Waterloo and Ovid Court Houses, Seneca County, NY USGenWeb Project Site

Ovid Courthouse

"Upon the organization of Seneca County on March 29, 1804, the capital was located at Ovid Village, sometimes cal1ed Verona, on Military Lot No.3 and near the north line of the Town of Ovid. Here on June 16, 1806, the day of the great eclipse, was raised the frame for the first Court-house in Seneca County, upon the site of the present county buildings, and for a period of forty years justice was administered within its walls by the pioneer Judges whose names have become a part of the early history of western New-York. The Board of Supervisors, in October, 1804, had voted to raise $1,000 for the erection of the Court-House and Jail, to which amount, additions were made by subsequent Boards until the building was completed in 1808. John Seeley, the pioneer of Ovid Village, gave the land on March 1, 1807, "in consideration of the advantages and emoluments arising from the building of a Court-House and Goal (Jail)". Henry Montgomery, assisted by his brother, Joshua Montgomery, both of whom were residents of what is now Lodi, were the master carpenters on the building. Henry Montgomery also built the residences of Silas Halsey, Joshua Wyckoff and Jared Sandford, M.D., and erected the Reformed Church at Lodi viilage in 1825 and 1826. In February, 1817 the jail, which was contained within the Court-House, took fire but was quickly extinguished, a dreadful conflagration being narrowly averted. The Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist and Episcopal societies held occasional religious services in the court room, which was also used at various times for school purposes, and political, temperance, and misical gatherings. As early as September, 1821, a second erm of grammar school was being conducted by Joseph H. Hull. On General Training Days of the Militia, the green in front of the Court-House was resplendant with all the "pomp and "ircuinstance of war". Here also was the public whipping post, and nearby were erected the gallows in 1811, upon which John Andrews was hanged for the murder of an assistant in a distillery
. Prior to the erection of the original Court-House, and upon the formation of Seneca County, Cornelius Humphrey (Grover Smith and John Sayre were appointed Judges and Justices of the Peace, with Jonas Whiting, James Van Horn, Asa Smith and Benajah Boardman as Assistant Justices. The first court in Seneca County was held in the house of John Seeley in this village, and there court was held almost continuously until May, 1807. In October, 1807, was proposed to convene the court in the new Courthoose which had been erected in Ovid Village, but when the time arrived the building had not been completed and the court continued to sit at the house of John Seeley until late the following spring. On the first Tuesday in May, 1808, the first court was held in the Court-House. Judge Cornelius Humphrey presided, and upon the bench with him were Grover Smith, John Sayre and Benjamin Pelton. Judge Humphrey, who served as First Judge until 1809 was one of the distinguished men of his day. He was a Colonel in the Revolutionary War, a member of the Second Continental Congress, and a representative from Dutchess County in both the Senate and Assembly of this state. Removing to what is now Seneca County about 1801, he located in the Town of Ulysses, and represented this county in the State Assembly in 1806 and 1807. The list of County Judges since 1804, with the years of their election or appointment, is composed of the folowing. viz: Cornelius Humphrey in 1804, Benjamin Pelton in 1809, Oliver C. Comstock in 1812, John King in 1815, John McLean, Jun. in 1818, Luther F. Stevens in 1823, Jesse Clark in 1833, James K. Richardson in 1847, John E. Seeley in 1851, Sterling G. Hadley in 1855, George W. Franklin in 1859, Josiah T. Miller in 1863, George W. Franklin in 1867, Gilbert Wilcoxen in 1871, George W. Franklin in 1877, Peter H. VanAuken in 1883, and William C. Hazelton in 1889. Surrogates until 1846 (after which time their duties were performed by the County Judge), with the years of their appointment, viz: Jared Sandford in 1804, John Sayre in 1811, Jared Sandford in 1813, William Thompson in 1815, Luther F. Stevens in 1819, William Thompson in 1821, Samuel Birdsall in 1827, Jehiel Halsey in 1837, and John Morgan in 1843. John Maynard in 1836, Joseph Herron in 1843, David Herron in 1847 and in 1853, William C. Hazelton in 1862, in 1868, and in 1880, and Francis C. Allen in 1886, all served as District Attorneys, were from Ovid Village, and either appointed or elected in the years preceding their names. The territory of Seneca County was greatly reduced in 1817 with the formation of Tompkins County southerly from the present south line of the Town of Ovid, placing