June 30 , 2014
The Knox County Courthouse
Carl Sandburg was a barefoot seven-year-old when the cornerstone for the new courthouse was laid in 1885. He was somewhat vague as to the purpose of the cornerstone. Would it help hold up the building? Or was a courthouse not a courthouse without a cornerstone?
It was the custom in those days for members of the Masonic Order to carry out the dedication of large new buildings and to lay cornerstones. The Grand Lodge of Illinois Masons as well as representatives from forty-three Masonic Lodges across the state came to Galesburg to dedicate the cornerstone of the Knox County Courthouse.
Towns like Galesburg through which railroads had been constructed several decades earlier had achieved a certain prosperity and developed successful businesses and factories. The citizens took pride in their accomplishments and a new courthouse made a significant statement about the accomplishments of the municipality and the county government.
The Knox County Board had begun planning for a new courthouse in 1883. The planning committee included representatives from every township in the county as well as the city of Galesburg. Other courthouses were visited to learn about types of construction and materials to be used in the building.
They chose an architect who had experience designing public buildings and charged only three percent of the total construction cost as his fee. His name was Elijah E. Myers. In 1872 he had designed the state capitol of Michigan. He also created the plans for the capitol building in Austin, Texas. His design inspiration for these early governmental buildings was based on the United State Capitol. In the 1890s he designed the Colorado state capitol along the same lines. Myers was the most prominent architect of public buildings in the United States during this period. Several years after the completion of the courthouse in Galesburg, Myers was hired by the Knox College Trustees to create Alumni Hall.
Myers promised the Knox County officials that their building would be strong, firesafe and of superior appearance. The county government was important in the lives of local residents and they expected an imposing, distinctive and long-lasting edifice.
The Knox County Courthouse was occupied in February, 1887. Some thirty rooms were assigned for the use of county officials, judges and the County Board. A day was set aside for the public to view the interior of the new building. The circuit court room was especially impressive. It had skylights and cherry wood paneling. The ceiling lights were made of stained glass.
It is interesting to note Ulman Richard was hired as the janitor for $1200 per year. He was responsible for maintaining the heating and lighting as well as doing the sweeping and scrubbing. He was also responsible for watching the building at night. Mr. Richard was experienced. He had been working in a similar position at St. Mary's School in Knoxville.
The Knox County Board and architect Myers succeeded in constructing and furnishing the new courthouse for a total sum of $156.261 ( equal to $3,991,038.35 in today's money). There was no debt and the citizens had a handsome courthouse.