Court House c 1859 IMG134001.jpg

The Jefferson County Court House during the trial of John Brown in 1859.

Over twenty-five hundred years ago, Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “Nothing endures but change.” Efforts to resist change may gain temporary success, but over time Heraclitus’ prophesy holds true and change takes place. The constant of change applies to every aspect of our lives, and as proof, our history records the “then” so that we can compare it to the “now.” When examining modification, it is most important to understand what caused it, what motivated decision makers to transform the status quo.

In 1800, Berkeley County, Virginia stretched from the Cacapon Mountains on the west to the top of the Blue Ridge on the east. The population of the northernmost county in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley was 22,006 which included 3,971 enslaved men and women. The largest concentration of people was east of Opequon Creek, and before Charles Washington’s death in 1799 those easterners began a movement which resulted in the formation of a new county in 1801. At first the county’s justices conducted business in private buildings, especially Thomas Flagg’s tavern, but by December 1802 work was under way for the construction of a county court house in Charlestown (one word in 1802) which was ready for occupation in 1803. Acceding to his father’s wishes, Samuel Washington deeded one-half of Lot. No. 52 on the northeast, corner of George and Washington Streets, and since then, with a brief interlude, the Jefferson County Court House is the only municipal building on Public Square which remains today. But not without change.

“Nothing endures but change,” and three decades after the first Court House was built, the county outgrew the original building. So, what to do? The answer materialized in the first known sketch of Public Square which appeared in Henry Howe’s Historical Collections of Virginia published in 1845. In the sketch it is easy to see what the County Court decided to do. Instead of expanding the original building, the first Court House was removed and replaced by a second Court House, the beautiful building in the sketch “Central View in Charlestown.” The second Jefferson County Court House, described as a “Doric temple in the Greek revival style,” is an example of change by choice.

Occasionally, change occurs by chance, not by choice.

Because of its strategic location, Jefferson County was in the middle of a struggle between the Union and Confederate armies. Although the musket and rifle factories at Harpers Ferry were removed early in the war, both armies wanted to control the Lower Shenandoah Valley, especially the county named for our third president. Technically, military control vacillated between the blue and the gray, but from a tactical standpoint, for most of the Civil War the Union Army exerted its influence over the north half of Jefferson County. The principal Union garrison was anchored at Harpers Ferry with a forward position extended to Charlestown. From the central location of the county seat, Union cavalry patrols went east and west searching for Confederates attempting to cross the Shenandoah at Kabletown and Myerstown and southern forces who might try to cross the Potomac in the vicinity of Shepherdstown. The Union hub at Charlestown became a target of Confederate forces in the fall of 1863.

On Sunday, October 18, 1863 Confederate forces led by Brigadier General John Daniel Imboden attacked the Union position at Charlestown. Commanded by Colonel Benjamin Louis Simpson, Union forces occupied “the courthouse, jail, and some contiguous buildings in the heart of the town, all loop-holed for musketry, and the court-house yard inclosed [sic] by a heavy wall of oak timber.” To dislodge Union soldiers, Imboden concentrated artillery fire on the buildings surrounding Public Square. In an effort to escape the Confederate barrage, Simpson’s men attempted to withdraw to their garrison at Harpers Ferry. Many were captured by Imboden’s men posted on the eastern edge of Charlestown, and this contingent of Confederates and their Union prisoners began a slow withdrawal along the turnpike headed towards Berryville. Accounts of Imboden’s attack on Charlestown focus on the numbers of men engaged, how many were killed and injured, and how many were taken prisoner. But none of the after-action reports mention the damage done to Public Square, especially to the ““Doric temple in the Greek revival style.”

When the Civil War ended, the destruction of the Court House by Imboden’s attack was the principal reason for moving the county seat from Charlestown to Shepherdstown. Starting January 26, 1865, the county’s business was conducted in Shepherdstown’s Town Hall, today McMurran Hall, which was converted to serve as the Jefferson County Court House. A movement to restore the county seat to Charlestown gained momentum resulting in an act passed in February 1871 by the West Virginia Legislature which returned the county court to its original seat within thirty days of passage. Proponents of the seat remaining in Shepherdstown challenged the legislation, but judicial relief failed.