Waterloo in the approximate centre of the county. The courts were removed from Ovid and Waterloo became the shire village. This movement proved a check to Ovid Village and raised sectional feeling. Applications were soon made to the State Legislature for the return of the Town of Covert (which then also included the present Town of Lodi) to Seneca County, and to make Ovid Village a half-shire. The Town of Covert was reannexed in April, 1819, and three years later Ovid Village became the half-shire, during a movement to once again carve the county,-this time taking off the northern Towns of Galen and Wolcott. This was effected with the erection of Wayne County on April 11, 1823, which left Waterloo near one end of Seneca County. The wisdom of dividing the county into two jury districts was proven, and the courts have been held alternately at Ovid Village and Waterloo ever since. Public concern over the dilapidated and unsafe condition of the original CourtHouse in this village prompted the Board of Supervisors in October, 1841, to pass a resolution to rebuild the old frame structure, followed by an appropriation of $5,000 to rebuild or repair the same ten months later. A South Jury District meeting in January, 1844, arranged an application to the State Legislature for a new Court-House in Ovid Village. Two months later the State Senate and the Board of Supervisors approved the measure, and in October the Board of Supervisors voted six to three (with one blank ballot) for the new Court-House, with an additional provision for a new fire-proof County Clerk's Office, which was built at the same time and financed by donations from the inhabitants of this village and the South Jury District.
The several proposals for furnishing the materials and erecting the new buildings were received by William Himrod, Clerk of the Board of Supervisors and on December 20, 1844, the contract was awarded to 0. S. and 0. B. Latham. Elijah Denton, Claudius C. Coan, M.D., and Clement Jones were named the committee to superintend the construction, the plans for the Court-House being drawn by Clement Jones and Sidney Grant. Brick for both buildings were made upon the farm of John B. Seeley, as were those used in the construction of the Presbyterian Church in 1856 and 1857, and in the residence of John E. Seeley, Esq. We glean from the "Ovid Bee" of October 8, 1845, that "the new Court-House has been completed and a Court of Pleas is now in session. Judge Jesse Clark is presiding, assisted by Associate Judges Ingersoll, Wheeler, and Rappleye. The County Clerk's Office, a fire-proof building, is completed and the county records have been moved into it by the County Clerk." For sixty years after, the office of the County Clerk was alternated between the half-shire villages, - the records, stoves and furniture being moved from one to the other at the close of each three year term. Ten teams of horses were required for the terennial ride. The Court-House as erected is comprised of two stories and attic, with a substantial stone jail in the cellar. Its cupola contains a fine bell, rung at the commencement of court-sessions, and manufactured at the works of Cowing & Co. in Seneca Falls; the whole, with dome, being surmounted by a weathervane taken from the original structure. The first floor is made up of the grand-jury room, Sheriff's residence, &c., while the court-room is on the second or upper floor. Within its walls justice has been administered throughout the years, - the guilty condemned to a just punishment and the innocent set free. The Dominie Garretson case in 1852 and the Prize Fight trial in 1869 and 1870, stand out as the most notorious in the annals of the South Jury District.
In this court-room the Baptists, Episcopalians, and Catholics held services, concerts have been presented and lectures and political meetings have dealt with the topics of the day. Hon. Benjamin Joy spoke on several occassions, giving a memorable temperance lecture in October, 1854. On September 30, 1857, Horace Greeley, editor of Thc New York Tribune arrived in Ovid Village, the guest of John E. Seeley, Esq., and spoke to an overflow crowd in the court-room at early candlelight. To David Dutcher, a debtor, goes the dubious distinction of being the first to escape from the jail, this feat occurring on May 20, 1846. Other jail breaks that caused grave concern were made in November, 1848; March, 1852; June, 1857 and August, 1859. On June 14, 1859, a committee was appointed by the Board of Supervisors composed of William Dunlap, Elijah Denton and John E. Seeley, Esq., commissioners to superintend the enlargement and improvement of the County Clerk's Office in Ovid Village. After due consideration, this committee on November 18, 1859. reported that the work could not be done for the sum appropriated, but that a new building could be erected for less than the appropriation, to be placed between the existing Court-House and County Clerk's Office. A contract was immediately let to Horace H. Bennett to construct the new building, which was completed in December, 1860, with the exception of putting down a marble floor and other incidentals added to the original specifications. Scarcely had the work been finished when the Civil War commenced.
