GrandPapa's Letter part 24
Franklin B. Van Valkenburgh

The Courthouse

Franklin Pierce was then President of these United States, Jefferson Davis was Secretary of War, Roger B. Taney, of Dred Scott Decision memory was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, and Daniel Wells, Jr. represented this Congressional District in Congress.

Coles Bashford was Governor of this State; and Joshua Stark was speaker pro tern of the Assembly, and had his Law Office at the corner of Main and Wisconsin Streets, in this city. On the Bench of the Supreme Court of this state sat Edward V. Whiton, Chief Justice, and Abram D. Smith and Orsamus Cole, Associate Justices, they being the first Supreme Court Justices, and it was by the Court so constituted that I was admitted to the practice of the law in Wisconsin.

The Circuit Court of this District, which then embraced Waukesha as well as Milwaukee County, was presided over by Judge Levi Hubbell, with Herman L. Page as Sheriff and S. S. Conover as Deputy Sheriff, and the sessions of the Court were opened, and peace order and dignity maintained by the redoubtable Marshall Timothy O'Brien, armed with a particolored Tip-Staff, about the size of a modern Base Ball Club, and eight feet long, which he handled with all the grace of an ancient Halberdier??

Court convened at the ringing of the bell at nine o'clock in the morning, took an hour recess at 12 and another at six P. M. and was often open until nine o'clock, and sometimes much later than that in the evening. All in the second story of the two story wooden Court House which was presented to the County by Juneau and Martin, which occupied the ground now occupied by the central portion of the present Court House, and was flanked on the east by a row of one story Brick Buildings extending to Jackson Street, in which were located the Clerk's Office, presided over by Matthew Keenan, for many years Clerk of the Courts, assisted by old Jerry Zander, one of the ante deluvians?? Here also was the Office of the Register of Deeds, with Albert Bode as Register, and the office of the County Clerk and Treasurer, in which it is my belief that our present Deputy Treasurer must have been born, sure it is that his face and form have been there or thereabout ever since I can remember. On the west side of the Court house, reaching out to Jefferson Street stood another row of one story wooden buildings occupied by George Schmit, who had charge of the Court House, and maintained a Saloon there until the buildings were all destroyed or removed to make room for the present Temple of Justice: The County Jail was located on Jackson Street, North of the row of buildings east of the Court House, and was the scene of many exciting occurrences.

The Court Room occupied the whole of the second story of the Court House, a model of which building, made of the materials of the original Building, now graces our Club Rooms: Entering the large double front door of the Court house one found a Hall about ten feet in width, extending across the entire front of the building, with windows to the south, protected by a two story front with large Corinthian Pillars. From this front hall a narrower one extended to the rear of the building, with a door opening out toward the north into the Jail Yard, and doors on either side opening into Jury rooms &c. &c.

Stairways at each end of the front hall communicated with the second story, and the Court Room was entered from a well lighted hall there, by a door exactly in the middle of the south end of that room; Passing about half way down the center aisle, between rows of wooden benches for the use of spectators, one came to a semi-circular railing, within which were chairs and tables for the use of members of the Bar; The Judges platform stood at the north end of the room, in the middle, with an old fashioned, high boarded P E W for the use of the Jury, on each side of it, and a few feet south of these pews were two square boxes or pens, raised a little above the floor, and built up some five feet, entered by doors at the side, one of which was for the use of the prisoner on trial, and the other for the convenience of the Sheriff or his deputy.

The room was well lighted, having windows on the West, North and East sides, from which the Jail and Cathedral were visible and was often packed to its utmost capacity by those who came to listen to the fervid eloquence of A. R. R. Butler, then District Attorney, and of Jonathan E. Arnold, Henry L. Palmer, or Edward G. Ryan, who often aided him in eliciting from the witnesses "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, " and in confounding the senses of the "Gentlemen of the Jury??" I very much doubt if any court room in this state, or for that matter, in any other state has ever held, or ever will hold more interested audiencies, or will ever hear more eloquent and moving speakers than that one did. .

The oath to witnesses was, for many years after my coming to Milwaukee administered upon a venerable and greasy copy of the Bible, which was kissed by the party to whom the oath was administered, as proof of his sincerity and truthfulness, and it used to be a mooted question whether the oath was binding upon a Roman Catholic, in case there was no Cross imprinted on the cover of that Holy Book, and whether, if a witness kissed his thumb, (as some were said to have done, ) instead of kissing the BOOK, his oath was binding, i. e. whether he would be guilty in the sight of high heaven if he lied???

Across Jackson Street from the Court House Square then stood, and now stands the best specimen of Church Architecture in the state; St. John's Cathedral, then topped by a wooden spire, which, with half a dozen similar ones on neighboring churches were referred to by the irreverent reporters of the day as "the pepper and vinegar cruets of the Municipal Castor.