Until repair of the Court House was completed, county supervisors—John G. Cockrell, David Howell, Sr., John James Lock, James H. Moore, and Logan Osburn—were forced to meet elsewhere. James Lawrence Hooff owned the two-story building two doors east of the Court House, today 110 East Washington Street, and he had converted most of the second floor into an auditorium dubbed Lee Hall. As the largest meeting space at the time, Hooff’s auditorium was appropriated by the board of supervisors, and starting in March 1871, as repair on the Court House progressed, court cases were tried and the county’s business was conducted in the Court Room, formerly Lee Hall.

To oversee Court House repair, the board of supervisors appointed a Building Committee chaired by Logan Osburn. Osburn was a prominent farmer who represented the Kabletown District, and his home, Avon View, was situated on a ridge which afforded a spectacular view of both the Shenandoah River and the Blue Ridge. Companion legislation to the act which returned the county seat to Charlestown authorized Jefferson County’s supervisors to sell bonds valued at no more than $15,000--$10,000 for Court House repairs and $5,000 to restore the Jefferson County Jail.

On the first of October 1871, Osburn’s committee, funds in hand, advertised for local builders to submit bids to work on the “Court House at Charlestown.” The notices called for separate proposals for “Masonry and Carpentering” work and for “Plastering, Painting, Tinwork, &c., &c.” Contractors could examine the plans and specifications in the “Court Room in Charlestown,” on the second floor of Hooff’s building.

77-year-old Jacob Oliver Tutwiler, a Swiss immigrant, was awarded the contract to repair the Court House’s masonry work. He and son, Jacob Jr., erected their scaffolding and were hard at work by the end of October, the Spirit of Jefferson noting “We are gratified to state that work has been commenced on our Court-House, and from this forward will be pushed with the greatest expedition that is possible.” The progress was commendable, but the scaffold proved to be problematic. In March 1872, the Spirit reported that “one end of the scaffolding surrounding the columns in front of the court-house broke from its moorings and swung down some distance below.” The cause was a mystery—the Spirit posed whether it was either “week [sic] construction or an over-weight of brick.” Fortunately, this time, “no one was on the scaffold” when it fell. Unfortunately, Tutwiler Senior’s luck ran out. “Mr. Jacob O. Tutwiler, whilst working at the Court-House, on Wednesday last, fell from the second to the first story—a distance of 17 or 18 feet.” The news report marveled that Tutwiler survived stating “We are glad to know that he is rapidly improving.” Not a bad report for someone just shy of eighty years old.

The carpentry work, the “wood work” according to the Spirit of Jefferson, was awarded to two men. William Phillips and Daniel H. Cockrill were contractors and both men had built good reputations as they helped repair and reconstruct buildings damaged during the Civil War. In addition to doing contract work, Phillips managed George Eichelberger’s Bloomery Sash Factory “on the Shenandoah River, 2 ½ miles above Keyes’ Ferry, 3 miles below Shannondale Springs, and 3 miles from Charlestown.” When the sash factory burned in 1874, the tandem of Phillips and Cockrill teamed up to rebuild the two-story structure which measured sixty-two feet wide by fifty-one feet deep. David Cockrill, assisted by son Joseph, pledged that “any work entrusted to us will be executed in the most workmanlike manner, and with the utmost dispatch.” If the client needed design help, the Cockrills’ were capable of drawing plans and specifications and they specialized in “Geometrical Stairways” which they claimed, “cannot be surpassed by any workmen in the Valley of Virginia.”

William Kimes handled both the interior and exterior painting for the Court House project. During the 1870s, if there was a big paint job, Kimes was usually the contractor. The brick was supplied by Richard Amos Hessey whose brickyard was on the north side of North Street on the east end of Charlestown. Charles Frank Gallaher did all of the plaster work on the Court House’s interior walls. Like Kimes with painting, if there was plaster work to be done, Gallaher was your man and the two of them were mentioned time and time again on a variety of construction projects.

