The Civil History of Livingston County

By Ellis Franklin

Changes of Civil Jurisdiction Erection and Organization of Livingston County Courts and County Buildings: The several Counties formerly embracing the Territory of Livingston — Erection and Organization of Livingston — First Election of County Officers — Organization and Early Proceedings of the Board of Supervisors — Organization of Courts — The Probate Court — County-Site and County Buildings — The Public Office Buildings — The New Offices of the Clerk and Register of Deeds — County Poor-House and Poor-Farm.

Counties Formerly Embracing the Territory of Livingston

THE county of Wayne was erected by executive act, November 1, 1815. This was the first County formed in the Territory of Michigan, and embraced all the lands within it to which the aboriginal title had been extinguished,–including, of course, all of the present county of Livingston.

By executive proclamation, dated January 15, 1818, all of Wayne County lying north of the base-line was erected into the new county of Macomb, embracing all of the present counties of Macomb, Oakland, Livingston, St. Clair, and Lapeer, parts of Sanilac, Tuscola, and Shiawassee, the east half of Ingham, and all of Genesee, excepting a small part in its northwest corner; the boundaries of the newly-erected county being described in the proclamation as “beginning at the southwest corner of township number one, north of the base-line (so called) and in the first range; thence along the Indian boundary-line, north, to the angle formed by the intersection of the line running to White Rock, upon Lake Huron; thence with the last-mentioned line to the boundary-line between the United States and the British province of Upper Canada; thence, with said line, southwardly, to a point in Lake St. Clair due east from the place of beginning; thence, due west, to the eastern extremity of said base-line, and, with the same, to the place of beginning.”

Oakland was taken from Macomb and erected a county by proclamation of Governor Cass, dated January 12, 1819. That county then included, in addition to its present area, the southernmost tier of townships now in Shiawassee County, the two southern towns in Genesee, the east half of Ingham, and all of the present county of Livingston. It was not until March 28, 1820, however, that the organization of Oakland as a county was effected, under executive proclamation.

Washtenaw County was “laid out” by the proclamation of Governor Cass, September 10, 1822, to include the two tiers of townships (Green Oak, Hamburg, Putnam, Unadilla, losco, Marion, Genoa, and Brighton) Which now form the south half of Livingston County, and also four tiers of townships south of the base-line. It was not organized as a county until December 31, 1836.

Shiawassee County was “laid out” by executive proclamation at the same time that Washtenaw was erected, viz., September 10, 1822. Within the bounds of Shiawassee, as then laid out, there were embraced, in addition to its present territory, eight townships on the western side of Genesee, the northeast quarter of Ingham, and the north half of Livingston County, including the townships of Tyrone, Deerfield, Cohoctah, Conway, Handy, Howell, Oceola, and Hartland. Shiawassee was not organized until March 18, 1837. Thus it is shown that the territory which now forms the county of Livingston was first included in Wayne County and so remained until January 15, 1818, when it became a part of Macomb; that it was included in Oakland from the erection of that county, January 12, 1819, until September 10, 1822, when its southern half was given to Washtenaw, and its northern half to Shiawassee.

Erection and Organization of the County First County Election

The territory now Livingston County remained included in Shiawassee and Washtenaw until March 21, 1833, when Governor George B. Porter approved “an act to provide for laying out the county of Livingston,” as follows:

“Be it enacted by the Legislative Council of the Territory of Michigan, That so much of the county of Washtenaw as is included within the following limits, viz.: townships one and two north, in ranges three, four, five, and six east of the principal meridian; and so much of the county of Shiawassee as is included within the following limits, viz.: townships three and four north, in ranges three, four, five, and six east of the meridian, be and the same are hereby set off into a separate county, and the name thereof shall be Livingston, which, for the present, shall, for all judicial purposes, remain the same as though this act had not passed.

The name of the county was given in honor of Edward Livingston, Secretary of State, under President Jackson. The territory of the new county remained attached for judicial and municipal purposes as before, viz., the south half to Washtenaw, and the north half, to Oakland, — as Shiawassee, not having been organized, was attached to that county.

The organization of Livingston County was effected under an act of the Legislature, approved March 24, 1836, by which it was provided “That the county of Livingston shall be organized, and the inhabitants thereof shall be entitled to all the rights and privileges to which, by law, the inhabitants of other counties of this State are entitled.”

At its organization the county embraced the townships of Green Oak, Hamburg, Putnam, Unadilla, Howell, and Hartland, Green Oak–erected March 17, 1835 — included its present area, and also the township of Brighton; Hamburg–erected March 26, 1835 — included, in addition to its present limits, the township of Genoa; Unadilla — laid out March 26,1835 — included the present township of losco; Putnam — erected March 23, 1836 — took in what is now the township of Marion; Howell — erected March 23, 1836 — included, in addition to its present area, the townships of Oceola, Deerfield, Cohoctah, Conway, and Handy; and Hartland — laid out at the same time — was embraced in its present limits. The northeastern (surveyed) township, of the county–now Tyrone — had not then been laid out by law, but was included in Deerfield, at the erection of that township, by act of March 20, 1837. The subsequent subdivisions of the county are noticed in the several township histories.

