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Whiteside Co Govt 1885 > County-Seat Contests

3 May 2005

Source: Portrait & Biographical Album of Whiteside County, IL
Originally published 1885, Chapman Bros., Chicago, IL
Reproduced on CD purchased from OLD GLORY ACCENTS

Transcribed by: Denise McLoughlin
Tampico Area Historical Society

Page 815


New counties throughout the length and breadth of the land but have had their county-seat contests. To be the shire town of a county is an honor coveted at all times, and much bad blood has been engineered in working to secure the prize of a county seat. The people of many towns have acted as though they believed that if their town was only permitted the possession of the court-house and jail of the county, and made the home of the county officers, a metropolis would at once spring up. The same efforts that have been put forth to secure the seat of justice of a county, if used in another direction, would result in incalculable good to a place.

Whiteside County is no exception to the general rule in relation to a county seat. The General Assembly passed an act which was approved Feb. 21, 1839, in relation to the county seat of this county.. By that act the question was to be left to a vote of the people to decide where it should be permanently located. It was provided by the act that an election should be held  on the first Monday in May, 1839. If more than one pint was voted for, and no place received a majority of the votes cast, another election should be held on Monday of each succeeding four weeks, until some place should receive a majority.

It was also provided in the act that no person might offer a donation of land on which to locate the county seat, and in the event of the point  offered being selected by the legal voters of the county, a good and sufficient deed should be executed to the County Commissioners within four weeks.

The first election for the location of the county seat was held at the time provided in the act, but no place received a majority of the votes cast. Another election was held, with like results. Finally, on the 23d of September, 1839, it was declared that the village of Lyndon had received a majority of the votes cast. The result was declared by Adam R. Hamilton and C. G. Woodruff, the Justices of the Peace named in the act for canvassing the vote. Lyndon, previous to this time, had virtually been the county seat, the County Commissioners' Court being held at that place.

On the 11th of February, 1840, a contract was made with Thomas C. Gould, by John Ray and Augustine Smith, on the part of the people of Lyndon, for the erection of a good and substantial frame building, 26x17 feet, one and a half stories in height, to be used for county purposes. The building was soon afterward erected on lot 51, block 10, and used for county purposes until the removal of the offices to Sterling.

By reference to the history of the city of Sterling it will be seen that that place originally comprised two villages, located but a few rods apart. Desiring to secure the location of the county seat, and knowing that neither could obtain the prize if acting alone, the proprietors of the two villages had the vacant space between the two places surveyed, thus uniting the two, and naming it Sterling. They then, on the 3d day of May, 1839, offered to donate to the county 80 acres of land, provided they secured the location of the county seat. In addition to the donation of land, the proprietors agreed to apy to the County Commissioners the sum of $2000, to be used for county purposes, providing the public buildings should be erected on block 58, west of Broadway, a central position in the town.

With the declared result of the election, in which it had been averred that Lyndon had received a majority of all the votes cast on the 23d of September, 1839, the friends of Sterling would not agree, claiming the result was obtained by throwing out the votes of a precinct which had given a majority for Sterling. At the election the regularly appointed Judges refused to serve, and the legal voters of the precinct selected others in their places, who received, counted, and certified the returns. These returns were thrown out as irregular, thus giving Lyndon the majority. In February, 1840, at an election for county commissioners, the candidate favorable to Sterling was elected. A recanvass of the vote of Sept. 23, 1839, was ordered, the returns of the rejected precinct received and counted, showing a majority of seven votes in favor of Sterling.

The County Commissioners, on the result being declared, issued an order removing the county seat to Sterling. Accordingly the sessions of the County Commissioners'  Courts were held in Sterling until September, 1842. At the annual election held this year for county Commissioners, candidates favorable to Lyndon were elected. At the September session of the Court an order was entered removing the county seat back to Lyndon. So back it went.

