens charged with being guilty of the crime. 

Among other noted occupants of cells in this jail was William Lyon McKENZIE, who was charged with violating the neutrality laws in the Canadian rebellion of 1837; a famous mail robber by the name of Baux, who was convicted and sentenced to Auburn for 15 years; the counterfeiter Sims and the murderers Charles EIGHMEY and John KELLY.  The executions by hanging of EIGHMEY and KELLY took place in the jail yard, the first on September 8, 1876, and the last on July 10, 1889, and were the only executions that have taken place in the county.  This jail building was extensively repaired in the early 30’s at a cost of $12,000. 

The present jail was built on ground immediately west of the building just described and was completed in 1895 at a cost of $24,747.15.

About the first of June of that year the sheriff moved his office and residence to the new brick and steel structure, and the old jail so long an object of historic interest was torn down.  From its wreckage was saved the iron framework of the cell in which, it was said, William MORGAN was confined and the interesting relic was preserved for a time in the lodge room of the local Masonic body.  The lock of the cell is still exhibited there. 

The several towns of the county made provision for their own poor until October, 1825, when the board of supervisors appointed Thomas BEALS, Nathaniel LEWIS and Moses FAIRCHILD a committee to purchase a county farm.  Following an advertisement for proposals and an examination of the properties offered, a farm of 100 acres in the town of Hopewell, three miles east of Canandaigua, was purchased at a cost of $1,868.64.  In the summer of 1826 a house for the accommodation of dependents and of the keeper and his family was erected, furniture, stock and implements purchased, making the total cost of the establishment at the time the house was opened, October 23, 1826, $7,023.84.  Later the farm was enlarged by the purchase of 112 acres of additional land. 

Although the original almshouse still stands and is still in use, it has been enlarged and improved, large barns erected, orchards planted and other betterments from time to time effected, to adapt the property to changing conditions and keep it as far as possible a safe and comfortable refuge for those whom misfortune has compelled to depend on public support. 

The establishment, however, is now considered out of date, unsafe, and unsanitary, and the county is facing the necessity of replacing it with a fire proof building which will measure up to modern standards for public institutions.  Such a building would more fitly represent the country’s standing in wealth and progressiveness and constitute a striking illustration of the advancement made since the time when the county house, in addition to being a refuge for dependent poor, was also the home of a considerable group of pauper children (removed to orphan asylums about 1876), the place of confinement for insane people of confinement for insane people and imbeciles dependent on public support, who were removed to State institutions for the insane and feeble minded in 1893, and the home of pauper epileptics, who were removed following the establishment of Craig Colony in 1896. 

Nothing has shown the enterprise and liberality of spirit of the people of Ontario county more than the provision made in 1906, in response to the offer of Mrs. Frederick F. THOMPSON to provide a suitable building, for the maintenance of a county laboratory for the use of the physicians and people in fighting preventable and epidemic diseases, the first county institution of the character to be established in the State. The laboratory building was erected on the grounds of the Thompson memorial hospital in Canandaigua, and is in charge of a bacteriologist appointed by the board of supervisors and paid by the county. 

In 1909 the county took another advance step in providing at a cost of $15,000 for the establishment of a county tuberculosis hospital, a step in which it again led the State.  A beautiful grove on an eminence in the town of East Bloomfield was selected as the site for this institution and its erection on plans approved by the State Commissioner of Health was brought to completion in the summer of 1910.  Both these steps for securing and promoting the health of the people were altogether unprecedented and so unique as to require specific action by the Legislature, action which was properly made general in its character so as to permit other counties of the State to follow the lead of Ontario.  The board of managers of the tuberculosis hospital, officially named “Oakmount,” was appointed by the board of supervisors, as follows:  Dr. C. C. LYTLE, of Geneva, president; Rev. James T. DOUGHERTY, of Canandaigua, vice president; Heber E. WHEELER, of East Bloomfield, secretary; Dr. Wm. B. CLAPPER, of Victor; Levi A. PAGE, of Seneca Castle.  The hospital was opened to patients in January, 1911, with Dr. S. R. WHEELER, of East Bloomfield, in charge as superintendent.


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