Under the provisions of the act organizing Livingston County a special election for county officers was held on the first Monday in May, 1836, resulting in the election of the following-named persons:

SheriffJustus J. Bennett
County ClerkF. J. B. Crane
Register of DeedsEly Barnard
TreasurerAmos Adams
Judge of ProbateKinsley S. Bingham
County SurveyorAmos Adams
CoronersJohn W. Peavy
John Drake
Associate JudgesElisha W. Brockway
Elnathan Noble

The total number of votes cast in the county for sheriff was one hundred and eight, this being the highest number cast for any of the offices. Of these one hundred and eight votes, Justus J. Bennett received fifty-one; F. J. Provost, twenty-five; J. F. Provost, twenty-two; and Joseph Loree ten. For the office of county clerk ninety-one votes were cast, of which number F. J. B. Crane received ninety, and E. Barnard one. For register of deeds, Ely Barnard received the whole number cast,– eighty-one. For treasurer, Amos Adams received seventy-one, and S. D. Dix seven. For judge of probate, Kinsley S. Bingham received seventy-eight; Isaac Smith, Jr., ten; Isaac Smith, seven; Kinslow Noble, one; Kins Bingham, two; Elnathan Noble, one; Anthony Gale, one; and Kinsley S. Probate, one. For associate judges, the two successful candidates–Elisha W. Brockway and Elnathan Noble— received, respectively, fifty-one and ninety-nine votes; and for the same office, Jonathan Burnett received eighteen; Elisha M. Brockway, twenty-four; E. Noble, one; Kinsley S. Bingham, one; and “Noble,” one. [1]At the Presidential election in November, 1836, the Democratic electors received one hundred and forty-two votes, and the Whig electors seventy-three votes, in Livingston County. At the election of … Continue reading

Organization and Early Proceedings of the Board of Supervisors

The first meeting of the Board of Supervisors of Livingston County was held at the house of Amos Adams, in Howell, on the fourth day of October, 1836; the Supervisors present being:

Kinsley S. Bingham, of Green Oak
Christopher L. Culver, of Hamburg
John Hudson, of Putnam
Philester Jessup, of Howell
Eli Lee, of Hartland

Eli Lee was chosen moderator and Ely Barnard clerk. The Board then adjourned to meet on the following day. Upon reassembling, as per adjournment, Elnathan Noble, Supervisor of Unadilla, appeared and took his seat, and the Board proceeded to business. The session was continued until the, sixth of October, when the Board adjourned sine die. The business done at the session was as follows: It was

“Resolved, by the Board of Supervisors, that a bounty of three dollars be paid by the county treasurer to any person who shall produce the certificate of a magistrate, or other proper officer authorized to administer an oath, that the said person has actually killed a full grown wolf within the limits of the County of Livingston since, the organization of said county, and that the scalp of said wolf has been destroyed by the person administering the oath.”

For the payment of such bounties, a wolf-bounty fund of sixty dollars was voted, and the Board voted to raise a contingent fund of three hundred dollars for the expenses of the county.

The apportionment of taxes to the several towns of the county, and the assessment of each, was fixed as follows:

TownshipsAggregate Assessment Of TownshipsTownship TaxCounty And State TaxState Tax
Green Oak68,77467.38315.73171.81
Howell59,556  112.12273.61148.89

Amos Adams, County Treasurer, was directed to pay the amount of the State tax as above to the State Treasurer, out of any moneys paid into his hands by the several township collectors. The following county orders were issued:

To John Hudson, for Services at Board$12.00
To C. S. Culver, for Services at Board12.00
To K. S. Bingham, for Services at Board14.00
To Philester Jessup, for Services at Board13.00
To Elnathan Noble, for Services at Board7.00
To Eli Lee, for Services at Board9.00
To F. J. B. Crane, for stationery for Board2.00
To J. J. Bennett, for Sheriff’s fees10.00
To F. J. B. Crane, for Clerk’s fees3.57
To E. Barnard, for room rent for Register’s office3.00
To E. Barnard, for book for Supervisors5.00
To E. Barnard, for services as Clerk of Board4.00

The second annual meeting of the Board was held on the third of October, 1837, in Howell, at the village school-house, but on account of cold and lack of heating apparatus in that building, adjourned to the Register’s office. The Supervisors present were the following named, representing all the towns then organized in the county, viz.:

Elisha W. Brockway, of Green Oak. Thomas J. Rice, of Hamburg. William T. Curtis, of Genoa. John W. Smith of Howell. Jacob Snell, of Byron (now Oceola). Aaron Palmer, of Putnam. John How, of Deerfield. Elnathan Noble, of Unadilla. Thomas Hoskins, of Marion. Eli Lee, of Hartland.

One of the first items of business transacted at this meeting, was the giving of authority and directions to the sheriff “to purchase for the use of the county a good twenty-eight inch stove, and place the same in the school-house in the village of Howell, and sufficient length of six-inch English pipe for the use of the same, and charge the same to the county.” The bounty on wolves was continued at three dollars per head, and a fund of one hundred dollars was voted to pay such bounties. A fund of six hundred dollars was voted for contingent expenses of the county. Orders were issued on audited accounts to the amount of nineteen hundred and sixty-three dollars and eighty-four cents. The taxes as apportioned to the several towns, and the assessment of each, was as follows:

TownshipAggregate Assessment of Township 1837Township TaxCounty & State TaxState Tax
Genoa60,833 110.7218.31
Green Oak165,749402.53301.6249.84

The Board adjourned October 7th to meet November 9, 1837, at which time, upon reassembling, there was no business to be transacted, and they adjourned sine die.