The "SQUARE," was then recently fenced in with a white picket fence had a gate at each corner, hung with heavy weights, so as to keep out the hundreds of roving cows and pigs which ran the streets of the city without let or hindrance, incidentally, to catch the heels of the unwary passer who failed to skip, as he enters the square; We young-ones often waited to see the more dignified elders of the profession perform what we termed "The Court House Quick Step, " at the corners. The PARK as it is now called, then lacked not only its picturesque Fountain, but also its magnificent elms, and possessed only a few scrawny shrubs and trees, while its north west corner was adorned with a two story wooden building in which Deaf Smith, many years the Janitor of the County Buildings dispensed Lager Beer and kindred luxuries to the ever thirsty Lawyers and witnesses and Jurors. The City Officials at that time were Mayor James B. Cross; Controller Edwards; Treasurer Kuehn; Police Justice, Walworth; Marshall, O'Brien, and City Attorney, Foote: a straight Democratic Administration it was, and what it and its immediate successors failed to do to ruin the credit of our city, was only what they were too stupid to study out.

Milwaukeeans had then just fairly begun the business of moving houses from place to place as they wished, and the grading down of hills and filling up of valleys, and an immense lot of the kind of work was in progress for several years in all parts of the city; I remember with sorrow the visit made us by an old & highly esteemed friend of ours from the East, whom I as a matter of course, took out to see the wonders and beauties of our city, and as she was the correspondent of an eastern Newspaper, I tried to show her all that was worthy of note and comment, and among other things of curious interest to her, she saw a lot from which a house had been removed, and upon which had been left, after the grading was done the brick walls of an old well, which stood up some fifteen or twenty feet in the air, and at the side of which stood a small house, in the front door of which sat a poor fellow, who had met with some accident, and been deprived of both of his feet; by a curious coincidence a Real Estate dealers sign was tacked up near the door, on which were printed in large letters the not unusual words, "FORTY FEET FOR SALE. "--All of which was seen and commented by my friend and her friend in the most natural manner: You may imagine if you can the surprise with which I read in a copy of her paper which she was so kind as to forward to me some time after her return home, that among the wonders of the beautiful Cream City, she had seen a house in which as many as forty human feet were offered for sale; And that we not only moved houses all over the city, but actually pulled up and removed the brick wells?? These facts she asserted that she could not have believed, had she not seen them w^itITBer own eyes. Well, no more could I, but it was always a wonder to me, "Who told her they were moving that well. "

The Lake Shore, north of the then NEW STRAIGHT CUT, was uninhabited except in the third ward, but HURON and DETROIT streets were two of the very busy streets, with piers extending out a long distance into the lake, from the foot of each of them, with store houses on each, and both streets were lined with hotels and business houses; The bluff rose abruptly a little south of Wisconsin Street, and stood fully as high at the middle of Wisconsin Street as it now is at Oneida Street and several gullies ran down through the bluff, to the lake; one such coming up the end of Mason Street, nearly to Marshall Street, so as to endanger all the bluff south of Oneida Street and what Is now Juneau Park.

There was a sand bar some hundred or so feet east of the present Park, which extended from Michigan Street nearly to the North Point, to which we used often to swim, and then wade in shallow water as far north as to the present Flushing Works, and the project of creating a Park between that bar, and the shore, was always a favorite scheme of Mr. Waldo, who then lived at the corner of Marshall and Mason Sts. in the house now occupied by the family of John Furlong. I hope now to see that scheme carried out, and believe the city can secure all the land it cares for, at that point, at a very little expense, and so secure the handsomest park in the country.

I now recall but two houses as being east of Prospect Avenue at that time; One was the home of a noted Irish gentleman and Barrister, which was familiarly known as DUBLIN, for the reason, as stated, that It was created by the process of DOUBLING one house upon another, in the MOVING MANNER above mentioned. That house stood where Charle Ray afterwards built, and the other was the Russian Cottage, then recently built by Gustav Pfeil, and now occupied by Mr, Cowdery, and which was famous throughout the states if not the world, for the reason that Mr. Pfeil (being then about fifty years in advance of the times,) had attempted to cremated the body of his deceased wife on the premises, in pursuance of her dying request. Her body was taken from him by the authorities, on demand of a large number of the good people of the city, and given Christian Burial, but was afterwards cremated as required by her religion.

Grand Avenue, and GRAND-AVENOODLES, were then unknown in Milwaukee, although Alexander Mitchell, Judge A.D. Smith; John Plankinton; Jas. H. Rogers; James Kneeland; Elisha Eldred and others whose names are familiar to us, lived on SPRING STREET, and were content with that plebian name. At the top of Spring Street Hill, just east of the BIG RAVINE, which was about where Thirteenth Street now enters Grand Avenue and where some of the finest mansions in the city now stand, we youngsters of the day, marshalled by Captains Rufus King and Alpha C. May used to meet of Saturday afternoons, and indulge in the game of Base Ball, and If not as serious or deadly a game as is now played by professionals (then unknown,) we used to get a great deal of fun, noise and excitement out of it. The winter of 1856-7 was a very severe one.

It is my impression that we had a sleigh ride on Thanksgiving day that year; I know that we had many of them that winter on the ice between Spring Street Bridge, and Walker's Point Bridge between which there was no bridge or other obstruction at that time; except certain holes in the ice which were religiously kept open by the city authorities, for the accomodation of fire engines in case of fires requiring their services.

Overcoats were at a discount that winter as many of the tony gentlemen of the country wore the immense shawls which were all the fashion, instead; I remember a number of the legal fraternity and of the clericals who adopted them, and recall the fact that Jonathan E. Arnold wore one for some years after they ceased to be in vogue; But they were easily thrown on or off, and were for a while both stylish and convenient.


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