…..with special attention to the new Courthouse
Russell B. Guerin
Building of a new courthouse and jail was a major undertaking in the post-war environment of Hancock County. Certainly, money had to have been a problem, there being so little tax base at the time. It might also be assumed with some degree of conviction that labor too was scarce, given the loss of young men in the Civil War.
The last half of the Book A minutes, however, tell a story of improving conditions. Streets were being cut, bridges were built, and people had jobs.
Still, big plans took time.
A review of plans for the courthouse and jail in the previous article is in order. Please recall that in March 1868 the town of Shieldsborough was using the Masonic Lodge for a courthouse. The usage was temporary, and one month later a proposal was made to exchange a lot of land in the city for a parcel owned by the county for the purpose of erecting a courthouse.
In December of 1871, John Mordeau was paid for the rental of two rooms to be used as offices of the Clerk and Sheriff, and Mrs. Eager was hired to remove the contents of those offices from City Hall to the Sea Side Hotel, and from there to the Moreau house. While the Moreau house was being used as a courthouse, it was not considered safe for the archives of the county, and the Board ordered that the hotel be designated the courthouse of the county.
Activities from Mid 1873
The activity so described in the earlier report essentially tells the story of the courthouse midway through 1873, but in July of that year, the Board of Supervisors rented a house of Mrs. A.A. Ulman for use as a courthouse. She was paid $250 to cover the months of June through January of 1874.
At the end of that rental term, a renewal was negotiated to use the Ulman house till the end of December, 1874.
Eventually, plans for a real courthouse began taking shape. On February 10, 1874, the Board ordered “that the offer of John Estappa to build a Court House on the corner lot in Bay St. Louis according to plans and specifications this day filed by him be accepted.” Though the amount of the bid was not mentioned at this point, he was to be required to post bond in double the amount of his bid.
[Editor’s notes: It is interesting to see that in the minutes reporting the above meeting, both names – Shieldsborough and Bay St. Louis – were used to identify the city of the location of the future courthouse. Also interesting is that a large, scratch X sign appears in the margin here and in other places where the courthouse was planned.]
During the meeting of the following April, it was reported that a proposition had been made by the “Mayor and Aldermen of the City of Shieldsborough” agreeing to pay $700 toward the cost of the courthouse.
Finally in the June 1874 term, it was declared that the building built on Main St. by Estappa for the County of Hancock “be received and that same be declared the Court House of said County of Hancock on and after the 8th day of June AD 1874.” It was also ordered that $600 be paid “to Peter Ramond for extra work done in changing the stairs also for furnishing the Clerk’s office…with the Bar, 2 Witness Stands and 27 Benches.”
Estappa was paid $3,500 “out of the Special fund for building Court House.”
By July, it was being readied for occupation. John Martin was paid five dollars for hauling books and records of the Clerk’s office to the new courthouse.
Once more, activity had slowed, for reasons not specified. But then in October 1874, John Saucier was authorized to buy two dozen chairs for use in the courthouse.
Courthouse in Use
The next step of significance occurred in March of 1875, when Jno. Saucier was authorized “to insure the building now used as a Court House for the sum of $3,500 with some Insurance Company in the City of New Orleans.”
In the October 1875 term, it is noteworthy that the Board allowed a payment of $279 for a vault purchased from Folger and Co. While it is probable that is was for the courthouse, the minutes do not so specify.
Two items of interest are found in the December 1875 meeting. First, the Board authorized the president, Dr. E Latham, to have a survey of the lot on which the courthouse stood. In addition, there was a record made of a vote by Joseph Favre against an appropriation to Peter Ramond for raising the courthouse.
Relative to the previous paragraph, Favre was unanimously voted to be president at the January 1876 meeting. Also, Monet was paid $18 for surveying the lot, as called for above.
New Jail and other Happenings
Over the years contemporary with the progress of the courthouse, things were happening with an old jail in Gainesville and a new one in Bay St. Louis. William Poitevent seemed to be involved in several ways.
In the Special term of June 1874, the Board ordered that suit be brought against Poitevent “for the recovery of the old Court House and jail in the town of Gainesville.” The president was authorized to employ counsel for pursuit of the claim.
In March 1875, it was announced that sealed proposals would be taken for the building of a new jail for Hancock County “in accordance with plans and specifications now on file in the Clerk’s office. As the courthouse in Bay St. Louis had just been finished, it is assumed that the location of a new jail was intended for that city.
Two months later, in May, the same man who had been sued in June 1874, William Poitevent, won the bid. He was allowed $600 “for the taking down of the jail in the town of Gainesville and removing the same and the rebuilding the same in the City of Bay St. Louis within the space of 60 days from date and that all timber in said jail that is not sound be replaced by sound timber.”
At the end of the sixty days allowed above, Poitevent applied for and was granted an additional sixty days. Finally, in December of 1875, Poitevent was paid $793 for “removing Jail and rebuilding same and material furnished as per bill on file.”
An addition to the jail building was proposed in March 1877. Sealed bids were called for, the purpose being “building a house for a Jailor’s house adjoining the Jail said house to be 26 feet by 26 feet to contain 2 Rooms 13 feet by 12 feet also a Gallery on front of 8 feet.” It was to have a brick chimney and a fence.
C.J. Thiery won the bid for the jailor’s house, and was allowed $550 in October, 1877.
During the time period covered in this report, a few incidentals might be noteworthy, but little detail is available. FH Seal is mentioned a few times, but for small amounts which might have been part of a compromise of the $6,956 judgment against him and others; two receipts of $120 are recorded.
Interestingly, in the August 1876 term, a Mr. R. Seal was consulted as an attorney “in regard to the claim of Joseph Martin as a witness in the case of Hancock County Vs F.H. Seal et al.” This shows that is some form or other, the case against the former treasurer was being continued, some eight years after the $200 fine was imposed for missing meetings.