At the annual meeting of the Board, held at the Register’s office in Howell, October 2, 1838, all but one of the present townships of the county were represented, the following-named Supervisors being present: (list re-alphabetized by webmaster)

Joseph M. BeckerTyrone
John J. BlackmerHartland
Charles P. BushGenoa
Ralph FowlerHandy
John HowDeerfield
Rial LakeHowell
George W. LeeMarion
Richard LyonBrighton
Ard OsbornIosco
Alva PrestonTuscola
(now Cohoctah)
George ReevesPutnam
Thomas J. RiceHamburg
Jacob SnellOceola
(previously Byron)
Solomon SutherlandUnadilla
Robert Warden, Jr.Green Oak

The assessment and apportionment of taxes to each township, as there equalized, were as follows:

TownshipAggregate Township AssessmentTownship TaxCounty TaxState Tax
Green Oak87,66292.71182.87122.90
Howell   75,002194.95156.46105.15
Iena¥61,627 128.5686.40
Tuscola73,340 153.00102.82

The previous vote granting bounties on wolves killed within the county was rescinded; county orders were issued to the amount of two thousand three hundred and ninety-three dollars and eighty-nine cents, and the Board adjourned sine die, October 6, 1838.

By the provisions of a law passed by the Legislature in 1838, the powers and duties of the Board of Supervisors were transferred to and vested in a Board of County Commissioners. Under this law the first Board of Commissioners of Livingston County organized, and held their first meeting at the clerk’s office, in Howell village, on Tuesday, the twentieth of November, 1838. Present: the full Board, viz., Emery Beal, Charles P. Bush, and Orman Holmes. Emery Beal was chosen chairman, and after resolving to rent a building for a Register’s office, and directing the Register to place a stove therein at the expense of the county, the Board adjourned.

The office of County Commissioner was abolished by act of Legislature approved February 10, 1842, and the duties and powers of that Board were transferred back to the Board of Supervisors of the county. The first meeting of the Supervisors of Livingston County under this law was held April 21, 1842, at the room where the courts were then held, in Howell. From that time until the present, the Board has continued to exercise its legitimate powers and functions undisturbed by further experimental legislation.

Organization of Courts

The act under which the county of Livingston was organized provided that “all suits, prosecutions, and other matters now [then] pending before any court of record, or before any justice of the peace” in the county of Washtenaw or of Oakland should be prosecuted to final judgment and execution in the same manner as if the act had not been passed.

The first term of the Court for the county of Livingston [2]This account of the organization of the court for the county of Livingston is kindly furnished by the Hon. Josiah Turner, Judge of the Seventh judicial Circuit. was held at the school-house, in the village of Howell, on the eighth day of November, 1837. Present: the Hon. William A. Fletcher, Chief justice of the Supreme Court, and the Hon. Elisha W. Brockway and Hon. Elnathan Noble, Associate judges, all of whom are now dead. The names of the grand jury attending at that term were Price Morse, Edward F. Gay, Norman Brainard, Adoniram Hubbell, William E. Redding, Joseph Cole, Peter Y. Browning, Philester Jessup, James Wright, William L. Mead, Albert Parker, John Drake, George Walker, Horace Toncre, Jonathan Burnett, William B. Hopkins, Augustus Colton, Richard Toncre, and John Andrews. George W. Walker was appointed by the court, foreman. There being no prosecuting attorney for the county, the court appointed James Kingsley, of Ann Arbor, to act in that capacity for the term. The court appointed Samuel G. Percy as crier. The list of names of petit jurors at that term were as follows: Solomon Gew, Dan M. Fuller, Anson Nelson, Joseph Whitacre, Amos B. Root, Russell Blood, James Livermore, Seth G. Wilson, John Sutherland, Stephen Cornell, George Sewell, Frederick Goodenow, George W. Glover, Isaac Ela, Royal C. Barnum, Uriah Collson, James D. McIntyre, and Francis Lincoln. The grand jury soon reported to the court that they had no business before them, and they were therefore discharged. There being no cases for trial, the petit jurors were also discharged.

Judge Fletcher was a native of Massachusetts, and was engaged for some years in mercantile pursuits in that State. He settled in Michigan about the year 1820, and studied law in Detroit, and commenced the practice of his profession in that city. He was at one time attorney-general for the Territory. He was appointed chief justice of the Supreme Court after the admission of the State into the Union, and revised the statutes of the State in 1838.

He resigned his office as judge in 1842, resumed the practice of his profession, and died in Ann Arbor about 1855. He was a man of high character and strict integrity. The next circuit Judge of the county was the Hon. Alpheus Felch. Judge Felch was born in Maine, in September, 1806. He was a graduate of Bowdoin College. He emigrated to Michigan in 1833, and settled at Monroe.

