Village Hall as a Building
- Created: Tuesday, 12 August 2008 18:33
- Last Updated: Monday, 11 April 2011 12:00
- Written by Gerry Pilgrim, Village Historian
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(Note: The following is taken from John Raitt’s book “Delaware County and The Three Courthouses” published under the auspices of the Delaware County Board of Supervisors, 1991.)
The “Wooden” (Second) Courthouse
Both the wooden (second) Courthouse and the first separate jail building of Delaware County are still standing in the Village of Delhi but not on the Courthouse Square and have different usage. Both structures were moved and considerably altered in appearance when the present brick Courthouse and Jail were built.
The Jail, purchased by Minor Stilson, was moved to Second Street in 1856 and became the double house at number 30 and 32. The wooden Courthouse was purchased from the Village of Delhi and moved to the rear of the present County Clerk's office in 1869. It was converted into a Village Hall with rooms beneath for the Delhi Fire Department's apparatus. Tall cupolas were removed from both buildings and the new Village Hall had a tall tower and about 10 foot section added to the left side. This made a new entrance way plus two staircases leading to the upper floor. A triangular section of the roof line along the original face of the building which capped four long pillars is still intact.
To look at the Village Hall today and picture the Courthouse, one would have to erase the basement and lower the second story to near ground level, removed the center window making it an entrance way door with two long pillars on either side. A pillar of like design would be placed at each front corner of the building. The two long windows at either side of the entrance would have small glass panes, 12 over 12. A false front along the roof line, to about the height of the triangular section would give the building the appearance of extra height. A tall domed cupola would rise from the center of the roof. There was also a tall cupola on the old jail. The five long upper story windows were 12 over 12 and all front windows had wooden shutters attached and closeable.
To describe the interior of the old Courthouse is a little more difficult. When alterations were made, the editor of "The Delaware Gazette" described the second floor (the former ground floor) this way, "The former Grand Jury room and a small room in the rear are thrown into one, set apart for the Fire Department, and is reached by flights of stairs from the lower room or by the hall leading from the main entrance. The room was formerly occupied by the County Judge, for the use of the Board of Trustees of the Village. The old hall was left as formerly as far as the old stairway ... the other rooms in this floor have been fitted up for the use of the janitor ... "
The top story or main hall was the entire size of the old building with a stage being a part of the new addition. Just where the old stairway entered this main hall (or Court room) we do not know, but it was noted that the seats for the hall were designed to be of the same style as those in use in the new Courthouse.
Use of the Old Courthouse
When the second Courthouse was built in 1820, it gave the Village of Delhi a building of sufficient seating capacity for many functions and events that other buildings could not offer. Thus a variety of programs were held here.
It would be nearly a decade later before a church building would be erected in Delhi. The only nearby churches were the "Scotch" Associated Presbyterian Church on the flats, site of the Delhi Tech golf course, built in 1811 and a Christian Church at East Delhi (Fitches Bridge) erected in 1822. (The present church building in that locality was erected in 1860.)
The Parish of St. John's was formed in 1819 by the Rector of St. Peter's Church (Episcopal), in Hobart. He had conducted occasional services at the old Courthouse and would continue sporadically until 1830 when the St. John's Church was built, the first church in Delhi Village. He was probably responsible for having the Rt. Rev. Bishop Hobart of New York perform Divine Services at this Courthouse on the 12th of August, 1821. This was the Bishop for whom the Village of Hobart took its name, changing from Waterville. Three weeks later the congregation of St. John's met at the Courthouse to choose Wardens and Vestrymen.
Other ministers preached at Sunday services in the Courthouse but, unless they were from outside the area, "The Delaware Gazelle" rarely advertised the service. The Rev. Ebenezer K. Maxwell, Pastor of the Scotch Presbyterian Church, often conducted an afternoon service in the Courthouse. On the margins of the scores of his preserved sermons now at First Church or the Delaware County Historical Association library, he noted the times he preached the sermon and where. He was at the Courthouse sometimes during each year from 1823 to 1829; for example, 11 times in 1823, 18 in 1824, 16 in 1827 and 19 times in 1828. One sermon notes, "May 10, 1829, last time at the Courthouse." These times were all in addition to his preaching at the Flats Church.
"The Delaware Gazette" also noted funerals of several prominent citizens held at the Courthouse. In August, 1822, the funeral of a former hotel keeper, Jesse C. Gilbert was held at the Courthouse. Others included Nathaniel Steele in August, 1823; Mrs. Isaac Hathaway in May, 1825; Sheldon Finney in July, 1826; Mrs. Whitmarsh in November, 1826; James Davie in March, 1832; and Dr. Vermilyea in November, 1830.
