Courthouse Site Controversy

EDITOR’S NOTE–This is another article on Findlay-area history adapted from a series written from 1959 to 1974 by the late R.L. Heminger, publisher and editor of The Courier.

By R.L. HEMINGER

 

Sites for new public buildings always present issues that generate considerable debate and discussion.

This was the case when Hancock County decided to build its second courthouse back in the late 1830s at the southwest corner of South Main and West Crawford streets, where the Jones block now stands. But it proved too small and the county commissioners on June 6, 1837, ordered steps taken to construct a new courthouse.

There was another reason, however, why it was in 1837 that the county moved to obtain a new county building. Strange as it may seem in these days (1968) of federal deficits and huge governmental indebtedness, Congress and President Andrew Jackson found themselves faced with too much money in the U.S. treasury. So they decided to distribute the surplus to the states on a ratio that hinged on their populations.

The state of Ohio received the sum of $2,007,260.34. Each state was given freedom as to what it did with the money. Ohio decided to distribute it to the counties and Hancock County got $11,707.17.

 

 

WITH THE RECEIPT OF this windfall, Hancock County took a bold step, in spite of the fact that the state made known in distributing the money to the counties it reserved the right to have the funds returned in full, if some statewide need of a special nature developed requiring financing.

Hancock County commissioners decided to utilize the money by building a new and more commodious courthouse, figuring evidently that ways could be found later to reimburse the state if the call came for return of the funds.

It so happened in the 1840s that the state did want the money back to help build a system of canals over the state. Hancock was one of the counties which paid its share back rather promptly, the records indicate. Just where the money came from, we do not know. The supposition is, however, that a special tax levy was made to raise the money.

 

 

WHERE TO BUILD THE new structure became an immediate issue. People living south of the first courthouse did not want the new one built any further north of Crawford Street. When the town was laid out, an area had been left just south of West Main Cross Street where the present courthouse now stands that was given to the community by the “founders” for use in connection with county buildings of one kind or another. They specified that the lots involved in the site could be sold and the money used for public building construction elsewhere or the site itself used for such structures.

The controversy became quite heated, the old records indicate. One of the three county commissioners decided to resign in the midst of the trouble. The remaining two members of the board were John Byal and William Taylor. The former was the father of Henry Byal whose life we have been reviewing the last few weeks. Mr. Taylor was the county’s first engineer and built the first building which stood where the Ohio Bank and Savings Co. was eventually located at the northwest corner of West Main Cross and South Main streets. His daughter married J.S. Patterson, who became a Findlay merchant in the 1840s, owning the Patterson Department Store, which dated back to 1849.

Appointed to the vacancy caused by the resignation of the one county commissioner was Aquilla Gilbert. The controversy was soon resolved and the new site adjoining West Main Cross Street was unanimously decided upon.

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