He was a member of the State Legislature in 1836-37. In 1842 he was appointed auditor-general; a few weeks after which he resigned that position, and was appointed judge of the Supreme Court. In 1845 he was elected Governor of the State, and in 1847 was elected a senator in Congress for six years. He now resides at Ann Arbor. He was an able judge, and is still in the practice of his profession. The next circuit judge of the county was the Hon. Charles W. Whipple. The next circuit judge who presided in this county was the Hon. Sanford M. Green, who is now the circuit judge of the Eighteenth judicial Circuit, and resides at Bay City. The next circuit judge was the Hon. Josiah Turner, who is still the judge of this district, and resides at Owosso.

The Probate Court

No business was done in the Probate Office of Livingston County during the incumbency of its first judge of Probate, the Hon. Kinsley S. Bingham. The first Probate Court in the county was held by his successor, the Hon. James W. Stansbury, in Pinckney village, on the twenty-fifth of December, 1838; and the first business done was the appointment of a guardian for the minor heirs of Henry Zulauf, deceased.

The first letters of administration were granted March 13, 1838, to Phoebe H. Drake, of Unadilla, and Thomas G. Sill, of Dexter, on the estate of John Drake, of Unadilla, deceased.

The first will admitted to probate, and recorded in the Probate Office, was that of James Sage, the first settler of Howell village and township, who died June 29, 1839. The will was dated January 15th of that year, bearing the names of Wellington A. Glover, Mabel Glover, and O. J. Field as attesting witnesses, and was recorded July, 1839. Joseph H. Pinckney was appointed executor of this will, which made bequests to the widow and children of the testator; the latter being mentioned as George T., James R., and Chester A. Sage, Mary A. W. Pinckney, and Hannah A. Walker.

The second will recorded was that of Timothy H. Munger, of Marion, dated June 29, 1840, bearing the signatures of Gardner Carpenter, Henry Green, and Horace Griffith as attesting witnesses, naming Horace Griffith as sole executrix, and bequeathing all the property of the testator to his wife, Adaline Munger. This will was recorded January 19, 1841.

During the entire term of judge Stansbury (1837 to 1840, inclusive) the Probate Court was held at his office, in the village of Pinckney. The first Court of Probate held at Howell was by judge George W. Kneeland, February 8, 1841 and the, first business done at that time was the granting of letters of administration on the estate of Josiah P. Jewett. From that time until the present the Probate Court has been held at the county-seat. It has been mentioned above that the first term of court for the county of Livingston was held in the Howell school-house, in November, 1837. This school-house stood within the original plat of the village, laid out by Messrs. Crane and Brooks in 1835; which plat had been designated as the county-site of Livingston, in 1836, by three commissioners appointed for the purpose by the Governor of Michigan in accordance with the provisions of an act, passed by the Legislature at its session in that year, to locate and establish county sites for counties in which they had not been previously established.

In 1837 an act was passed by the Legislature authorizing the Supervisors of any county to borrow money for the erection of county buildings. The Supervisors of Livingston, thereupon, at their annual meeting in October, 1837,

“Resolved, That the qualified electors of the county be notified that a vote will be taken at the next annual election (November, 1837) whether the Board shall be authorized to borrow, on the credit of the county, a sum not exceeding ten thousand dollars for the erection of county buildings,” as provided in the act above named. The notice was accordingly issued and the vote taken, but the result in the county was adverse to the loan.

In 1838, an act was passed (approved February 23d) providing “that the Board of Supervisors of Livingston County be, and they are hereby, authorized to borrow on the credit of the said county at a rate of interest not exceeding seven per cent per annum, and for a term not less than five nor more than fifteen years, a sum of money not exceeding one thousand dollars, for the purpose of erecting a jail for said county.”

The question of taxation for the purpose of erecting necessary county buildings was again submitted to the voters of the county at the annual election of 1838, and the result was the same as in the previous year. The courts continued to be held at the village school-house in Howell, and the sheriff continued to take such prisoners as he had to Ann Arbor for confinement, as authorized by an act approved February 8, 1858, which empowered him “to convey prisoners to Washtenaw County, and deliver them into the custody or the sheriff or keeper of the jail of that county.”

On the twenty-first of April, 1842, the Board of Supervisors resolved “that George W. Kneeland, Richard P. Bush, and Jared Clark be authorized to contract with Benjamin J. Spring for his house to hold courts and to do other business in until the first day of the next November term of the Circuit Court.” And this committee reported that they had so contracted with Mr. Spring for his ballroom for that period, for fifteen dollars, he to furnish wood. At the same meeting the Board authorized the drawing of an order in favor of the Presbyterian Society of Howell, for twenty dollars “for the use of their meeting-house at the last term of court, on condition that they can have it at twenty-five dollars a term as long as it is necessary; said house to be used for all county meetings.” Soon after this, the Presbyterian Church building became the court-house of Livingston County, and continued to be used regularly for sessions of the court for about three years, the county paying forty dollars per annum for its use. The prisoners of the county were still confined at Ann Arbor.