In order to forever settle the matter, an act was passed in the General Assembly of 1843, appointing G. W. Harrison and John McDonald, of Jo Daviess County, Joshua Harper, of Henry County, Leonard Andrus, of Ogle County, and R. H. Spicer, of Mercer County, Commissioners to permanently locate the seat of justice of Whiteside County. The act provided that the Commissioners, or a majority of them, should meet at the town of Albany, on the first Monday in May, 1843, or within 30 days thereafter, and locate the county seat at the place which would most conduce to the public good of the citizens of the county. After examining such parts of the county as they might think proper, they were to make out and return to the Clerk of the County Commissioners' Court a certificate of such location. By the act the Commissioners could not locate the seat of justice at any point where a donation of at least 30 acres of land was not secured. It was also provided that as soon as convenient after the location of county seat the County Commissioners should cause to be erected a court-house and other necessary buildings for public use.

Joshua Harper, Leonard Andrus and R. H. Spicer, agreeable to the provisions of the act, met at Albany, at the specified time, and proceeded to examine the different locations. They finally agreed upon Lyndon, and so reported to the County Commissioners on the 27th of May, 1843.'It was now supposed that the contest was ended and that Lyndon would remain in peaceable possession of the prize. But not so. When the County Commissioners, in 1841, ordered the removal of the county seat to Sterling, steps were at once taken to erect a court-house. A house 40 feet square, two stories in height, was erected and finally completed in 1844. This property the Commissioners always controlled, notwithstanding the seat of justice wa taken from Sterling, and the proprietors could not therefore reap any of the benefits they sought to derive in making the donations to the county. The proprietors of Lyndon, on the place being selected by the Commissioners appointed to locate the county seat, made a donation of 40 acres for county purposes; but no county buildings ere erected.

The friends of Sterling therefore claimed that, inasmuch as no public buildings had been erected in Lyndon and that the same had been erected in Sterling, that place should be the county seat. The County Commissioners were prevailed upon to enter an order that the grand and petit juries, selected at the March (1846) term to attend at the May term of the Circuit Court, be summoned to attend at Sterling instead of at Lyndon.

Agreeable to the order of the County Commissioners, the terms of the Circuit Court were afterwards held at Sterling. Lyndon was not pleased at this action of the County Commissioners, and applied for a writ of mandamus compelling the Commissioners to make an order removing the Circuit Court back to Lyndon, on the ground that the Commissioners appointed by the State for the purpose of permanently locating the county seat, had selected that point and that suitable buildings were provided for the county officers and Court purposes. The writ was refused, the Court holding that from the evidence the building used for county purposes was not upon the grounds donated to the county, as required by the statutes.

The General Assembly of the State was again appealed to, and passed an act declaring Sterling to be the county seat until such time as the county should compensate the donors of money and land for their donations used for county purposes. As several thousand dollars had been donated and expended, the friends of Lyndon could not raise the amount or prevail upon the county Commissioners to make a levy for that purpose.  It was cheaper to again appeal to the General Assembly.An act was therefore secured by which the question should be submitted to a vote of the people as to which of the two places, Sterling or Lyndon, should be the permanent seat of justice of the county. If Lyndon should secure a majority of the votes cast, it should be declared the county seat, and the act by which Sterling was to be made the county seat until compensation should be made to donors of land, should be repealed. The act further provided that donations of money and lands might be offered for the purpose of the erection of county buildings and that the offers should be entered upon record. James M. Pratt and Augustine Smith offered 50 acres of land on behalf of Lyndon, and $1,432 was offered by the citizens. The election was held April 3, 1849, resulting in favor of Sterling by a majority of 68, in a total vote of 970.

For eight years Sterling was permitted the county seat, when the general Assembly was once more appealed to, and an act was passed entitled "An act for the removal of the seat of justice of Whiteside County," which was approved Feb. 7, 1857. The act provided that at the November election the legal voters of the county should vote upon the question of the removal of the county seat from Sterling to Morrison, and that in case the latter should receive a majority of all the votes cast, it should be declared the county seat, provided a donation of land should be made not less that 300 feet square, and the sum of $3,000 donated to aid in the construction of county buildings. At the election held for the purpose, Morrison received a majority of 59, out of 3,203 votes cast.

The ground selected by a committee appointed by the Board of Supervisors was deeded to the county, and $3,000 turned over to the County Treasurer; and May 3, 1858, the county offices were removed to Morrison, where they yet remain.

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