As the finishing touches on the Court House repair were being applied, Thomas W. Beale climbed to the peak of the roof and “erected a lightning rod upon the Court-House last week.” David Cockrill had designed the Court House cupola to accommodate both a town clock and a bell. In the 1870s the sound of the bell ringing heralded important events, and the Court House clock provided visual evidence that your ten o’clock appointment was either on time, early or late. James Lawrence Hooff procured the Court House bell, and the firm of McCurdy & Duke ordered the all-important Court House clock. McCurdy & Duke operated a hardware store on the northwest corner of George and Liberty Street where the Old Opera House is today, and offered “everything a farmer wants, all in the same building.”

The Court House yard was saved for last. The Court House lot slopes downhill from east to west, so the building’s foundation was raised to ensure that the first-floor was roughly level with Dr. Straith’s pharmacy, the first building to the east of the Court House. To make the yard level with the first-floor entrance, stone retaining walls were constructed on George and Washington Streets and filled with dirt. Both gravity and the Civil War had taken their toll on these old walls, so unnamed “workmen have been busily engaged tearing down the old stone walls,” and as just recently done in present day, the walls were carefully reconstructed. To crown the retaining wall, John E. Hilbert, “having undertaken the contract, is now hastening forward the manufacture of a neat and substantial iron railing and gates for the front yard.” Hilbert was the owner/operator of the Jefferson Coach Factory who specialized in iron work, and in addition to the iron railing also constructed the iron doors for the Court House’s fire-proof vault.

When all the work was done, a visitor described the new Court House this way:

The Temple of Justice. The building is large and commodious, situated upon the site of the old Court House, and presents a commanding appearance. Upon the lower floor, as you enter, upon the right, are the two rooms to be occupied by the Circuit and County Clerks. Upon the left of the passage, which extends the entire length of the building, are the Jury rooms. You then ascend a flight of steps when you are ushered into the Court-room, which is very large and admirably laid off, and well ventilated. This commodious structure is conveniently designed, and in every way adapted to the wants of the citizens of the County, and will be an ornament to the town in which it is located.

On November 26, 1874 the Court House Building Committee closed its books and issued its last report to members of the Jefferson County Court. The final accounting provided a detailed record of the total cost of the project and both the source and amount of revenue received to fund the project. The total cost of the Court House renovation project was $21, 179, equivalent to $476,330.57 in today’s dollars. The largest expenditure, $8,381.54 for woodwork, was paid to the firm of Cockrill & Phillips. Richard Hessey received $1,010.32 for supplying the brick to rebuild the Court House walls. For plastering the walls of the clerks’ offices, the jury room, and the court room, Frank Gallaher received $1,930.13, and when the walls were cured, William Kimes earned $1,065.00 for painting them. The Tutwiler team was paid $2,214.80 for laying the brick to repair the damaged Court House. John Hilbert’s iron fence cost $417.25 and he charged $344.26 for the vault doors. The new Town Clock cost $422.09, and surprisingly, the Court House Bell cost more--$484.78.

If you spend $21,179, you have to raise $21,179, and Commissioners John Griggs Cockrell, John James Lock, James Hurst Moore, and Logan Osburn did that and more. When the Court House Building Committee account was closed in November 1874, there was a balance of $206.69 “on hand and unexpended.” The sale of the $10,000 in bonds authorized by the West Virginia Legislature got them almost half way there. The remainder came from local tax collections, and from October 1871 to the end of December 1872, Sheriffs Truman W. Potterfield and George Washington Chase levied the balance--$11,385.87.

Civil War damage to the Jefferson County Court House in Charlestown forced the change of its location twice within a span of seven years. When the County Seat returned to Charlestown, the Court House was rebuilt at the same location and the structure was modified by moving the Court Room from the first to the second floor. The Jefferson County Court House, since 1803 located on the northeast corner of Public Square, is one example of “Nothing endures but change.”

Doug Perks, a retired history teacher and Shepherdstown resident who serves as the historian at the Jefferson County Museum in Charles Town, is a contributor to the Spirit of Jefferson.

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