From the time when the county-site was established at Howell, in 1836, a determined opposition to the location had been developed, and strong efforts were made to secure its removal. This project was brought before the Legislature at the session of 1837, and was met and defeated by the remonstrance of F. J. B. Crane (the proprietor of the original plat of Howell) and a large number of other signers. The agitation for changing the location of the seat of justice continued, however, unabated (and in fact rather increasing) for a number of years, and took the form of a project to enlarge the county, by taking in a part of Oakland; thus to bring Brighton nearer the territorial centre, and cause the county-site to be located at that village. This agitation had the effect of causing the defeat of all attempts to raise money by taxation for the erection of county buildings under the provisions of the acts or 1837 and 1838.

The site on which the court-house and public offices now stand was not included in the limits established as the county-site in 1836. Within those limits Mr. Crane had laid out and donated a square of ground (still known as the “old public square”) for the purpose of the erection of county buildings and at the time of its laying out there seemed no reason to doubt that when such buildings were erected they would be located on that square. Influences were afterwards brought to bear, however, which secured the passage of an act (approved March 20, 1841) providing “That the limits of the present county-site of the county of Livingston be, and the same are hereby, so extended as to embrace the west half of section thirty-six, township three north, of range four east; and that the county commissioners [3]From 1838 to the spring of 1842, a Board of County Commissioners exercised the power, which before and since that period have been vested in the Board of Supervisors. At a meeting of this Board of … Continue reading of said county be, and they are hereby, authorized to erect, in conformity to law, county buildings on the site they shall deem most eligible on the said described land; provided the owners of said land shall convey to the county by a good and sufficient title, free and clear from all incumbrance, four acres of land for the site that shall be, so selected.” The tract thus added to the limits within which the site for county buildings might be located joins the original (Crane and Brooks) plat on the north and east, including all that part of the west half of the section not embraced in the plat. [4]The original plat covered the west half of the southwest quarter, and the southwest quarter of the northwest quarter of the section; so that the extension made by the act of March 1841, included the … Continue reading It was from the lands embraced within this extension that at, the present courthouse square was selected. It includes a part of the northwest, and a part of the southwest quarter of section thirty-six, and was conveyed to the county in 1842 and 1843. The chain of title is as follows: The part lying in the southwest quarter was entered from government, December 3, 1833, by John D. Pinckney for Alexander Fraser. On the second of July, 1835, Alexander Fraser deeded to Alexander D. Fraser, trustee for Edward Brooks and Charles G. Hammond, both of Detroit. On the twenty-third of October, in the same year, it was conveyed back to Alexander Fraser, and on. the twenty-fourth of the same month John D. Pinckney [5]As having reference to a question which appears to have arisen in later years as to the perfection of the title from Mr. Pinckney, the following transcript from the record of the Board of Supervisors … Continue reading and Alexander Fraser conveyed an

At the same time a committee appointed to contract with Enos B. Taylor for the use of rooms for the court and jury, reported that they had contracted with Mr. Taylor for the same at eighty dollars per year for, three years. The report was accepted and adopted.

At the session of 1846 the Legislature of Michigan passed “An Act to provide for the Erection of County Buildings in the County of Livingston.” This act (approved February 18th) provided:

SEC. I. “That the Board of Supervisors of the county of Livingston and their successors in office be, and they are hereby, authorized and empowered to erect county buildings for the use of said county.”

SEC. 2. “For the purpose of carrying into effect the provisions of this act, the said Board of Supervisors is authorized to levy on the taxable property of said county, from time to time, such sum as they may deem necessary, not exceeding three thousand dollars in any one year; any law to the contrary notwithstanding.

“This act shall take effect from and after the second Monday of April next.”

On the second, of June, 1846, a special meeting of the Supervisors was held, and the Board resolved to levy a tax for the erection of county buildings, to the amount of two thousand dollars annually, for two successive years, and in the third year to raise such sum (not exceeding two thousand dollars) as necessary to complete the buildings; and a committee was appointed to report a plan. A plan drawn and furnished by Mr., Justin Lawyer was adopted, and on the following day the Board

“Resolved, That the outside walls of the courthouse building be made, the foundation, of stone, to be sunk in the ground two feet, and to be raised three feet above the surface, and to be three feet thick the first story to be twelve feet high, made of brick wall twenty inches thick, with brick columns [pilasters) projecting four inches; the wall of the second story to be sixteen feet high and sixteen inches thick, of brick, with same columns as the first story, and the columns to extend up to the frieze, with suitable brick cap; the wall of the gables to be twelve inches thick.”
It was also

“Resolved That a belfry be erected on the courthouse suitable to place a bell in, provided the people of Howell and others shall raise a sufficient sum to purchase a suitable bell”; and the people of Howell were also granted “the privilege to break up, grub out, grade, fence, and seed down the public square in the village of Howell, and to set out such shade-trees as they shall think proper for the ornamenting of the said square.”

At their meeting, held on the tenth of August, 1846, the Board resolved to let the contract for the court-house and jail building to Cyrenus Hall, for five thousand six hundred dollars, and Messrs. Bradford Campbell, Smith Beach, and Gardner Wheeler were authorized and directed to close and execute the contract. The negotiations with Mr. Hall came to naught, however, and a contract was made with Enos B. Taylor, and confirmed by the Board, October 12; Mr. Taylor’s sureties being Almon Whipple William McPherson, Derastus Hinman, and Richard P. Bush.

