Rock Island County Court House
As attractive, perhaps, as any court house in the states and more remarkable in architecture by far than many, is the handsome county building of Rock Island. Stately and inviting for business, this edifice stands a monument to the progressive spirit of the people, who, keeping pace with the advancement of the times, put it there. Way back in 1826 a small but well designed building known as “John Barrel’s house,” enclosed within its walls the first gathering of men to transact Rock Island County business. That house stood in Farnhamsburg and besides being the first county court house, served as post office and hotel. The first jail was built in 1836-then the city was the town of Stephenson. John W. Spencer in October, 1835, was awarded the contract to build this jail, which was originally a hewed log building, two stories high and twenty-two feet square. The brick portion of the structure, afterward added, was built by Daniel Doty in 1839. It stood on lot No. 5 in block No. 15 in the old town until it was sold to a German, who converted the brick portion into a residence. It was in this building that the murderers of Colonel Davenport were confined, and from which they were led forth to expiate their crimes upon the gallows on the morning of October 29th, 1845. Birch and Baxter were also confined there; the former took a change of venue to Warren County where he broke jail and escaped. Baxter escaped the gallows on the grounds of having no willful intention to take the life of his benefactor; for while he laid the plot for the robbery of Colonel Davenport’s house, and planned with the robbers to be ready to enter it on that memorable Fourth of July, he did it thinking that the house would be unoccupied. But in that he was disappointed; all the family had gone to the celebration excepting the colonel. When the robbers entered, they unexpectedly found him in the house and to make sure of escaping with their plunder, murdered him. Baxter was sentenced to the penitentiary for life but was afterwards parolled on the promise that he would leave this part of the country. The present jail was built in 1857 at an initial cost of $60,000. Additions of note have since been added. Until this date, 1857, the jail building contained besides the sheriff’s office and residence, the offices of circuit clerk, recorder, and the county clerk. A contact with Jonah H. Case to furnish 200,000 bricks at eight dollars a thousand, was the first step toward the erection of the then, new court house. That was in April, 1836. In June the contract for the building was let to Samuel Smith for $10,500, to be completed December 1, 1837. The building, a square brick structure, was of two stories with a central cupola. It stood on the square reserved for that purpose when the town was mapped out and on the land of the present temple of justice. Immediately after the jail fire in 1882, the people began to agitate a new court house. In January 1883, the board of supervisors decided to erect an office building of sufficient capacity for the offices of county judge, circuit clerk, and county clerk; consequently, a contract was made with S. J. Collins for a one-story brick building, situate on the south-east corner of court house square, at a cost of about $13,000, the building being completed during the year. During the time of its construction, office room was obtained in the old court house, and improvised space in the jail building. As Rock Island County grew it was soon apparent that extensive improvements and additions to the court house would be necessary. This rehabilitation would have cost the county so much money that it seemed to the wise men quite the wrong thing to do, but rather appeal to the people to decide at the polls whether or not it was their desire to bear the expense of a new and modern building. Supervisor Joseph Fitzpatrick of Milan championed the movement. He introduced a resolution at the April term, 1893, calling for a committee to investigate the needs of the county and the probable cost of a new court house, to report to the board at the July meeting, with recommendations as to the time and money necessary to erect such a court house as would compare with the wealth and progress of the county. This committee composed of Supervisor Joseph Fitzpatrick, A. F. Vinton, James G. Britton and Conrad Schneider made a favor-able report and thought $125,000 would be about the right amount. An election was held November 6, 1894, and the proposition to issue bonds to the amount of $125,000 was carried by tie following vote: For the proposition to issue bonds, 3,913; against proposition, 2,174; majority for said proposition, 1,739 . Accordingly the contract was let, Charles J. Larkin winning.. Work on the foundation commenced June 26, 1895, and October 1, 1896 the corner stone was laid. The arrangements being in charge of the Old Settlers’ Association. The following men constituted the Court House Committee: Charles L. Walker, chair-man; Phil Mitchell, Hon. William Jackson, John Ohlweiler, T. S. Silvis, (deceased), Hon. Charles J. Searle, H. P. Simpson, William McEniry, J. F. Robinson, (deceased), C. F. Lynde, S. J. Collins, S. S. Hull, Hon E. E. Parmenter, (deceased), W. P. Quayle, (deceased). After the formal notice was made, the following orations were delivered by Edward D. Sweeney, C. J. Searle and Judge J. M. Gould at the laying of the corner stone of the new court house, October 1, 1896.
Source: Historic Rock Island County, pub. Kramer & Company, Rock Island, Illinois, 1908