by Cynthia K. Leonard
Macoupin County, Illinois was created by an act of the
Assembly on January 17, 1829. The area now known as Macoupin County was
once part of Madison and later known as the "attached part of Green
The name Macoupin is of Indian extract, being shortened version of the Indian word "Macoupiana," which meant "white potato." The Indians used this name for the wild artichoke which grew in abundance along the waterways in the county. Long before the county was established, the main stream running through the county was named Macoupin Creek.
Thomas Carlin, a senator from this district at the time, and later governor of Illinois, was largely responsible for the passage of the bill. However, not all members of the general assembly were in favor of the new county. Peter Cartwright, a "celebrated and eccentric pioneer preacher" has been quoted as saying, "God has set apart this region as a reservation for the geese and ducks."
The first appointed commissioners were Seth Hodges, Joseph Borough, John Harris, Shadrack Riddick, and Ephraim Powers. They met at the house of Joseph Borough on the third day of March to decide on a permanent seat of Justice for Macoupin County.
The first courthouse built was of logs, erected in 1820. Seth Hodges won the contract and the cost according to records was $128.66. Ten years later, Macoupin County had outgrown its 18 x 24 foot log courthouse and plans were made for a larger one.
This building was to be of brick and measure 50 x 50 feet. Harbird Weatherford and Jefferson Weatherford were designated as builders. The project was to have cost $15,000.
By 1867, the county was again in need of a larger courthouse. The minutes of the county court of March, 1867 said, "Ordered that A. McKim Dubois and George H. Holliday be associated with T. L. Loomis, county judge, and Isham J. Peebles, County Justice, as commissioners, to erect a new courthouse in the City of Carlinville, Illinois, foundation to be laid this year, and building to be completed before the expiration of the term of office of the present court; said courthouse not to be commenced until there is sufficient money in the county treasury to pay the present indebtedness of the county." also: "Ordered that a levy of 50 cents on each $100 value of property in Macoupin County for the year 1867, real, personal, and mixed, be made for the purpose of erecting said courthouse, and that the clerk extend said tax on the collector's books for the year 1867, and that it be collected as their taxes for county purposes."
Bonds issued totaling $50,000.00 would be issued for ten years and bear interest at ten percent. By September, over $13,000.00 had been spent and in October, 1867, the cornerstone was set in place. The cost of the courthouse was beginning to go over the original estimate and by January, 1869, the cost was $449,604.07. Yet the courthouse was still not complete! The great dome and the roof were estimated to cost $125,115.00. More bonds were issued and by the time the building was officially completed in 1870 the final total cost was $1,342,226.31.
Not only was the courthouse an exorbitant expense to the taxpayers of the county, there was scandal about the appropriations being misused and the blame was laid on Judge Loomis and George H. Holliday, who was at that time County Clerk. Judge Thaddeus L. Loomis was apparently innocent of any wrong doing. We may never know about Mr. Holliday, as one night in 1870 he boarded a train on the Chicago & Alton railroad and disappeared.
When it was finished, the largest county courthouse in the United States, with the possible exception of one in New York City, and larger than the Illinois Statehouse became a showplace, attracting tourists, architects and art students. Some 120 years later, the courthouse still stands and is an impressive site in the "Great State of Macoupin."
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