Mr. Taylor commenced work on the building in the fall of that year, and payments to, a considerable amount were made to him during the winter and spring following, but it was not completed until late in the fall of 1847. The Board of Supervisors, at their meeting on the thirteenth of October, authorized the building committee to accept the building (in case it should be completed before their January meeting), to insure it, and to, deliver the necessary amount of bonds to Mr. Taylor in payment of his contract. And at the meeting of the Board, held on the third of January, 1848, the committee reported that the building for the court-house and jail had been completed, and that they had accepted it from Mr. Taylor. The stuccoing of the exterior of the building was not included in Mr. Taylor’s contract, but was contracted for with Barsley Mount, for three hundred and twenty-eight dollars, and was done in September, 1848.

Immediately after the completion and occupation of the court-house building, the Board of Supervisors resolved that permission be given to the several religious societies which had no meeting-houses (which was then the case with all, excepting the Presbyterian) to hold religious worship in the court-room; and the Methodist, Baptist, and Congregational societies availed themselves of this privilege until provided with church edifices, though dissatisfaction occasionally arose at what some of the societies regarded as unjust discrimination or favoritism, and once or twice the proposition was made (but not acted on) to exclude all religious societies. The services of the Episcopal Church of Howell were also held there prior to their occupation of the Congregational meeting house; and since the demolition of that building, Episcopal worship has occasionally been held in the court-room until the present time. Besides its uses as a court-house and jail, the building is also the residence of the sheriff of the county.

The first court in this court-house was held by the Hon. Josiah Turner as county judge, and he has, in that office and in that of circuit judge, presided over the courts held in this building almost continuously until the present time. His court is now in session there, at the time of this writing, November, 1879.

The Public Office Buildings

The offices of the Clerk, Register of Deeds, and Treasurer of Livingston County were first located in the tavern-house of Amos Adams (afterwards known as the Eagle Hotel), at Howell, Mr. Adams himself being the first treasurer of the county, and Mr. F. J. B. Crane, the first county clerk, being domiciled at the house as a permanent, boarder. Mr. Justus J. Bennett, the first sheriff of the county, had his office at Adams‘ at such times as his presence became necessary at the county-seat, which could not have been very often, as during the first year and a half of his term there was no court held in Howell, and his prisoners, if he had any, were taken to Ann Arbor for confinement.

The office-quarters of Mr. Bingham, the judge of probate, were probably in his own house at Green Oak,–and they certainly might as well be there as at Howell, for he did no probate business whatever during the time that he held the office.

On the northeast corner of the “old public square” in Howell Mr. Crane erected a small building in the summer of 1837. It was a one-story frame building of two rooms, and intended by him to be used as a private office; but into this the public offices of the county were soon afterwards transferred, it being at first rented and afterwards purchased by the county.

The following items from the record of the proceedings of the County Commissioners and Board of Supervisors have reference to this old building and to the erection of the first clerk and register’s office on the court-house square, viz.:

November 20, 1838, the County Commissioners resolved “to rent the building now occupied as Clerk and Register’s office for one year, at ninety dollars, payable half-yearly.”

April 21, 1842, the Supervisors authorized the Clerk to contract for the plastering of his office, and “to use it as he shall see fit, provided it does not interfere with the business of the county, nor injure the building.” The county clerk at that time was Josiah Turner, who also transacted his professional business as attorney-at-law and master in chancery in the same office.

June 9, 1845.–The Supervisors directed the Clerk “to clear the county offices [the buildings on the old square] of all property not belonging to the county or to the county offices.”

October 15, 1845.–“Resolved, That the Board give their consent to have the county building removed to the land appropriated for the use of the county buildings, provided it be done without expense chargeable to the county; and that the clerk be authorized to superintend the same and make the necessary repairs.” Under this authority, the “county building” was removed from its original site at the northeast corner of the old public square, and placed on or near the spot where the clerk’s office now stands, in the court-house grounds.

January 3, 1849.–The Board appointed William C. Rumsey and Spaulding M. Case a committee, “with power to procure the necessary materials, and contract for the erection of two fire-proof offices for Clerk’s and Register’s offices; the same to be in one building, one story high, of brick; said building to be of the same general form of the Clerk and Register’s office in Washtenaw County, and to be completed and ready for use before the first of, October next.” The cost of this building was limited to five hundred dollars. The Board further resolved “that the old building on the court-house square, occupied as Clerk and Register’s office, be removed to some suitable place, to be selected by William C. Rumsey, on the vacant ground in the rear of the square.” Under these resolutions the erection of the new “fireproof” office building was let by the committee on contract to George W. and Frederick J. Lee; and the old office building was moved to the rear of the square. The cost of its removal and grading the grounds was one hundred and twenty-nine dollars.

January 8, 1850.–The building committee reported to the Board the completion and acceptance of the new building. The price paid to the Messrs. Lee was, contract, four hundred and ninety-eight dollars; extras, forty-seven dollars and twenty cents. Total, five hundred and forty-five dollars and twenty cents.

