The present Cass County courthouse, in Virginia, was first occupied in 1875.   This is the second courthouse erected in Virginia, but the third in the county, including one built in Beardstown when it was the county seat.  All three of these courthouses were built by private citizens and donated to the county, and only the additions and improvements to the present building, made in 1891 and 1939-40, were financed by taxation.

     The first county seat was located in Beardstown where a house was rented from Augustus Knapp (also Napp)[1] for $25 a quarter to use for county offices until such time as a courthouse would be erected.  One of the provisions of the law approved March 4, 1837, establishing and locating the seat of justice of Cass County in Beardstown was that this city should pay a sum of $10,000 towards erection of the county buildings; and should it fail to comply with the law the county seat was to be removed to one of the towns’ nearest to the center of the county provided a citizen or the citizens donated no less than fifteen acres of land for public buildings.[2]

   There is no evidence in county board records that Beardstown complied with this law inasmuch as Virginia officially became the county seat May 1, 1839.[3] Before this, Henry H. Hall, one of its public-spirited citizens, had donated fifteen acres of land as a site for public buildings,[4] thus complying with the alternative condition of the law for the establishment of a county seat for Cass County.  On April 14, 1838, the county commissioners appointed Henry Hall as their agent to dispose of all this land with the exception of three acres which was designated as the public square.[5] The remaining twelve acres were divided into lots, and Hall was empowered to execute the deeds to the purchasers of the lots.[6] Later he was given all these lots by the county in return for building the courthouse and jail.[7] It is impossible to ascertain from the records the architectural style of this courthouse, but it was substantially built of brick and was two stories high. Furthermore, neither its cost nor the date of its completion can be ascertained, but on September 2, 1839, Hall notified the commissioners’ court that the courthouse and jail were ready for acceptance.[8] The only money expended by the county was $170 for painting, contracted for with Joshua P. Crow on June 22, 1839,[9] and $8 allowed June 5, to G. Harris for painting windows and doors.[10]

 Housing, Care of Records

    The citizens of Beardstown did not approve the idea of losing the county seat and spared no efforts to regain the honor.  The state legislature in 1843 helped Beardstown make a decisive effort to reopen the issue.  An act was passed by the General Assembly, effective March 4, of that year, requiring an election to be held on the first Monday in September 1843 to decide the question of relocating the county seat.[11] The outcome was that Beardstown regained the honor of being the county seat.

    County board records are silent as to the preparations that led to the removal of county offices back to Beardstown.  The first mention of it is made on February 8, 1845, when Henry E. Drummsteter, Esq., appeared before the commissioners’ court and submitted proof showing that Beardstown had fully compiled with the provisions of the law.[12] He presented a deed from Thomas R. Saunders to the county for a parcel of land in Beardstown; a receipt for payment in full from B. W. Schneider, contractor, for building a courthouse on Lot 1, Block 31, in Beardstown; a receipt from Thomas Beard, contractor, for building a jail; and a certificate of sufficiency of the courthouse and jail issued by the Honorable Samuel D. Lockwood, presiding judge of the circuit court.[13] This courthouse was a two-story brick building, built along Georgian lines. County offices were on the lower floor, while the courtroom and jury room were on the upper or second floor.

    On July 14, 1845 the county leased the courthouse in Virginia to the trustees of school lands for one dollar for a period of ten years.[14] Six years later, on petition of the “Inhabitants of Virginia and School District Number 1” it was deeded to the latter with the provision that the property revert to the county should it be used for other than school purposes.[15]

   Beardstown’s hold on the county seat remained precarious during the next twenty-five years; many attempts continued to be made to deprive her of the honor.[16] The county board on March 8, 1856, contracted with Henry E. Drummer for the purchase of a lot adjoining the courthouse for $750 on which to build a fireproof building for the safekeeping of records,[17] and John A. Arenz was appointed commissioner to obtain by the June term a plan and specifications for a fireproof building 40 feet square and 12 feet high.[18] Drummer was paid the $750 for the lot June 4, [19] and Arenz submitted his plans and specifications and was ordered to invite proposals for material and labor June  

11.[20]Arenz received $36.25 for his plans and specifications,[21]but board records do not reveal whether the office building was ever erected.

