Winnebago County, Illinois
The County Seat Located at Winnebago
[from Past and Present of City of Rockford and Winnebago County Illinois, Charles A Church and H.H. Waldo, 1905]
The law establishing Winnebago County designated Rezin Zarley, of Cook County, and John Phelps, of Jo Daviess, as commissioners, to locate the permanent seat of justice. These commissioners were authorized to meet on the first Monday in May, 1836, or as soon thereafter as may be, at the house of Daniel S. Haight, for the discharge of their duty. John Phelps never made his appearance. The other two commissioners met July 14th, at the place specified by law, for the selection of a site for the county buildings.
At the county commissioner’s court on Thursday, August 4, 1836, the report of the special commissioners was presented. The reader will avoid confusion by noting the distinction between the three county commissioners designated by the statute to locate the county seat. The latter reported that on the 14th day of July they had met at the house of Daniel S. Haight, and that two days later they had selected a site on lands owned by Nicholas Boilvin & Co., on condition that the proprietors should execute a warranty deed to the county of thirty acres of land, so long as it should remain the seat of justice. On the same day, Charles Reed presented to the county commissioners a deed of twelve blocks, containing two and one-half acres each, situated about two miles up the river from the ferry crossing.
The law was very specific concerning the location of a site. It provided that if the site chosen should be the property of individuals, instead of government land, the owners thereof should make a deed in fee simple of not less than twenty acres of said tract to the county; or in lieu thereof they should pay the county three thousand dollars, to be used in the erection of county buildings. Mr. Reed may have presented his deed in good faith, but it was not accepted because it contained an objectionable clause to the effect that the county should hold the property "so long as it should remain the seat of justice". This reservation defeated his scheme.
This tract of land came into possession of Nicholas Boilvin about one year previous. Mr. Boilvin was at one time a government agent for the Winnebago Indians. It has been noted that by the treaty negotiated at Prairie du Chien, August 1, 1829, between the United States and the Winnebagos, grants of lands were made to certain descendants of this tribe. Catherine Myott, a half-breed Indian woman, was one of the two who had received two sections each. Previous to this contest over the county seat, one of these two unlocated sections had been sold to Henry Gratiot. By deed executed August 25, 1835, Catherine Myott conveyed the other unlocated section to Nicholas Boilvin for eight hundred dollars. This was the first individual conveyance of land in Winnebago County. The deed was filed for record in Cook County, September 8, 1836. This instrument was the first filed for record in this county. The tract located for Mr. Boilvin, by virtue of the treaty of 1829, is the east half of section fourteen and all that part of section thirteen west of Rock River, in Rockford Township, and contains six hundred and thirty-seven acres. At the time, Mr. Reed made the offer of his deed to the county commissioners, the property belonged to Nicholas Boilvin, of Chicago, Charles Reed, of Joliet, and Major Campbell.
As soon as the organization of the county began to be agitated, Boilvin and this associates determined to secure the location of the county seat on their site. The entire tract was platted September 14, 1836. It was known as Nicholas Boilvin’s plat of the town of Winnebago, and the plat was filed for record September 17, 1836. Reed appeared as the principal manager. There were two hundred and fifty-one blocks, and these were subdivided into two thousand four hundred and thirty-six lots. The town was christened Winnebago. Reed built a two-story house, to be used as a hotel and store, which is still standing a few rods above John H. Sherratt’s residence. A free ferry was established; a limestone kiln and a blacksmith shop were built; and a road opened through the timber east from Winnebago, to meet the state road from Chicago to Galena, at a point on Beaver Creek. Nothing was left undone to secure the county seat; but the decision of the commissioners, like the law of the Medes and the Persians, could not be changed.
Notwithstanding the fact that the special commissioners were given full power by the statute to locate the county seat, their selection was arbitrarily set aside by the commissioner’s court. This rejection, however, was based upon a reason which would have been considered valid by any court. The question did not again come before the people until 1839. Pending the location of the county seat the commissioners orders that the circuit and the county commissioners’ courts should be held at the house of Mr. Haight.
The Seven Years War over the Site of the County Seat
[from "Past and Present of City of Rockford and Winnebago County Illinois", Charles A Church and H.H. Waldo, 1905]
The attempt in 1836 to locate the county seat had proven a failure. The county business had been transacted in the meantime in various placed in the village. The proprietors of Winnebago did not consider the refusal of their deed of cessation to the county as a finality. On that very day began the famous controversey over the location of the county seat., which was continued for seven years with great spirit and not a little bitterness on all sides. The proprietors of Winnebago had expended considerable money in their town plat, and they were anxious to have the county buildings commenced at once, and thus settle the question. On the other hand, the county commissioners opposed the site of Winnebago, and placed every obstacle in the way of such location. Various propositions were made by the proprietors during this and the succeeding year to induce the commissioners to take some action that would secure them in the location which had been previously made. All these overtures were either refused or evaded. The persistent refusal of the county commissioners led to state legislation.
By an act of the general assembly, approved March 2, 1839, the question was submitted to a popular vote. It was made the duty of the clerk of the county commissioners’ court to give notice of an election to be held on the first Monday in May, 1839. The law provided that if it should appear that within one hundred of a majority of all the votes cast were in favor of the town of Winnebago, that town should remain the permanent county seat. But if any other place, after the first election, should receive a majority, there should be an election held on the first Monday of each succeeding month, dropping off at each election, the place receiving the smallest number of vote, until some one place should receive a majority of all the votes polled.