Several organizations met at the Courthouse. Some held regular meetings, others an annual gathering. These included the Medical Society of the County of Delaware, the Delaware Bible Society, the Delhi Forum, the County Geological Society, and at times a New Year's Eve Watch night service.
During the 50 years the building was used as a Courthouse, a great many concerts and entertainments took place there. These included Band Concerts, lectures, and singing and musical groups. Some noted were the Eddy Family, the Peak Family Bell Ringers, the Beethoven Band, Blind vocalists, Swiss Bell Ringers, as well as railroad conventions and 4th of July celebrations.
Trials in the Second Courthouse
Although there were several trials, including murder trials, during the half century of the second Courthouse, there were no hangings of convicted murderers. Still two men received the death sentence in this Courthouse and many were sent to State Prisons.
One year after the Courthouse was built, in July, 1821, a Breach of Promise suit was tried there. A school teacher named Henry Newell had courted Jerusha Foot during the time he taught the district school where she resided. He promised marriage and refuted that promise two or three times, even after it became apparent that she was pregnant. Finally a marriage date was agreed upon but he left the area the day before the ceremony. He was brought back and the case tried before Justice VanNess, and an astonishing verdict of $3,000 for the plaintiff resulted. "The Delaware Gazette" called it a sorry affair and hoped that there would never be another such case tried in Delaware County.
Eleven years later, in October, 1832, the Courthouse was invaded by one hundred and twelve veterans of the American Revolution, as they presented their pension claims for military service. Present to assist these old soldiers was Congressman Erastus Root, who was instrumental in getting the pension act through Congress. At noon the Courthouse bell was rung to summon them to form a line on the square to march to a nearby hotel for a free dinner.
In 1858 three trials at the Courthouse ended with a verdict of guilty and a sentence of seven years for each in State Prison. John Heagney was tried in August for the murder of his wife at Hobart, and in December Henry Franklin and a man named Woodvine were both convicted of arson.
During September, 1869, after this old Courthouse was sold but before the new one was built, Elisha B. Fero was tried for murder. However, the jury did not believe all the testimony and a verdict of "Not guilty" gave Mr. Fero his freedom.
We have purposely passed over the busiest time that the Courthouse ever experienced. This busy time occurred during the summer of 1845 [as the result of the shooting death of Osman N. Steele, the undersheriff of Delaware County at the Andes confrontation during the afore mentioned Anti-Rent War – gp]. Wholesale arrests had led to 242 indictments handed down, some for murder, others for violation of a state law. To accommodate the large number of prisoners, it became necessary to erect two large log pens in the rear of the Courthouse and Jail.
The trials could have lasted many, many weeks had not a lot of the prisoners, following some severe sentencing, accepted a guilty plea and were fined various amounts for their actions. As it was, two men, -Edward 0 'Connor and John VanSteenburgh, were sentenced to be hanged. Five others were given life sentences and thirteen, ten years imprisonment.
A short time later Governor Wright commuted the hanging sentence of the two men to that of life imprisonment. In 1847 the newly elected Governor Young, acting on the request of "More than eleven thousand petitioners," pardoned all of the Anti-renters who were convicted and in prison. There was much rejoicing when the men returned home as heroes and martyrs.
By 1870 the old wooden Courthouse was giving way for a new, modern brick Courthouse.
Talk About a New Courthouse
It was as early as the December, 1859, meeting of the Delaware County Board of Supervisors that the board became interested in improving the appearance of the Courthouse Square. The men wanted the old academy building renovated. In 1856 a new Delaware Academy had been erected on the heights at the southern end of the village of Delhi above what became the Brookside playground.
One year later a petition was presented by Mr. Alexander B. Douglas of Andes on behalf of Charles Hathaway asking for an extension of four years from that date, for the removal of the old Academy. The extension period was granted.
At the same time Mr. Devereaux moved that the Sheriff be appointed to make repairs to the existing Courthouse, under the direction of the Committee on the Courthouse and Jail. The cost was not to exceed $150.
Then followed considerable discussion relative to the "unsafe and dilapidated condition of the present Court House, its inadequate capacity for the business of the county, etc…" [They were referring to the wooden Court House, the present Delhi Village Hall.]
