Courthouses all across America are for the most part a staple in the communities they serve.
Each courthouse is unique in its own individual way, and the buildings have evolved through time. Many courthouses started out as log structures, moving on to plain block buildings and eventually to the grand Romanesque style buildings jutting out of the earth, like the one here in Edgar County.
Edgar County is blessed to have such a wonderful building for those passing by to gaze upon, but Paris almost never had a courthouse.
Before Edgar County was created from Clark County the post office was at Baldwinsville, which was originally intended for the county seat. The postmaster was John Brown Alexander, the father of Paris’ own Milton K. and Washington Alexander.
However, when Edgar County was formed, Paris was already a booming town. Residents wanted it to be the county seat, but it was not centrally located. The people came together and Edgar County purchased land from Clark County making Paris centrally located and the town was named the county seat.
The first courthouse in Paris was a log structure, and although it served its purpose, it only lasted a few years. In 1832, local businessman Leander Munsell built the first substantial courthouse on the square in downtown Paris at a cost of $4,250. When completed the coffee mill style courthouse, named because of its resemblance to a coffee mill, stood in the center of downtown with two out buildings.
This courthouse saw many cases throughout its existence. One of the most notable occurred May 10, 1842, approximately 10 years after the courthouse was completed.
Nolan V. Hunter brought suit against John Nolan over the damming of Brouilletts Creek in the northeastern part of the county. While the case had local importance, its historical connection comes with the lanky 6 foot 4 inch lawyer from Springfield that rode into town to defend Nolan. Abraham Lincoln practiced in this courthouse from 1842 to 1853 while riding the Eighth Judicial Circuit.
This coffee mill style courthouse served Edgar County from 1832 until 1885 when a judge condemned it as unsafe. Without a functioning courthouse, Edgar County moved the courtroom into space over the Academy of Music, located on the northeast corner of the square. Court was conducted on the second floor of that building until 1891.
In 1887, the Prohibition Club rented the old courthouse and used it for a meeting place until the Edgar County Board of Supervisors decided April 28, 1887, to sell the old courthouse on a vote of 7 to 6. Alexander Barr bought the old courthouse for $81 and was given 90 days to remove the building. He had no trouble fulfilling the term of the sale.
For the next six years Edgar County did not have an official courthouse. The populace voted in the spring of 1891 to erect a new grand courthouse.
Henry Eliot designed the new courthouse and the Hibbert Brothers Contractors of Ohio won the construction bid. Construction of the courthouse lasted from 1891 to 1893 and cost a total of $104,807.93. Although the cost was an extremely high sum of money, no one complained after looking at the finished results.
The grand Romanesque Revival style courthouse has four main sides with four entrances situated between each of the adjacent pairs of sides. Two towers adorn each end of the sides and there is a tall gable in the central sections. Each tower also features two medieval dormers. Finally, on top of the blue amhurst sandstone stands a wedding-cake style frame clock tower clad in metal to look like stone. Folklore says the clock faces were made so big so that anyone in the county could look up and see what time it is.
After many mishaps and unforeseen errors, the courthouse finally lit up in 1893. A quote from the Beacon stated, “The building presented a magnificent appearance, being ablaze with light from cellar to garret. Every lamp worked perfectly and combined with numberless gas jets, made a beautiful sight.”
Since its creation, the courthouse has gone through many renovations and restorations and is still standing today in all of its magnificent beauty for everyone to see.
Throughout America courthouses sometimes fade into the skyline but some stay the focal point of local communities. Edgar County is one such lucky county.
Many people have graced the square with their presence. To stand on the ground where Abraham Lincoln once walked is simply breath taking. All of the people who walk that ground can easily stop and listen for all that once was and all that still is and in the end ask themselves one question, what would this building say if walls could talk?