Lenawee County Michigan Court House Fire

Plus additional information on the county courthouse

From the Michigan Expositor, Adrian, Michigan, dated March4, 1852.


Lenawee County Court House in Ruins!!

About four o'clock on Sunday morning our citizens wereawakened by the alarm of "Fire", and it was soonascertained that or noble Court House was in flames. Whenwe arrive at the spot, the flames were already bursting outof the south windows of the County Clerk's Office. Ourenergetic Fire Companies were soon on hand, but as therewas no water except in a common cistern in the jail yard,that was soon exhasuted with one Engine, No.2, and then No.1 supplied them with water from the reservoir on Broad St.,and as but one stream could be thrown upon the fire, it wasof little avail to save the building.

The entire contents of the Registrar's Office are saved,also the Safe, and most of the Books, and papers of theTreasurer's Office; but the Books, Papers, Records, andeverything connected with the County Clerk's Office areentriely destroyed, save a few half burnt Books, saved fromthe ruins.

The building was built in '38 and '39 at an expense of$19,000, and is insured, we understand, in the Aetna Co.,for $4,000.

The fire originated in the Clerk's Office, and was withoutdoubt the work of an incendiary; as no fire had been in theroom for two days previous, the Clerk being absent; and weare told that auger chips were found under the window wherethe flames first broke out, which were probably made inboring off the bolt which fastened the inside shutters,with which all the windows were protected; the strength ofwhich we can testify to, having helped break in one of theeast windows of the Treasurer's Office, through which thecontents of that office were saved, Safe, and all.

Had the suggestion of Geo. Crane, at the time the CourtHouse was built, been heeded, which was the Offices bearched with brick, and made fire proof, the fire would havebeen confined to the Clerk's Office, and soon extinguishedthere. We trust in the rebuilding that the supervisorswill profit by this experience.

For years, also, the supervisors have been importuned bythose who knew the value of plenty and accessible water,that the County Buildings were very unsafe for the want ofa suitable reservoir in their immediate vicinity; but notrealising the value of a well organised and well suppliedFire Department, the necessity of a few dollars expense "inthe Village" has hindered the work; and for the want of it,ten thousand dollars, save the insurance, is lost to theCounty; to say nothing of the incalculable loss of thePapers and Records of the Clerk's Office. With a goodsupply of water in the Court House yard, our Chief andAssistant Engineers say the gallant Firemen would havesaved most of the building. But you may as well expectsoldiers to win a battle without powder, as Firemen withoutwater.

But our Court House is gone; and only its bare walls andmassive columns remain to remind the former guardians ofour County Finances, that a few dollars expense in archingthe offices, or constructing a suitable reseroir, wouldhave saved it all, with only a slight damage.


Great credit is due the exertions of our Firemen and theirChief Engineer, James Berry, and his Assistance B. Hopkins;also our worthy Sheriff, Joseph R. Bennet, who was alwaysthickest in the fight, and to whose untiring exertions thesaving of the remains of the Clerks office depended. Webelieve "Jo" has received several "wounds in the conflict,"but never deserted his post. Our village Marshall, AndrewGage, Esq., was also on hand with his usual energy. Manyother citizens were also energetic and efficient in theirefforts in saving the Register and Treasurers offices.

LOOK TO YOUR DEEDS-We trust the narrow escape of the papersin the Register's office will be a warning to those whohave papers in that office. We are informed by theRegister that there are a large quantity of Deeds in theoffice unpaid and unrecorded. Had the papers in thatoffice been lost, one can readily see the loss to theowners.

The offices of the Register, Clerk, and Treasurer, are forthe present over Bidwell's Exchange Office.

A note from Carol Stevens.

I find the "Look to Your Deeds" article to be of mostinterest. It would seem from this that it was not at allunusual for a deed to be drawn up, signed and depositedwith the Register until a later date. Maybe the totalsales price had not been paid to the seller, maybe the newowner did not have the funds to register the deed. Itwould help to explain why we frequently find deeds recordedmonths, even years after the event, and after we know ourancestors had lived in the county.

Thanks Carol for this information.


Data taken from article that appeared March 8, 1962 in the Adrian DailyTelegram, Adrian, Lenawee County, Michigan.

"The majestic old building was built in 1884 for a total cost of $49,984.And it took workmen only 12 months to erect the structure with all itsintricate stone work and high dome.

The board of supervisors appropriated $50,000 for the building and had just$16 left in the fund.

The court house was built by Allen and VanTassell of Ionia. There wereabout ten bidders from as far away as Big Rapids. The low bidder, VickVass, did not appear at the opening of the bids and his whereabouts wereunknown.

There were only two bidders from Adrian. James Donough bid $53,000 and Beckand Vogt bid $55,000. The unknown Vick Vass was low bidder at $43,500.Allen and VanTassel's base bid was second low at $47,460.

A report of the building committee to the board indicated that the builderdid not fare so well on the project. Committee Chariman Ira Swaneyreported, "From the statements furnished your committee by the builders asrequired by the contract, it appears that they have suffered a loss of$8,375.54 on the construction of the building".

Serving on the committee with Mr. Swaney were Thomas W. Hunter, AlfredJames, Horace Holdridge and William M. Corbet.

When county offices were moved into the building in November 1885, it wasthe first time in 33 years the county had had a court house. The originalcourthouse built after the legislature removed the county seat from Tecumsehbecause of the geographical location, was erected at the corner of Front andClinton streets in 1837. Part of the land for the building was donated tothe county by Addison J. Comstock and his wife, Sarah J. Comstock.

The first courthouse cost $10,000. The building was destroyed by fire March14, 1852, and burned with it were many of the county records. The recordsof the register of deeds, however, were saved. The deeds and mortgages werestored in a safe. The safe fell through the first floor to the basement butprotected the documents from the flames. A courthouse ledger read "TheLenawee county court house was burned about 4 a.m. Sunday by some ï¿œunhungscoundrel'."

After the original court house burned, county offices were housed in aone-story brick building erected the same year on the southeast corner ofthe present court house block.

Until the new court house was built Circuit court was held in several otherbuildings in Adrian. Some were in the Oddfellows Hall, the third floor ofthe Underwood block and Dean's Opera House."

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