County Courthouse 101July 20, 2016
Two Indians and a single settler. That’s how the story of Marion County began.
The day David Morgan walked to his fields outside of Rivesville and fought two Indians while losing his finger was the day our county grew up from the ground to become legendary.
Morgan never saw his story continue, but his descendent William S. Morgan plotted the history of the county by introducing a bill to make Marion County.
That decision gave way to a new county, a new legacy and a new legend in the making— the Marion County courthouse.
When you visit Marion County, you will see Lady Justice standing upon the domed top of the courthouse’s roof. She seems to have stood there forever, but let’s look at the complicated and controversial history of how she came to be.
Marion County began as a small piece of land stuck in the middle of Harrison and Monongalia Counties before William S. Morgan introduced House Bill #69 in 1842.
The newly created county chose to call itself after Francis Marion, a Revolutionary War hero and one of the first generals to use guerilla warfare tactics in his battle plans.
Once the boundary lines were set, one of the first matters to attend was the establishment of the law. For that, Marion County needed a courthouse.
William Kerr, offered his home for the first county court, where justices of the peace and county officials were chosen to govern the new county. Thomas L. Boggess was elected County Clerk and granted permission to keep his office papers in his room because no office was available.
The next court met in the basement of the Methodist Episcopal Church on Washington Street where a need for a jail was addressed.
The county offered five dollars rent to Daniel Thompson for the use of his upstair as a jailhouse for poor prisoners, mostly debtors, to reside in and him the post of jailor.
This arrangement would work for the time being, until the newly elected circuit court judge Joseph Frye ordered the county to build a courthouse before his term of office expired.
The First Courthouse
Plans progressed for the new courthouse, and Daniel Thompson was granted a contract for $3,150.75 to build the structure.
The Grecian Revival style two-story building would be red brick, complete with six wooden pillars supporting the portico in front and a well-toned bell, with a jail on one side and a jailer’s residence on the other.
Construction on the jail finished first in 1843, making it the first public building complete in Marion County before the completion of the courthouse in 1844.
The red brick structure was the pride of Marion County, a sentimental stop for many who saw the county’s humble beginnings grow into a natural gas and coal boomtown.
This pride continued until Fairmont’s Great Fire in 1876, which destroyed half of downtown and most of the buildings around the courthouse. By the time the buildings around the courthouse had been rebuilt, the old courthouse looked shabby and small in comparison.
Although small for the needs of the ever-growing county, many residents thought the old courthouse needed renovated, not overhauled.
Others thought it needed a complete makeover in light of the prominent place the county began to occupy in the state.
This discussion led to hotly debated discussions on what to do with the courthouse. Many residents of the northern end of the county objected to any thought of tearing down the historic center of town.
They threatened to secede from the county and form a new county centered in Mannington and went to Charleston to start proceedings—proceedings that never happened after Charleston realized they had a lot of enthusiasm and no money.
Meanwhile in Fairmont, local officials who favored a new courthouse took matters into their own hands, offering speeches on the necessity of the deed and free drinks to the men of the town.
Members of the public armed with pickaxes and maddoxes took their words to heart and more than eighty men rioted around the courthouse, destroying the first level until renovations became impossible.
Mannington’s men had gotten wind of the demonstrations and had come to stop the rioting, but due to a derailed train, they never made it in time.
The old courthouse no longer had a say in its existence. Damaged beyond repair, the final razing of its walls took place in March of 1897.
County officials took action to hire a famous architectural firm to handle construction on the new building. They chose Joseph Warren Yost and Frank L. Packard of Columbus, Ohio. Yost had designed many courthouses already across the East Coast and was nationally known for his stunning style.
Construction bids came open in June of 1897, and James Westwater and Company of Columbus, Ohio accepted $130,743 to begin the process.
The cornerstone was laid at the southeast corner of the new site on November 17, 1897, marking the end of one era and the beginning of a new start for the county.
Construction continued until 1900, as Marion County residences watched a large domed structure of Cleveland sandstone rise until the final bronze statue of Lady Justice rose high into the sky.
For over 100 years, the Marion County courthouse and Lady Justice have watched over the town through many phases. They’ve seen progress and heartache. They’ve seen jobs come and jobs go. They’ve seen a county flourish and stand strong in spite of problems.
When you visit the Marion County courthouse today, not much has changed on the inside from those first days of its operations.
In 1960, ground floor renovations took place and the Jefferson Street portico was closed.
The 1970s brought a new courtroom to the building and more renovations to the Assessor’s Office, County Commission offices, and Circuit Clerk offices.
The 1970s also brought the notice of the National Registry of Historic Places , which added both the courthouse and the adjacent sheriff’s residence (now the Marion County Historical Society Museum) to their list of buildings in 1979 for cultural, artistic and historical significance.
In the 1980s, the J. Harper Meredith City-County Complex was constructed next door, and many offices moved there and switched around in the courthouse. The third floor Division I underwent a historic renovation to preserve its original splendor.
If you walk inside the Circuit Courtroom, you will find portraits of Francis H. Pierpont, Fairmont resident and “Father” of West Virginia, and Afpheus F. Haymond, first Marion County lawyer to become member of West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.
When you walk to the third floor, you will notice murals lining the walls from an unknown artist, completed at the time of construction.
One of these murals may catch your eye, as you see the legend of Marion County come to life.
David Morgan fights the Indians in a desperate struggle that would one day lead to our country’s birth—a tribute to our country’s enduring spirit of justice and perseverance from the 1700s to modern times.
The best time to explore the Marion County courthouse is during the Mountaineer State History Expo held at the courthouse every March.
In the meantime, you can find more information about our
courthouse and county’s history, by taking a tour of the old sheriff’s quarters—now housing the Marion County Historical Society Museum.
You’ll be excited by all the treasures you will find!