October 18, 1850.–Elijah F. Burt was appointed a committee to sell the old office building and contents. He reported an offer of forty-five dollars from William B. Smith. The Board recommended that the offer be accepted. The building was sold and removed from the square, and is now standing on the south side of Grand River Street, in Howell, a short distance east of the Rubert House, The Clerk and Register’s office building, erected, as above shown, in 1849, and demolished in 1873, was of similar construction, and about the same in size and general appearance as the old office building now standing in the square, east of the courthouse.

This old building, containing the offices of the Judge of Probate and County Treasurer, was erected in 1853. At the annual meeting of the Supervisors, in October of the previous year, the Board appropriated five hundred dollars for the purpose of grading and fencing the square and building a treasurer’s and a probate office, both to be included in one building, similar to the one then recently built for the Clerk and Register of Deeds; and a committee was appointed to prepare plans for the same.

January 3, 1853.–The report of the committee was received and accepted, and R. P. Bush, F. C. Whipple, and L. D. Smith were appointed a building committee. The contract was awarded to John B. Kneeland, who completed the building during the succeeding summer and fall, and it was accepted by the building committee in October, 1853. In the spring of 1854 its exterior was stuccoed (under supervision of Charles Benedict) to correspond with the office building on the west side of the court-house.

The New Offices of the Clerk and Register of Deeds

On the 17th of October, 1873, the Supervisors’ committee on public lands and buildings reported to the Board that the building containing the offices of the County Clerk and Register of Deeds was in so dilapidated a condition as, to render it inexpedient to make further repairs upon it. And they recommended that the sum of one thousand dollars be raised for the construction of a new building for these offices and for repairs on the offices of the Treasurer and Judge of Probate.

The report of the committee was accepted and adopted, and the Board directed their chairman to appoint a suitable person to superintend the erection of the proposed building, and to let the contract for its construction to the lowest responsible bidder. Under these Instructions, Mr. Horace Halbert was appointed such superintendent of construction, and the contract was let to Messrs. Tunnard & Beardsley for the sum of two thousand five hundred and thirty-three dollars. The old building was demolished, and work on the new one was commenced immediately. It was completed and occupied early in 1874; its total cost being about three thousand one hundred dollars, including the removal of the old building and some other matters, but exclusive of the new safes, furniture, and fixtures which were put into it.

It is a neat and substantial structure, — one story, but of ample height,–and more than double the size of the old building. It affords good accommodation for the offices of the Clerk and Register, and it is proposed to erect a similar building for the Probate and Treasurer’s offices,–a project which will doubtless be carried, into effect at an early day.

County Poor-House and Farm

Down to, and including the year 1876, the system in practice by the county of Livingston for the support of its poor was the granting of outside relief where such course seemed most proper and advisable, and the keeping of the more helpless poor, the insane and idiotic, by contract; the place where these were kept being known as the poorhouse, though not the property of the county. In their report for the year named (ending October, 1870), the majority of the Board of County Superintendents of the Poor said: “And we would further confidently recommend the present mode of keeping the poor to be the best that can be adopted.” But, on the other hand, a committee appointed by the Board of Supervisors to visit the poor-house, and inspect and report on the workings of the system (the committee being composed of Charles Fishbeck, John Wood, S. B. Sales, John A. Tanner, and N. A. Smith) reported at the same time as follows:

“First,–That the poor are as well cared for by the present contractor as they can be under the present mode of caring for the poor; that they have plenty to eat, and a clean bed to sleep in, and seem to be well satisfied with their treatment.

“Second,– That the conveniences are not suitable. We found them in a small room of about eighteen by twenty-two feet, which is occupied by the insane and sane, males and females, as sleeping-, sitting-, and dining-room. The house is a frame building, boarded up and down and battened, without plaster, which your committee would consider warm enough for warm weather, but too cold for winter. Your committee would respectfully recommend that there be a county farm purchased, not to exceed eight miles from the village of Howell, of not less than eighty nor more than one hundred and twenty acres, and that there be suitable buildings erected on the same for the purpose of taking care of the poor and insane of Livingston County.” This report was adopted by the Board, and on the third of January, I871, a committee composed of the Supervisors of Green Oak, Unadilla, Tyrone, and Conway [representing the four corner towns of the county], “to go with the superintendents of the poor and examine and report to the Board, as soon as they can, the best farm in their opinion, without regard to the number of acres, as to, include stock, wheat on the ground, teams, and tools with said farm.”

The result of several examinations was the selection of the farm offered by Mr. Hiram Wing, in the southwest quarter of section fifteen in the township of Marion; the buildings on which are located almost exactly on the territorial center of that township, And at a special meeting of the Supervisors, held January 6, 1871, the Board resolved “that they hereby authorize the County Superintendents of the Poor to purchase the farm of Hiram Wing, of Marion, of two hundred and fifteen acres, for said county, also tools and wheat on the ground, for the sum of ten thousand dollars, to be paid as follows [here designating the amount, time, and manner of the several payments]; . . . and that we appropriate two thousand five hundred dollars of the money now raised towards the payment for the said farm, and that we appropriate one thousand dollars, raised for buildings and repairs, to purchase teams and stock, and repairs on said farm.”

