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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THE COUNTY BUILDINGS
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
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
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
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
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
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.
benediction, Rev. W. W. WELLER. The
total cost of the reconstruction work and a complete outfit of new furniture was
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,
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.
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
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
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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