Jackson County Courthouses


by the Jackson County History Book Committee, Jackson County Historical Society, Inc., printed by Walsworth Publishing Co.


Many of the inhabitants of the counties of Mason, Kanawha and Wood were experiencing great inconvenience because of the distance they lived from their respective Court Houses, and were often obstructed by large water courses, when high. Approximately 342 inhabitants of the above counties petitioned "The Honourable Speakers of the Senate and House of Delegates in the Virginia Legislature" to create a new county to be composed of a part of the counties of Mason, Kanawha, and Wood. The petitioners represented that a new county, if created within the limits proposed, would have a population of about 3,500 inhabitants; that a large proportion of the land lying within the proposed boundaries is rich and fertile and would, if organized into a new county, soon be settled and improved, thereby the revenue of the State, as well as the value of individual property would be increased. The petition was presented December 8, 1830, but the request was not granted until March 1, 1831.

The new county was named Jackson in honor of Andrew Jackson, President of the United States. It was contained within the following boundaries, to-wit: "Beginning at the mouth of Pond creek on the Ohio river; thence, a direct line to the west corner of Lewis county, where the lines of Lewis, Wood and Kanawha counties meet; thence, with the line dividing Lewis and Kanawha counties, to a point where the West Fork of the Little Kanawha river crosses said line; thence a direct line to the mouth of the first branch emptying into the Ohio river above Letart falls; thence, up the Ohio river, following its meanders to the place of beginning."

The decision to locate the Seat of Justice was finally left to a commission of five members because of discontent which arose among the inhabitants over its location. The people who lived along the Ohio River near the Ravenswood settlement greatly favored that location. The people who lived farther inland objected. The General Assembly appointed an independent commission to make the final decision. The commissioners were John McWhorter of Lewis County, John Miller of Kanawha County, William Spurlock of Cabell County, Cyrus Cary of Greenbrier County, and John McCoy of Tyler County.

The Act creating Jackson County also provided that "the Governor, with the advice of the council of state, shall commission ten persons as justices of the peace in and for the said county of Jackson, who shall, before entering upon and executing said office, take the several oaths now required by law of persons commissioned as justices of the peace, which oaths may be administered by any justice of the peace now in commission for either of the counties of Mason, Kanawha or Wood." Justices were: John Warth, George Casto, Barnabus Cook, Gilbert Boswell, Henry Shearman, Ephraim S. Evans, Benjamin Wright, Jr., John McKown, Tapley Beckwith, and George Stone.

The Assembly of Virginia showed little interest in financing the expenditures essential to the erection of the public buildings. The emergency was met by Jacob Starcher, who owned 400 acres of land on which Ripley now stands. He agreed to give eight acres of land for the county seat to be laid out so as to form three sides of the Public Square. The Court accepted the gift on October 24, 1831. Two acres were given for a Public Square on which were to be erected the court house and jail, and six additional acres on the front and sides of the Square to be laid off in lots and sold for "the use and benefit of jackson County." The deed from Jacob and Ann Starcher was made to the Court through Ephraim S. Evans, Justice of the Court, on March 28, 1832.

On January 23, 1832, a contract was let to James Smith for the construction of the public buildings. He gave bond to meet the Court's specifications. The buildings were constructed of brick. The jail was to be 34 feet by 17 feet, and the Court House to be 36 feet square. The entire cost was to be $3,700. On October 28, 1833, the commissioners reported to the Court that the building was completed. The Court accepted the work of the commissioners, and held its first term in the new building on the same date.

In 25 years the Court outgrew its one story building. On November 15, 1854, five Jackson County commissioners entered into a contract with Nicholas H. Bonnett to build a new court house. According to the agreement, which is in the County Clerk's office, the five commissioners were Ephraim S. Evans, Joseph Smith, A. Dilworth (Dilwarth), J. H. Staats and F. A. Holt. N. H. Bonnett "agrees to do and perform all the work mentioned in the annexed specifications and to have the same done and completed of good materials and in a good workmanlike manner so as to be ready to deliver the same house completed to said commissioners on the first day of May 1856 and said Bonnett further agrees to furnish said house for purpose of holding the circuit court in at the May term of 1856 in consideration of which the said commissioners agree to pay to the said N.H. Bonnett the sum of seven thousand and nine hundred and ninety three dollars." Payments were to be made in four installments, the last one in 1858, which totaled $8,993, so an error occurred either in calculation or in recording. The walls of the first floor were to be of cut stone and be two and one-half feet thick. The brickwork for the outside walls of the second story were to be composed of the best hard common brick well laid in g There was a provision for a jail on its ground floor and the court room above.

Again in 1916 a need developed for a new court house. On May 24, 1917, a contract was let to Prescott Construction Company at the sum of $67,133 for repairs to Court House and jail. Plumbing, heating and gas piping contract was let to James P. Burke on the same date. The commissioners of said Court were P.S. Fisher and J.M. Harpold. Extras and additions were made to the above amounts. L.J. Dean was the architect. At a meeting of the Court on July 10, 1917, it was ordered that the court house cannot be occupied and ordered that the Court from this date use the lower hall of the I.O.O.F. building as a place of holding Circuit and County Courts. It was rented from Herbert Skeen and W.F. Boggess.

On September 20,1919, an agreement was entered into between the County Court and Fred Warnecke of Parkersburg for $1.100, to decorate and paint the new court house. Two portraits of Lincoln and Washington in the Court Room were to be painted in oil colors. The other paintings were to be in water colors in the residue of the building. Although the date of 1918 appears on the front of the court house, the new building was not completed until 1920. On March 9, 1920, the County Court of Jackson County ordered that the place for holding Circuit and County Courts for the county be changed from the lower hall of the I.O.O.F. building, and known as the "Opera House," to the new court house erected by the Prescott Construction Company. This building is still in use. An addition was built in 1961 at a cost of $350,000.

Although the General Assembly of Virginia had appointed five "gentlemen" from other counties to select "impartially" a site for the Seat of Justice, this effort did not prevent friction which lasted for more than 50 years. The official records of the 1831 Court do not show the extent of the conflicting opinions concerning the selection of the site of the Seat of Justice. John Warth and other large landholders on the Ohio River wanted it in that area. Warth was a man of prominence and wealth. In 1831 he and other Ohio River farmers made an effort to change the location of the county seat. The less prosperous settlers, living in the interior of the county, were successful in keeping the original site. In 1838 Henry Fitzhugh, a large landholder at what is now Ravenswood, made an effort to relocate the Court House, but this too failed. In 1886, 54 years after Ripley was selected as the county seat, a proposal to move the Court House to Ravenswood was placed on the ballot of the November 2nd general election. This proposal was defeated by a vote of 2, 593 to 459. Two years later, in 1888, the railroad reached Ripley and overcame the town's isolation from the Ohio River area of the county.

Submitted by Genevieve Starcher and Mabel Chapman, transcribed by Toni Rodgers

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