The farm–now the poor-farm of the county of Livingston–was conveyed by Mr. Wing to the county, January 5, 1871; and on the ninth of the same month the following report and resolution was adopted by the Supervisors:

“Whereas, The Board of Supervisors of the county of Livingston have bought a farm for the purpose of keeping the county Poor and Insane; now, therefore, the said Board of Supervisors of said county do hereby instruct and require the Superintendents of the Poor of said county to hire a good practical farmer to take charge of said farm under their directions, by the year, at an expense not exceeding five hundred dollars per year . . . And the man so hired by the superintendent to take possession of said poor-farm on the first of April, A.D. 1871, or as soon after as may be . . . And at the time the contract expires for the keeping of the poor and insane the Superintendents remove or cause then to be removed the poor and insane to said farm, with the teams of said county; and further instruct the Superintendents to build or cause to be built, at the expense of the county, a suitable building, of brick or stone, for keeping of the insane; said building to be sixteen by twenty-four feet, fire-proof, with cells secured by bolts and bars.”

Afterwards a committee was appointed to visit the farm and confer with the Superintendents on various matters, including the erection of the building for the insane. This committee reported to the Board June 13, 1871, recommending” that said building be built two stories high, twenty-two by thirty feet, and that it will be necessary to use the sum of fifteen hundred dollars for the completion of the same, and for the further maintenance of the poor.” This report was adopted, and the Board resolved that the Superintendents be authorized to receive sealed proposals for three weeks for the erection of the building as recommended, and that the chairman of the Board and the County Clerk be authorized to issue orders for a sum not to exceed fifteen hundred dollars for the purposes recommended by the committee. In the annual report of the Superintendents of the Poor for the year ending October 1, 1871, it was shown that the farm produced, in this first season of the county’s occupancy, three hundred and sixty-eight bushels of wheat, three hundred and twenty bushels of oats, eighty bushels of barley, and fifty tons of hay; the potato crop being a failure. The Superintendents also reported that “The building which your honorable body authorized us to erect has been contracted for the sum of fifteen hundred dollars, and is progressing, to be completed by the first of the present month.”

The building was completed a little later, the farm-buildings repaired and a fine barn has since been erected; and an experience of eight years has shown the new system of supporting the poor of the county to be much preferable to the previous one.

The report of the Superintendents of the Poor for the year ending September 30, 1879, shows as follows: The number of families relieved during the year outside the county house was eighty-one, comprising two hundred and fifty-two persons. The whole number of persons supported at the county house during the year was thirty-four, including two mutes, and four idiotic. The number supported at the Insane Asylum during the year was twenty. The whole number receiving assistance in any form was three hundred and six. The receipts from the sale of the surplus product of the farm in the year was seven hundred and two dollars and fifty-six cents.


Ellis, Franklin, and Everts & Abbott. History of Livingston County, Michigan. With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Its Prominent Men and Pioneers. Everts & Abbott, 1880.


1At the Presidential election in November, 1836, the Democratic electors received one hundred and forty-two votes, and the Whig electors seventy-three votes, in Livingston County. At the election of 1840 the Democratic electors received eight hundred and forty-four votes, and the Whig electors seven hundred votes, in the county. In 1844 the Democratic Presidential electors received ten hundred and ninety votes in the county, to six hundred and eighty-seven cast for the Whig candidates. At the election in November, 1850, on the question of giving equal suffrage to colored persons, the county gave four hundred and twenty votes, in favor of, and thirteen hundred and sixty-nine votes against the proposition.
2This account of the organization of the court for the county of Livingston is kindly furnished by the Hon. Josiah Turner, Judge of the Seventh judicial Circuit.
3From 1838 to the spring of 1842, a Board of County Commissioners exercised the power, which before and since that period have been vested in the Board of Supervisors. At a meeting of this Board of Commissioners held in the spring of 1841, they resolved “that there shall be levied on the county of Livingston, in October next, a tax of two thousand dollars for the purpose of building a court-house in the village of Howell; but on submitting the question to the voters, the result was the same is in previous years.
4The original plat covered the west half of the southwest quarter, and the southwest quarter of the northwest quarter of the section; so that the extension made by the act of March 1841, included the east half of the southwest quarter, and the east half and northwest quarter of the northwest quarter.
5As having reference to a question which appears to have arisen in later years as to the perfection of the title from Mr. Pinckney, the following transcript from the record of the Board of Supervisors under date of January 14, 1863, is given, viz.: “The committee on the claim of Mrs. John D. Pinckney to the lots occupied by the county building; reported as follows: Your committee, appointed to inquire of Almon Whipple and others about the claim of Mrs. Pinckney to the lands on which the county buildings stand, find that Mr. Pinckney located the lands and then deeded them to Cowdrey, but his wife did not sign the deed. Cowdrey deeded the lands to the county. Now we find that Mrs. Pinckney has quit-claimed to John Cummiskey, William McPherson, S. F. Hubbell, Mylo L. Gay, John H. Galloway, William Melvin, V. R. T. Angel, Z. H. Marsh, Almon Whipple, Joseph M. Gilbert, Edward F. Gay, William B. Smith, F. C. Whipple, F. Wells, and William Riddle. Your committee would recommend that the county treasurer pay the above persons the sum of twenty-five dollars on their making and executing a good quit-claim deed of conveyance of the lands on which the county buildings stand, embracing the public square; all of which we most cheerfully report to your honorable body for further action.

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