The Founding of Chittenden County and Its Courts.

By Connie Cain Ramsey

 This rare early photograph of Burlington’s Courthouse Square, now known as City Hall Park was taken in 1859. The view is looking north from Main Street toward College Street. It shows the oval plan of radiating paths and green that replaced the first courthouse which had been in the center. Along the right hand side of the photograph the following buildings can be seen from right to left: part of the 1854 Town Hall, the 1828 County Courthouse (#3), and Strong’s Block, where the county jail and sheriff’s office were originally located.

This rare early photograph of Burlington’s Courthouse Square, now known as City Hall
Park was taken in 1859. The view is looking north from Main Street toward College
Street. It shows the oval plan of radiating paths and green that replaced the first
courthouse which had been in the center. Along the right hand side of the photograph the
following buildings can be seen from right to left: part of the 1854 Town Hall, the 1828
County Courthouse (#3), and Strong’s Block, where the county jail and sheriff’s office
were originally located.

 

A visitor to the Burlington courthouse on Main Street will pass by two poster boards denoting
important events in our courthouse's history. These events piqued my curiosity, and so I began to
research some of the stories in depth. As a result, in conjunction with the Burlington Free Press, I
am happy to present “The Chittenden County Courthouse Chronicles.” This monthly column
began last month with the case of Woodhouse versus Woodhouse, Alienation of Affection and is
now followed this month with The Founding of Chittenden County and Its Courts.
The next chronicle will be on the Chittenden County Jail on Main Street.
Thanks for reading!

 

The Founding of Chittenden County and Its Courts.
Thomas Chittenden’s Fourteen Year Fight for the Fourteenth State.


At the same time America was fighting for independence from the British, Thomas
Chittenden was fighting for Vermont's independence from New York and New
Hampshire. Each had a claim on the land that was then called the New Hampshire
Grants.
In 1777, Chittenden spearheaded the adoption of a constitution, making Vermont the first
independent republic in the nation. He was elected governor, and began a fourteen year
struggle with the Continental Congress to bring Vermont to statehood in the newlyformed
union.
His hard-fought battle was won when, in 1791, Vermont became the nation's fourteenth
state. The first governor of the Vermont Republic was then elected the first governor of
the new State of Vermont. Later, a large tract of land that spread from Charlotte north to
Canada, south to present Washington County, and west to New York, was named in his
honor – Chittenden County.


Ira Allen Holds Court in His Living Room.


The county's first court session was held in 1788 at the home of war hero Ira Allen,
(where The Winooski Block stands today), in a section of Colchester called Winooski
Falls (which later became the city of Winooski). Colchester was declared the county's
“Shire Town”.
Two years later, in 1790, Burlington was named the new Shire Town, and court was held
at Gideon King's Tavern, where duties of the court were carried out before the draught
beer flowed. That noble establishment is still standing at 35 King Street. Gideon's son
(Gideon Jr.) became the most famous ship captain in the history of Lake Champlain.

 

The First Courthouse is Built in the Center of City Hall Park.


By 1797, the citizens of Chittenden County felt the need for a courthouse solely
dedicated to the ministrations of justice. A new facility was built just a stone's throw from
the old tavern in the center of Courthouse Square (now City Hall Park) and served the
county until 1801. It was razed just four years after its construction to make way for a
facility large enough to also host the Vermont State legislature (who subsequently moved
to Montpelier in 1805).
The new (second) courthouse was built on Church Street bordering the east side of
Courthouse Square (where City Hall is now). A fire destroyed this courthouse in 1828
and it was promptly replaced in the same spot by a third courthouse that featured a Late
Federal Style design and octagonal cupola. This building served the county for forty-five
years until 1873 when it became the Fletcher Free Library.
The fourth courthouse was built further south on Church Street in 1872. This Second
Empire Vermont Redstone building, with a three-story tower on the northwest side,
served Chittenden County for almost 100 years. It was placed on the National Historical
Registry in 1973, and was lost in a tragic fire in 1982. The land now serves as a parking
lot for the current courthouse.
In 1907, after four years of construction, our current county courthouse (fifth) was
opened as a U.S. Post Office and Customs House. Designed by James Knox Taylor, using
his trademark Beaux Arts design (as seen in his U.S. Treasury Building in Washington,
D.C.), features a white marble exterior, massive ionic columns, a classically detailed
parapet, an intricate doorway design, a marble finished interior, hand carved oak
archways, and Vermont red marble fireplaces.
In 1974, the U.S. Government donated the building to Chittenden County for use as the
county courthouse. It was dedicated to two brave young men who gave their lives for
their country in World War II – Charles P. Smith III and Bailey H. Goldberg.
Although additions to the building were made at this time, the grandeur of the marbled
hallways, hand carved oak walls and archways, remain as breathtaking today as they
were at the turn of the Twentieth Century.


Bob Boyd and Jack Ramsey contributed to this chronicle.

Sources:
Courthouse Posterboards (various, including University of Vermont Libraries)
Winooski Historical Society, The Great Falls on the Onion River, by Vince Feeney
http://archive.org/stream/cu31924028837536/cu31924028837536_djvu.txt
http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~vermont/GazeteerChittendenCoBurlin
gton3.html
http://www.flickr.com/photos/donshall/sets/72157631914125724/#
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Chittenden
of Vermont.
As printed:
http://bfpne.ws/1fF1V82