    In 1872, an attempt against Beardstown ‘s possession of the county seat finally met with success.[22].  Pursuant to an act of the General Assembly for relocating the county seat, approved March 15, 1872, [23] R. W. Milk, on September 2, of the same year, presented a petition for removing the county seat to Virginia.[24] After some quibbling to decide whether the county court had jurisdiction in the matter, it was ordered to submit the question to the county electorate.[25] The election was held November 12, 1871, Virginia being the victor by a vote of 1,458 to 1,330.[26]

   The outcome of the election resulted in protracted litigation, which finally ended when the county board, gathered at a special meeting held above the Farmers’ National Bank in Virginia, ordered that “here-after the clerk of the county court shall have and keep his office and the records and papers thereof in the rooms at this time occupied by this Board until such time as the South West room of the courthouse in the public square in the City of Virginia shall be fitted and furnished suitably for the office of county clerk.”[27] No official business was done by the county board until June 7, 1875, when the county board instructed the sheriff to remove without any delay the furniture in the courthouse in Beardstown and assist the circuit clerk in removal of all the books, papers, and records of the circuit clerk’s office into the “upper room or courtroom” in Virginia until the southeast room of the lower story of the courthouse should be properly furnished.[28]

   When work on the erection of the courthouse in Virginia began, by whom it was built, or its final cost is not revealed in county board records, but it was paid for by Virginia and it was officially occupied in the summer of 1875.[29] 

    This courthouse was built of brick along generous lines, two stories high with a mansard roof.  It constitutes the center or main part of the structure as it stands today.  It is located in the center of the public square, bounded on the north by Springfield Street, on the south by Beardstown Street, on the east by Main Street, and on the west by Front Street.

    Two additions, one each on the east and west sides, containing fireproof vaults, were erected in 1891 at a cost of $7,282.21.[30]

   An addition, containing washrooms, was erected in 1913 on the east side of the courthouse at a cost of $664.[31]  In 1939 the courthouse interior was renovated and the wing on the west side enlarged at a cost in excess of $20,000.[32]  In the enlarged wing on the first floor is located the suits of the county clerk, and on the second floor the offices of the superintendent of highways and of schools.

    The last addition, with its increased space, has done much to enhance the value of this building for governmental purposes. At the present time, the floor lay-out is well adapted both for carrying on county business and for record housing. (For floor plans of courthouse and arrangement of offices and vaults, see pages 103-5)

    Besides the offices and depositories in the courthouse, there are: the coroner’s office, in the residence of C. H. Gersmeyer, corner, 312 West Eighth Street, Beardstown, and the county home’s, in the caretaker’s quarters on the first floor of the county home at Bluff Springs, eight miles northwest from the courthouse.

    Records are distributed among the offices and vaults in proportion to the frequency of their use. Thus, seventy-two percent of the files and only thirty percent of the record volumes are left in the offices. There are 1,402 record volumes in the vaults and 604 in the offices. Of the files, 381 are in the vaults and 983 in the offices. With the exception of one bundle stored in the circuit court vault, all miscellaneous records are found in various offices. (For allocation of records in the depositories according to county office, as well as percentages of records stored therein, see charts on pages 99, 100; for detailed information concerning individual depositories with a description of facilities for the housing of records, see charts on pages 101, 102.) 

    Binding and repair of record volumes are under the direct supervision of the county board. The system of indexing and filing records follows practices generally adopted and employed in other counties in Illinois. 

    Unlike many counties in Illinois, Cass County began business with a complete set of record volumes prepared for any contingency that might occur.  The cost was $124.80.[33] Either to economize or to protect itself against promiscuous dissemination of illicit county orders, the county commissioners’ court on March 10, 1842, ordered Henry H. Hall “to procure a suitable plate of steel or copper or some other metal for engraving notes to be issued as county warrants.”[34] An entry in the board record later says that T. R. Whitney was allowed $100 June 6, 1842, for a steel  plate for county warrants and the striking and printing of 5,000 impressions, and Henry H. Hall $100 for advanced sum to Whitney.[35] John W. Pratt was authorized, December 29, 1843, to transcribe all deeds and sales of school lands situated in Cass County found of record in the recorder’s office in Morgan County.[36] A part of Morgan County having been added to Cass county in the election held May 5, 1845, J. Lucas, recorder of Morgan County was allowed $50, June 7, 1845, for the “privilege of transcribing the record of deeds and mortgages[37] on record in Morgan County. . . and for his examining the transcript when made and certifying said transcript.”[38]

    From September 2, 1845 to April 1847, John W. Pratt was allowed $605 for transcribing records in Morgan County,[39] and Samuel W. Lucas was paid $80, in March 1847 for transcribing and indexing 160 deeds.[40] Three books of abstracts of land records were purchased from Henry Drummer for $480 in 1866 and were deposited in the circuit clerk’s office as a part of the public record.[41] Then the circuit clerk, Henry Phillips, was employed August 7, 1865, to complete the index to this abstract beginning with about the year 1860. The amount paid him was five cents for every tract of land or lot entered, his work to be completed by August 7, 1866.[42] These records cannot be located today and county board records do not reveal what happened to them. Always desirous of having important records as complete as possible, Cass County further purchased a book of plats and field notes or original surveys of lands in the county from F. N. Rearick, December 6, 1865, for the sum of $107.[43] 

    Cass County today is fortunate in having all of its most important records intact and in fair condition. The assessor’s books[44] are shown in this inventory as having several volumes missing from the series, but such gaps do not destroy the value of the remainder. Otherwise, all the required records are represented in the archives of Cass County.

