Friday, June 19, 2020

The Removal of the Courthouse from Eaton

By the late 1880’s a cry had raised up, from the northern, more populous part of the county, asking that the location of the courthouse be changed to the north.  The main complaint was that travelers to the clerk’s office or the courts could not easily get to Morrisville by train.  The train that passed through the town of Eaton, by-passed Morrisville, and travelers had to go over steep hills to get to the county buildings at Morrisville from Morrisville Station.  Other complaints included a lack of adequate accommodations for visitors.  This fight was the most divisive struggle in the history of Madison County lasting for almost 30 years.  This struggle had a polarizing effect that is even evident in many ways today.

It is interesting to note that in 1893 a petition was passed by the people of Eaton Village to have the courthouse relocated there.  Eaton had the rail stop and had many more amenities than Morrisville at the time.  This was blocked by H. B. Conan who protested this move, using the fact that if the courthouse was moved the land would revert to the former owners, a fact that later effected the property when it was to become part of the state agricultural school.

The towns of Lenox and Oneida kept the fight going for more years through self-interest, each one wanting the county seat to be located in their towns.  Petitions for removal stated that Morrisville was 2 ½ miles from the nearest rail terminal, that it was too expensive to pay mileage for jurors, that the jail was condemned by State authorities and that it took a whole day to reach Morrisville from any other point in the county.

The compromise was choosing the current courthouse’s location in Wampsville and the village was basically created (incorporated as a village on September 25, 1907) to hold the county seat.  Wampsville was located on the main line of the New York Central and the West Shore Railroads where twenty-four trains stopped daily.
Finally on November 5, 1907 this issued was turned over to the voters and the county seat was changed from Morrisville to Wampsville by a margin of 756 votes.  Of interest is that 10 of the 16 towns actually voted against this, the north winning because of its larger population.

The New Courthouse

The next step was acquiring the land in Wampsville to build on.  It is here John Wesley Coe enters the picture.  Coe had been the foreman of the Madison County Jury for 14 years and was one of the supporters of the relocation of the county seat to Wampsville.  It is said that he was tired of his lengthy commute to Morrisville, especially in the winter season.  Coe originally from Madison County, had become wealthy in the oil fields of Ohio and Pennsylvania.  Coe returned to Madison County with that wealth, buying a 78 acre farm to retire on as a gentleman farmer.  Coe had been partners in the oil fields with President James A. Garfield and remained a close friend until his death.  Coe put up orchards on his property and later sold two strips of his property to two different railroad companies, which effected the decision to move to his lands.

     Coe originally wanted to be paid for his prime parcel of land near the railroad, but later on February 12, 1908, he decided to deed the land to the county for just $1.  When the county asked him for more land he sold the county land for the jail and let the county rent land for vegetable gardens.  John Wesley Coe refused to sell his house however, stating that he “brought the house to live and to die in”, and that he did.  This house later was purchased by the county and had to be removed to build new county facilities.

     So on July 16, 1908 ground was broken for the start of a new Courthouse in the newly formed Village of Wampsville.

James Riley Gordon designer of the new Courthouse

The Madison County Courthouse in Wampsville was designed by the famous architect James Riely Gordon, who is also the architect of the Cortland County Courthouse.  Gordon worked for a time for the Irving Corner Company of New York before moving to Texas.  Texas, which has more courthouses than any other state (225) was a ripe field for Gordon, who is credited with building over 60 courthouses across the United States, 16 in Texas alone.  If you go on line to you can learn about the construction of the Waxahachic courthouse that was described by James A. Michener in his book Texas.

Gordon’s style of architecture was considered Richardsonian Romanesque and among his most memorable building accomplishments was the Texas Building for the Columbian Exposition of 1897.

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