Saturday, August 18, 2007

County Courthouse: Is history repeating itself?

With the recent announcment of the $40 million courthouse renovation - a much needed improvement - I must remind citizens of the not so pretty history of this building.

At a meeting of the Chamber of Commerce on February 20, 1900, on motion of Hon. Henry J. Cookinham, a committee was appointed "to inquire into the advisability of repairing the old courthouse or building a new one." The committee decided in favor of a new courthouse, and recommended it at a joint meeting of the County Supervisors (now Legislators) and the Chamber of Commerce, held August 7, 1900. The Supervisors agreed to the proposal and presented a bill to the State Legislature authorizing the appointment of a Courthouse Commission to carry on the work. After this bill passed the Legislature, a commission was appointed on February 8, 1901 and, on March 30, was organized under the chairmanship of Henry W. Bentley of Boonville. After much discussion as to a site for the building, the block bounded by Elizabeth, Mary, and Charlotte Streets was selected on May 13, 1901.

The work of the Commission was much delayed by the Board of Supervisors refusing to issue the necessary bonds. However, after Supreme Court Justice Andrews issued on December 22, 1901, a mandamus ordering them to do so, the Supervisors bowed to the demands of the Court and on March 20, 1902 issued bonds to the extent of $750,000. On February 14, 1903, the Commission accepted the plans and called for bids for the construction of the building. Delay after delay followed but finally, in June 1905, the contract was awarded to Connors Brothers of Lowell, Massachusetts, for $730,000 and work was begun.

Before the building was completed and equipped, a further bond issue was required, involving further delay. It was, however, finished and officially declared completed, November 20, 1909. The Commission held its last meeting, January 10, 1910, announced that the total cost had been $923, 589.92, and returned to the County the sum of $778.08 of unexpended funds.

In the meantime, however, rumors of irregular financial transactions proved to be so well founded that shortly afterward there ensued indictment, trial, and conviction of two supervisors (who were respectively the chairmen of both the Republican and Democratic County Committees), the sheriff of Oneida County, and two merchants who had sold goods to the County and, at the suggestion of the officials had falsified their accounts. All were found guilty. The supervisors and the sheriff served terms in the penitentiary, and the merchants paid heavy fines.

Something to think about.

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