Under the terms of the contract with Messrs. Latham, the original Court-House became their property upon the completion of the new brick structures in 1845. It was soon after sold and removed to a lot on the east side of Main Street, just north of Spring Brook. There it was converted into an Odd Fellows Hall and dedicated as such by the Jensequa Lodge No.160,I.0.0.F., in December, 1848. In the spring of 1861 it contained a school for girls, was later converted into a dwelling house occupied by several families, and burned as such in the fire of September 17, 1865. After the frame building gave way to the elegant brick structures on the knoll fronting Court-House Square, and in order that its surroundings might be in keeping, the green, which was at this time but a sham, - a pasture for cattle and hogs, - was graded, planted to trees and grassed. It was then surrounded by a substantial fence, and the boys forbidden its sacred precincts. A rebellion followed, ancient rights had been invaded and for a long time the Sheriff or Jailor was put to no little trouble in removing the boxes, rubbish and sometimes even small out-houses that in some mysterious manner found their way within the enclosure during the still watches of the night. But, like all rebellions, this also came to an end. In 1850 a railing was placed around the Court-House fence, for which John Ferguson was allowed $29. By 1857 complaints were received that horses tied to this railing were damaging the young shade trees that had been set out, and prompted the planting of more the following summer. On December 3, 1862, the Board of Supervisors passed a resolution that "Abram B. Slauson, Sheriff of this County, is hereby directed not to rent the Public Square in front of the Court-House in Ovid Village for a pasture lot, or to use the same himself for that purpose, whereby the trees and shrubbery may be injured, but the said Public Square shall be held open to the use of the public whenever they shall desire it for public meetings.
The Public Execution.
The first public execution in Seneca County - the hanging of John Andrews for murder - took place at the Court House in Ovid Village on Friday, September 6, 1811, before an immense concourse of people, many from very distant parts of the country, who were drawn together at the county seat on this awful occasion. At a term of the Circuit Court, held in this village during June, Judge (afterwards Governor) Joseph C. Yates presiding, John Andrews had becn convicted of the murder of John Nichols, an employee in the distillery of Andrew Dunlap, one and a half miles south-west of Ovid Village. Andrews hit his victim with a club because Nichols had refused to give him a pint of whiskey for doing a small job, and was "condemned to be executed, agreeably to his sentence, at the Court-House in Ovid Village, on the first Friday in September next." Henry Guliek (from what is now Lodi) had been appointed Deputy Sheriff under Lewis Birdsall of Junius, and assisted the Sheriff that day in the execution. Surrounded by the usual contingent of Militia and the surging crowd that had assembled from the town and surrounding countryside through the earlier circulation of handbills that had declared the unusual event as a sort of holiday, the noose was adjusted and Andrews quickly jerked into eternity. Some of the spectators had taken to the roof-tops, others were perched in nearby trees, and parents held their children high on their shoulders for a better view. No other event, save the General Trainings of Militia, called together so many people as did a hanging in those early times. Years afterwards, the stumps of the gallows were pointed out, as a spectator recalled the details of that momentous day. Some three years later, Reuben Tingley, who lived in close proximity to the Court-House in this village, killed his wife by a blow on the head with an axe, and then cut his own throat. The murder and suicide on October 28, 1814, saved the county the expense of an execution, but deprived the curious of an opportunity to witness a second public hanging, a fact that might have well been foremost in the mind of the murderer after having dispatched his wife. The couple were recorded as residents of Ovid in 1810, when they had two sons and three daughters, all under sixteen years of age. Otherwise, nothing else is known of the Tingley family."

