The new Justice Center annex in Rock Island County to replace the old courthouse is finally open.
From my (admittedly limited) experience of the annex, it looks very nice, and I look forward to practicing in the facility. I also will, sentimentally, miss the old courthouse, though it was aging and the county needed an upgrade in some form.
Before the transition, Rock Island had found itself in the unique (and less than ideal) situation of having both its state and federal courthouses in significant disrepair.
We appear to have at least interim fixes for both problems. But this is an interesting time to reflect on how government buildings, often haphazardly, come to exist.
The two main counties in the Quad-Cities are prime examples. My last column detailed the strange process by which Davenport became the seat of Scott County; the first Scott County courthouse was built hastily after three referenda, at least two of which likely tainted by voter fraud, established Davenport over Rockingham.
Rock Island County’s first courthouse was literally the home of a resident named John Barrell in a town called Farnhamsburg; a proper courthouse was later built in neighboring Stephenson (both towns are now part of Rock Island).
Early in county history, the county board ordered the sheriff to allow various Christian congregations to use the courtroom for services on Sundays before they had churches!
Nor are the anecdotes limited to courthouses.
The first Illinois state capitol was at Kaskaskia in southern Illinois; the capitol building was a two-story structure leased by the state from a local landlord rather than owned outright.
Kaskaskia became quickly inappropriate. It has flooded multiple times, which destroyed the town and actually changed the flow of the Mississippi River — Kaskaskia is now the only Illinois city located west of the Mississippi.
The capital was later shifted to Vandalia, which again became unsuitable because of its location. Although a statewide referendum settled on Alton for the new capital, the Legislature ignored this.
The citizens of Vandalia then built an extravagant new capitol building in 1836 to try to keep the state government there. The legislators went to the new building and promptly moved to Springfield the next year; they moved into the current capitol in 1876.
The first Springfield capitol building became the Sangamon County courthouse and is now a museum.
Iowa has its own strange stories of government buildings. The Iowa state government was in a temporary structure for 30 years while the current capitol was being built; an 1886 audit delivered on completion showed that, of the nearly $3 million spent to build the building, only $3.77 was unaccounted for (especially remarkable in those times of rampant corruption).
Iowa courthouses likewise feature interesting stories. Lee County has courthouses in two cities, Fort Madison and Keokuk. Mitchell County’s courthouse, in Osage, was completed in 1858, but the final determination of Osage as the county seat was not made until 1870.
And Dubuque’s courthouse was originally topped by 12 statues, but according to the court website, six have “mysteriously disappeared.”
So the strangeness of our government buildings, though perhaps extreme in the case of Rock Island, is nothing particularly unusual. These stories give our area heritage, and we shouldn’t feel all that embarrassed.
However, there is one place with a story that tops any of ours. Massac County in Southern Illinois has a county seat called Metropolis.
Next to that courthouse is a statue, not of a president or a general, but of Superman. For my money, that makes it the most interesting courthouse anywhere.