[1] Commissioners’ Court, v. 1, p. 13, in Supervisors’ Minutes (Record) see entry 3. This house was rented from Knapp from August, 1837, to March, 1839 (ibid., p. 13, 18, 26, 30, 36).

[2] L. 1837, p. 101, An Act approved July 1, 1837, specified that the payment of $10,000 by Beardstown should be made in three equal installments over a period of three years (L. 1837, Sp. Sess., p. 48)

[3] L. 1838-39, p. 287.

[4] Commissioners’ Court, v. 1, p. 47, in Supervisors’ Minutes (Record), see entry 3.

[5] Ibid/. [/ 24. 25.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., p. 57.

[8] Commissioners’ Court, v. 1, p. 57, in Supervisors’ Minutes (Record), see entry 3.

[9] Ibid., p. 53.

[10] Ibid., p. 50.

[11] L. 1843, p. 102-4.  A detailed account of the removal of the county seat from Virginia to Beardstown will be found in the Historical Sketch. See ch. 1.

[12] L. 1843, p. 102-4.

[13] Commissioners’ Court,  v. 1, p. 274, in Supervisors’ Minutes (Record), see entry 3.

[14] Ibid., p. 308.

[15] County Court Record, v. B, p. 100, in Supervisors’ Minutes (Record), see entry 3; Deed Record, v. F, p. 402, see entry 76. The title to this property has not changed since the original recordation.

[16] L. 1853, p. 152; L. 1857, p. 193; Priv. L. 1867, v. 1, p. 892.

[17] County Court Record, v. B, p. 296, 297, in Supervisors’ Minutes (Record), see entry 3.

[18] Ibid.,  p. 297.

[19] Ibid., p. 304.

[20] Ibid., p. 305.

[21] Ibid.

[22] A full account of the return of the county seat to Virginia is contained in the Historical Sketch, see ch. 1.

[23] L. 1871-72, p. 309.

[24] County Court Record, v. D, p. 123, in Supervisors’ Minutes (Record), see entry 3.

[25] Ibid., p. 126, 127, 130, 131.

[26] Ibid., p. 140.

[27] Ibid., p. 287  

[28] County Court Record, v. D, p. 289, in Supervisors’ Minutes (Record), see entry 3. The courthouse in Beardstown was loaned to school district number 1 for school purposes September 4, 1876, until September 15, 1877.  On June 8, 1877, the building and land was sold to the City of Beardstown for $300 (ibid., p. 430, 504).

[29] On June 10, 1875, T. J. Kemper was allowed $367.18 for “fitting up” county clerk’s office (County Court Record, v. D, p. 292, in Supervisors’ Minutes (Record), see entry 3; On June 19, Butler, Sandmyer and Co. were paid $900 for two furnaces as per contract (ibid., p. 306); and T. J. Kemper was awarded a contract for $350 “to fit up” circuit clerk’s office (ibid.) At the September term, S. R. Yapee was allowed $615 for furnishing the courtroom (ibid)., p. 316) and Angler Wilson & Co. were allowed $333.39 for ten boxes (ibid., p. 344).

[30] County Board Record, v. F, p. 256, 270, 284, in Supervisors’ Minutes (Record), see entry 3.

[31] County Board Minutes, v. 4, p. 299, 272, in Supervisors’ Minutes (Record), see entry 3.

[32] Supervisors’ Minutes, (Record) v. 6, p. 129, see entry 3. The contract for this work was let to Wessell and Sons on July 14, 1939, for the sum of $18,350, but numerous extras brought the final figure to more than $20,000 (Miscellaneous Record, v. F, p, 238, see entry 67).

[33] Commissioners’ Court, v. 1, p. 12, in Supervisors’ Minutes (Record), see entry 3.

[34] Ibid., p. 161.

[35] Ibid., p. 162.

[36] Ibid., p. 232.

[37] See entry 79.

[38] Commissioners’ Court, v. 1, p. 232, in Supervisors’ Minutes (Record), see entry 3.

[39] Ibid., p. 316, 318, 345, 372, 391, 402.

[40] Ibid., p. 394.

[41] County Court Record, v. C, p. 222, 272, in Supervisors’ Minutes (Record), see entry 3.

[42] Ibid., p. 226.

[43] Ibid., p. 248. See entry 254.

[44] See entry 22.