Town and Village of Ovid, Seneca County, NY; an early history, 1789-1889 Compiled by Wayne E.Morrison Sr., published by W.E. Morrison & Co., Ovid, NY, 1980.
Quoted with permission of Wayne Morrison

Waterloo Courthouse

"When Wayne County was formed, in 1823, Waterloo was near one end of the County; hence it was found desirable to divide the County into two half-shires, and hold the courts alternately at the courthouses of Ovid and Waterloo. Fayette and the towns north constitute the northern jury district, and Varick and those towns south of it the southern. The courthouse at Waterloo was finished and the first courts held, in 1818. At these courts, John Mellean, Jr., officiated as Judge, and Lemuel W. Ruggles as District Attorney, these men heing nominated to their positions by Governor DeWitt Clinton, and confirmed therein by the Council of Appointment. The courts at that day were conspicuous affairs. Crowds of lawyers and clients came from far and near, and sessions continued from one to three weeks. In early days a path to the court-house ran diagonally across the square. This path was often filled with water, and bush and brake grew rank on either side In wild profusion and hence gave origin to the soubriquet, "The Swamps of Waterloo." The legal talent of that day was splendid, and, with due respect to present members of the bar, has never been excelled. Among the prominent lawyers were John Maynard, WIlliam Thompson., Ansell Gibbs, and Alvah Gregory, of Ovid; Jesse Clark, Samuel Birdsall, and John Knox, of Waterloo; and Garry V. Sackett and Luther F. Stevens, of Seneca Falls.
But two public executions have ever oocurred within the present organization of Seneca, and these the punishment of murder. [The first, 1811 in Ovid] On May 25, 1828, one George Chapman expiated the crime of shedding blood, by being hung at Waterloo. The killing was without palliation, and a negro was the unfortunate victim. The names of those engaged upon this, the last trial resulting in public execution in Seneca County, are as follows: Circuit Judge, Daniel Mosely; First Judge, Luther Stevens; Junior Judge, James Seeley; Counsel for the people, Jesse Clark, District Attorney, assisted by Messrs. Thompson, Whiting, and Park; Prisoner's counsel, Messrs. Hulbert, Mott, Stryker, and Knox. Seventeen witnesses were examined, and the case finally submitted to the following named jurors: John Norris, Aury Marsh, Abial Cook, John White, Tyler Smith, Israel B. Haines, Benjamin Cuddeback, Robert Livingston, Peter Whitmer, George Bachman, and Jacob Sell. The gallows were erected on the "Island," and when the doomed man met his fate a body of troops surrounded the scaffold; boats upon the water and buildings far around were crowded by curious spectators, whose memories will never efface the scene. Conforming to a belief that such exhibltions demoralize, the criminals of modern days perish ignominiously in the seclusion of the jail-yard, in presence of officials only, and time will be when the details will not be in print."

History of Seneca County, New York, 1786-1876, with illustrations descriptive of its scenery, palatial residences, public buildings, fine blocks, and important manufactories, from original sketches by artists of the highest ability. Originally published in 1876 by Evarts, Ensign and Evarts of Philadelphia. Reprinted in 1976 by the Press of W.E. Morrison & Co., Ovid, New York.
Quoted with permission of Wayne Morrison.

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