Macoupin County Courthouse
The first courthouse was built of logs on
property that is now the City Square. Seth
Hodges won the contract for the structure.
The record shows that construction costs
Ten years later, the county had outgrown this 18' x 24' log structure and made plans for a larger one on the same site. The new brick building measured 50' x 50' and - costing roughly $15,000 - was considerably more expensive than the first. The contractors were Harbird Weatherford and Jefferson Weatherford.
Abraham Lincoln frequently represented his clients in this courthouse. In fact, when the State Preservation Agency examined the Courthouse records in the 1990's, they found over 3,000 documents with the signature of A. Lincoln. Those original documents are now in Springfield, but copies are on file in the Macoupin County Courthouse.
The courthouse that Lincoln practiced in no longer stands in the center of town because shortly after the end of the Civil War, in 1867, elected officials decided that the prosperous county needed an even larger structure.
Four prominent citizens were commissioned to erect a new courthouse: A McKim Dubois, George H. Holliday, T.L. Loomis and Isham J. Peebles. They selected E.E. Meyers as architect and determined that the construction not begin until there were sufficient funds in the county treasury.
The court also ordered that a property tax of 50¢ per $100 be assessed in Macoupin County and that the monies be used for county purposes, i.e. a new courthouse.
Bonds totaling $50,000 were issued for ten-year terms and bore interest at 10 percent. By September, over $13,000 had been spent and in October the cornerstone was set in place. The cost escalated dramatically from then on. By January 1869 nearly $500,000 had been spent and building was still not complete. The great dome and roof would cost an additional $125,115. More bonds were issued, and by the time the courthouse was officially completed in 1870, the project had cost a staggering $1,342,226.31. Thus evolved the nickname, the "Million Dollar Courthouse."
Not only was the courthouse an exorbitant expense to the taxpayers, rumors of a scandal involving misused appropriations also tarnished the project. Initially, the blame was laid on Judge Thaddeus Loomis and George H. Holliday, county clerk. Judge Loomis was apparently innocent of any wrongdoing. (We may never know the truth about Mr. Holliday, however, because one night in 1870, he boarded a train out of town and simply disappeared.)
Upon completion, this courthouse became the largest county courthouse in the United States, with the possible exception of one in New York City. It was even larger than the Illinois Statehouse. While the courthouse still serves as the seat of county government, it has also become a showplace that attracts tourists, architects and artists from across the country, as well as overseas.
Despite the scandal and the expense, citizens supported this project with amazing dedication. In 1910, a mere 40 years after the cornerstone had been set in place, the last bond was burned and the debt retired. To mark the occasion, 20,000 people gathered in Carlinville for a memorable two-day celebration on July 20 and 21. At a pre-determined hour, all mine whistles, church bells, alarms and anything else that could make a loud noise raised quite a ruckus. The noise wasn't limited to one mighty blast, however, because history records that athletic contests, balloon rides and even airplane rides gave the citizens plenty to cheer about. A parade of cars that stretched more than a mile also entertained the crowds. That doesn't seem like such a spectacular event today, but it was quiet impressive at a time when so few people owned cars.