Mr. Douglas offered the following Resolution:
"Resolved, that in the opinion of this Board the present Court House is unsuitable and inadequate for the purpose for which such a building was designated: that from such unsuitableness and its dilapidated condition good economy requires that a new Court House should be built with all reasonable dispatch."
"Resolved, that a committee to consist of three persons to serve without pay, be appointed for such new Court House, to be constructed of wood, with such modern improvements as to heating and ventilation as may be necessary and proper, to ascertain what sum of money can be obtained for the present Court House, and the probable cost of the new one, and the probable length of time required for the economical construction thereof, and whether the same should be built by contract..."
A vote was then taken on the resolutions, but it lost by a large margin of 14 to 4.
A subsequent motion was carried to appropriate the sum of $25 to repair the County Clerk's office and $10 for repairs on the jail.
With the old Academy still standing on the Square and not being used as a school, Mr. Harvey David offered a resolution in 1861 requiring C. Hathaway to pay $30 a year rent for the land on which it stood. Action was postponed until the next day's session at which time Mr. Bowne moved the resolution be indefinitely postponed. The motion carried.
The next year, 1862, the Board of Supervisors became involved in planning for and appointing a committee to prepare specifications for the erection of a County Poor House, but no mention of a new Courthouse. Why?
The reason is relatively easy to understand. One year earlier, the whole nation was plunged into a violent Civil War and, for the ensuing four years, the war held center stage. Other projects such as the proposed new Courthouse were sidetracked. Perhaps it was fortunate as the original resolution called for a new wooden building and not a stone and brick structure which was finally erected.
After The Civil War
Although we tend to associate General Robert E. Lee' surrender to Union General U.S. Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 6, 1865, as the end of the Civil War, the final surrender of a Conf d rat Army in the field did not occur until May 26, 1865.
At the Delaware County Board of Supervisors' m tin in December, 1866, the inadequacy of the old wooden Courthouse again surfaced. The following was presented to the meeting:
"Resolved, That a committee of five, outside of the members of this Board, be appointed to take into consideration, the matter of the Court House in this county, and report at the next annual meeting of the Board of Supervisors, of the County, whether this courthouse can be enlarged and substantially repaired and improved so as to make it a suitable Court House for said County and what the cost of such repairs and enlargement would probably be, and if such enlargement, repairs and improvement cannot be made, so as to make this a suitable Court House, the propriety of building a new one, and the probable cost thereof."
The resolution passed but the committee names were not immediately announced. Later it was learned that the committee was composed of Robert Murray, Bryon H. Burgin, James Dickson, P. H. Beardsley and William A. TenBroeck. They in turn reported to the Board at the November, 1867, meeting as being in favor of a new building. They estimated that a suitable structure could be erected of stone and brick for about $30,000.
At this November, 1867, meeting an offer was received from the Town of Walton to build a new Courthouse if the board would have it erected in the Village of Walton. [It is well to remember that at this period in time, the Delaware County Board of Supervisors met only once a year for an annual meeting. They came to Delhi for a part of one or two weeks in November and/or December, staying at local hotels until the year's business was complete. It was an exception and not the rule when a spring meeting was necessary.]
The Town of Delhi was not about to give up the County Seat to a neighboring village and succeeded in having an Act of the New York State Legislature passed on April 24, 1868, entitled, "An Act to enable the Town of Delhi, Delaware County, to aid in the construction of a Court House, in said town." This state action was followed by a special town meeting held on May 12, 1868, to vote on whether to permit the town to levy and collect $10,000 from the taxable property of the town, such sum to be paid toward a new Courthouse to be built on the site of the old one. The vote tally was 226 for and 82 against such taxation.
This action of the Town of Delhi was to come before the Board at their annual meeting in November.
What to Do With the Old Courthouse?
The offer of the Town of Delhi to pay the sum of $10,000 toward a new Courthouse was approved by the supervisors at their November, 1868, meeting. Also at the same time it was approved to assess $10,000 on the taxable property of the county in the year 1869 and a like sum on the following year.
To carry out the above resolution, the board elected three Commissioners, namely: Gabriel S. Mead of Walton, Charles Hathaway of Delhi, and William B. Dowie of Andes. The resolution stipulated that the new Courthouse was to be built of brick with a stone foundation and a slate roof. It also permitted the Commissioners to dispose of the old Courthouse.
