J. M. Gould Oration
Mr. Chairman, Friends and Fellow Citizens; Having been informed that the board of supervisors had requested that the ceremony and laying of the corner stone of the new court house should be by the Old Settlers’ Association of the county, and that I had been requested to make some remarks upon the occasion, I deem it will be proper to do so in a sort of historical line, and will say that I will not trespass upon your time with a long harangue. This county was in early times a part of the present County of Pike, which extended north to the state line; afterwards embraced in what is now Jo Daviess County. The first court in this county was held in a log house, as I am informed, located near where the residence of Hon. Benjamin T. Cable stands, the town being named Stephenson. On the 18th day of November, 1848, I arrived in the village of Moline, to become a resident of the county, being a member of the firm of Deere, Tate & Gould, for manufacturing farming implements, Messrs. Deere & Tate being the practical members. My department was the financial. I opened and kept the first set of account books, by double entry, in the county, learning at the time that the system was not used in Scott. County, Iowa. We did not have any banking facilities in either of the three towns. Cook & Sargent, of Davenport, occasionally, could sell us bills of exchange upon St. Louis, and sometimes New York, but not often upon the latter named city. Our business away from here was generally with St. Louis, as our only transportation facilities, except by wagon to Chicago, were by the river. Our remittances were usually made in the season of navigation by the captains or clerks of the steamboats. There were no regular paydays for our employes, and we seldom paid much money to them, except upon final settlement, when they were either discharged or resigned. We gave orders upon merchants with whom we could arrange for credit, in the three towns for such goods as were needed, and usually boarded our single men with parties whom we could supply, in our dealings with farmers, such articles as they could use, namely: vegetables, meat, fuel, etc. We had a daily mail coach to and from Chicago and St. Louis, which, in the winter, was the only means of public communication with other towns. Letters for Chicago and St. Louis were sent by stage, which followed the river to Albany, then via Union Grove, now Morrison, Dixon and thence for St. Louis via Peoria and zigzag to destination, requiring from five to seven days to get replies to their letters sent to St. Louis, and four or five days to Chicago. At that time, and until about 1850 to 1853, there were four saw mills, one grist and one merchant flouring mill, one foundry and machine shop, and one woodenware factory in Moline; one boat yard and marine ways, and one saw mill in Rock Island. Davenport had no manufacturing industry, I think, until about 1854. Previous to 1849 the county business in every county in the state was transacted by a board of county commissioners composed of three members, and on account of the prevailing custom of not providing by a proper assessment of taxation to pay claims against this county the warrants were from 10 to 45 and 50 per cent below par; the discount being based upon the proximity to, or from the time, they could be used in payment of taxes, and I think that every other county’s finances were about in the same condition. At one session, the records of which I saw, and probably the same was true of others of the board, claims were allowed merchants for supplies for paupers and for other purposes. Probably claimants in making prices for such supplies, included a high profit, knowing warrants would be issued upon a treasury that had no funds, and in addition persuaded the board to add one hundred per cent to the claim, and then inserted these words : “Double for depreciation of county orders, and a warrant for twice the sum issued.” Under the revised constitution of 1848, the law abolishing the county commissioners’ court, and creating what was termed a county court in 1849, with one county judge and two associate justices of the peace, was enacted. At the first election under the new law, John W. Spencer was first judge, and Thomas J. Robinson and James Weaver-ling associates, were elected; the three persons, at regular quarterly sessions of the board in December, March, June and September in each year, and at as many special sessions as were necessary, attended to all the county business, the same as is now transacted by our board of supervisors; the probate matters were adjudicated by the county judge at twelve sessions, upon the third Monday at each quarter, and the first Monday of the other eight months, holding each session as long as circumstances required and special sessions if needed; the fees were $2.50 each per day for actual time spent for the county. Judge Spencer resigned at the end of three years, and William Bailey was elected to serve the, remainder of the term. In Nov-ember, 1853, I was elected county judge. George E. Holmes, of Port Byron, and John Kistler, of Buffalo Prairie, were my associates -two gentlemen several years my seniors. We accepted the offices and qualified. I think it was at our first session for business-if not the first it was not later than the second-which was in the southwest corner room of the present court house, then occupied by the county clerk, and, I think, was the sheriff’s quarters also. The next room north was the county assessor’s and treasurer’s office; the southeast corner room, which was one-half of the present super_ visor’s room, was occupied by the circuit clerk and ex-officio recorder, who was Major Frazier Wilson; the next room north, upon the east side, was rented to George W. Pleasants (now Judge Pleasants) and Henderson, lawyers. We discovered that the records of the county were in a very unsafe condition respecting the risk of fire, all being in wooden cases in the rooms named, and concluded that the matter was of so much importance that a building must be erected which would be nearly fireproof, and having only a very poor substitute of a jail, would combine the two departments under one roof. We had no money and county warrants were so much below par that it was utterly impossible to use them, and the only course to pursue was to get a special law passed, which could be done at that period, permitting the issue of bonds for $20,000 which we succeeded in accomplishing and sold them at par as they bore interest at ten per cent. We procured the erection of the present jail with several offices. Now we have come to our court house beautiful, or at least the foundation.
Source: Historic Rock Island County, pub. Kramer & Company, Rock Island, Illinois, 1908