In March, 1869, the following advertisement appeared in several area newspapers. "NOTICE - the undersigned Commissioners appointed to erect a new Court House in Delhi village for the County of Delaware, will sell the old Court House at auction on the public square, on Monday the 29th day of March, instant; at two 0 'clock in the afternoon, subject to the conditions of its removal from the square within such time as shall be indicated by the Commissioners, at the sale, subject also to the reservation of the use of so much of the building as shall be essential for the Courts during the time of their sitting - also of rooms for the Judges' and Surrogates' offices, until the necessary accommodations shall be furnished in the new building.
Dated March 28, 1869 Charles Hathaway, Gabriel S. Mead,
Wm. B. Dowie, Commissioners."
One week later the building was sold to J. Palmer, Esq. at the bid of $605.00. Newspapers reported that there was some spirited bidding at first but probably the necessity of removal of the building from the square and the difficulty of finding nearby vacant property upon which to locate the structure limited the bidding. Mr. Palmer, an attorney, bid it in for the Village of Delhi, and the rumor was that it would be converted into a Town Hall with rooms for the Fire Department and their apparatus. John A. Hutson received $3.00 in cash for his services as auctioneer.
Some local news items seemed to indicate that the old building site was a rather dangerous place to visit. In February, James Loughran of Harpersfield was attending court at Delhi. As he came out of the Courthouse, he slipped on the steps, fell and broke a leg. About two months later, Hon. William Murray, Jr. of Delhi, on a Wednesday evening, was attending to some business in the Courthouse. When he left, he forgot that the steps had been removed and he walked off into an excavation. By his fall both bones of one leg were broken just below the knee. Steps or no steps, caution should have been the word. No doubt darkness was a contributing factor in at least one instance.
In the May 4, 1869 issue of "The Delaware Gazelle" a short news item appeared. "The old Court House has been removed."
It was moved to the area at the rear of the present Courthouse and County Clerk's office but not as far back as it stands today. I have also found a reference to the fact that Bryon H. Burgin, of Meredith, a member of the original committee of five, removed from the public square both the old Courthouse and the Academy building. Just when the Academy was moved I have not ascertained, but it was moved across what was to become Court Street to the site of the present brick Delhi Post Office.
(End of John Raitt stuff. Gp)
The Old “Wooden” Courthouse Today
In 1948 the old wooden Courthouse took its final ride to its current location farther up Court Street. It is believed that the primary purpose of the move was so that the intersections of Second, Court, and Church Streets became an orthogonal intersection. And there the proud old building sets today.
During its years of service to the Village, the old building has served many functions. The Village continues to main the offices of the Mayor and Village Clerk on the second floor of the meeting. A Village Boardroom also exists on the second floor.
Up until the last decade, the third or top floor has functioned primarily as a Village gather place. This big room spanning the entire top floor with an elevated stage at the west end has hosted social functions including public dances and private parties. During the middle of the 20th Century the large room became the monthly meeting place for Cub Scout Pack 33 and even hosted the annual Cub Scout Blue and Gray for several years. Even thought Boy Scout Troop 35 had its own small meeting cabin on the eastern hill overlooking the village, Troop 35 used the large room for other meetings and promotion ceremonies.
During the 1950’s the village decided that the youth of the village needed a recreational facility. During that period the big old 3rd floor room was turned in a recreational center every Thursday night. A jukebox was installed and played continuously during the few hours the center was open on Thursday. One evening in 1956 the center “rocked” all evening long to the tune of “The Green Door” recorded by Jim Lowe with instrumental backup by songwriter Bob Davie’s orchestra! As the tune played over, and over, and over, the local teenagers attempted to master the rock and rolls dance steps seen daily on the TV show out of Philadelphia, “Dick Clark’s American Bandstand.” Some mastered the steps; other did not do so well!
As a recreation center, the room was equipped with a pool table, ping pong table, and a collection of card table with playing card and board game. Some evening as many as 40 local teenagers, along with kids from the surrounding areas of Meridale, Hamden, Delancey, and Bovina, could be found enjoying the their evening. The annual ping pong and pool tournaments were the highlight of the youth center year.
Eventually the local Town Court took over the third floor. Judges and counselor rooms were created along with an appropriate judge’s bench, witness stand, and attorney’s tables. The Town Court remained until 2008 when it was determined that the old building was not structurally sound enough to handle the personnel load from the court. At that time the village Police office became the latest tenants of the 3rd floor.
Today The Delhi Village Hall continues to nobly serve the citizens of Delhi. All Village offices are in the building and monthly meeting of the Village Board of Trustees and Planning Commissions are held in the Boardroom.