These provisions gave Winnebago a decided advantage, but even then the town was unable to win the prize. At the election six aspirants received votes, as follows: Rockford, three hundred and twenty; Winnebago, seventy-five; Roscoe, two; Willow Creek, five; Pecatonica, one; Scipio, one. Total vote cast, four hundred and our, of which Rockford had a majority over all of two hundred and thirty-six.
The prospective village of Winnebago reached the highest point of all its greatness on the day when its ambitious claims were rejected by the county commissioners’ court. In April , 1844, many of the lots were sold by the sheriff to satisfy delinquent taxes; and in 1847 the plat was vacated by a special act of the legislature.
In pursuance of the popular vote in favor of Rockford, the county commissioners, on June 8, 1839, selected the public square on the east side of the river as the site for the courthouse. Anson Barnum and Daniel S. Haight were authorized to accept stone and other building material. A large quantity of brick and lumber was contributed by he citizens. This material remained on the public square for a long time, because the county had no money to continue the work. At a special session held June 17, the court selected the southeast corner of block nine as a site for a jail. This is the site now occupied by the Rockford Gas Light and Coke Company. No jail, however was built upon that location.
At the session of September 28, 1841, a proposition was submitted to the commissioners; court to furnish a suitable jail and quarters for the county offices in West Rockford until permanent buildings could be constructed. This proposal was signed by Messrs. George Haskell, Charles I. Horsman, Abrian Morgan, John W. Taylor, David Alling, Nathaniel Loomis, Ephraim Wyman, Horatio Nellson, Derastus Harper, and Isaiah Lyon. Upon executing a bond in the penal sum of one thousand dollars this proposition was accepted. December 11th these gentlemen reported to the commissioners’ court that the building for the county offices was ready for use and the same was accepted by the court. This was a frame structure on the southwest corner of Main and Chestnut streets, opposite the Hotel Nelson. This building was occupied by the court until the courthouse was built, and only a few years ago was torn down to make room for the block now occupied by Mead, Hallock, & Bennett. The donors at this December session were given an extension of five months to complete the jail. This was a log structure about twelve feet square with plank door, and window barred with iron set into the logs above and below. It stood east of the present courthouse, in the same block. Whenever a desperate character was confined therein it was necessary to station a guard. Previous to the erection of this primitive prison the nearest jail was at Galena. When I.N. Cunningham was sheriff he owned a substantially built house a short distance from town, and his brother William once prevented a prisoner from escaping at night by fastening one end of a chain to his ankle and the other to the ankle of the prisoner, and both were secured to the strong puncheon floor. The old log jail did its duty after a fashion until the brick jail was completed. A controversy arose concerning the precise meaning of the statute under which the election of May, 1839, had been held. That portion of the third section of the law enclosed in parenthesis was ambiguous. The point at issue was whether the law actually authorized an election to select a seat of justice, or merely to decided the general question of removal. The question was before the commissioners’ court at its September session in 1841. Each commissioner held a different opinion. May 10, 1842, the commissioners’ court request the bar of the city to submit opinions in writing concerning the legal effect of the popular vote. Opinions were prepared by Anson S. Miller, Francis Burnap, Thomas D. Robertson, James M. Wight, and Jason Marsh. Mr. Millers opinions were quite elaborate. The attorneys were unanimous in the opinion that the county seat had been changed from Winnebago to Rockford, in accordance with the evident intent of the law. At the session of July, 1842, the commissioners’ court authorized the judges of election in the several precincts to take the sense of the voters at the August election on the question whether the county buildings should be permanently located in East r West Rockford. Several precincts did not vote on the question; but the general result was favorable to the West side, inasmuch as the temporary location of the county offices on that side had already given it a degree of prestige. The vote had no legal effect, however, because the law had given the commissioners’ court full power in the premises. But it did have a certain persuasive influence.
In April, 1843, Daniel S. Haight, E.H. Potter, Hollis H. Holmes, Laomi Peak, Daniel Howell, and John A. Brown, of the East side submitted a proposition to the county commissioners to build a courthouse and jail, to cost four thousand dollars. This proposal was considered, but complications prevented its acceptance. In a few days, April 22nd, citizens of West Rockford made a similar proposition. On condition that the commissioner select the site on the West side, the citizens agreed to erect such buildings as the county commissioners should direct, and according to such plan and finish as the commissioners should furnish for a courthouse, county offices and jail, the said buildings to be commenced before the first day of June next, and the jail to be finished before the first day of January, 1844. The remainder of the said buildings was to be finished by the first day of November, 1844. The donors were to perfect and convey to the county a good title to the land on which the said building should stand, to the amount of two and one-half acres. This proposition was signed by Messrs. George Haskell, Charles I. Horsman, H.W. Loomis, M. Burner, Charles Hall, Thomas D. Robertson, George W. Dewey, David D. Alling, H.R. Maynard, Alden Thomas, S. Skinner, George Barrows, John Fisher, Derastus Harper, Daniel Dow.
Nothing had been done on the East side toward erecting county buildings with the material furnished, and the proposition from the west side citizens was accepted, with five conditions: these were: First, security must be given to the acceptance of the commissioners or any two of them in term, time or vacation within twenty days; second, that the security be a bond for twenty thousand dollars, and the buildings be worth not less than six thousand dollars; third, that said bond be placed in the hands of the clerk of the court within three days from its acceptance; fourth, that the subscribers to the proposition, or a majority of them, enter into a contract in writing within twenty days to erect the buildings as offered in their proposition; fifth, that the contract be placed in the hands of the clerk of the court within three days from its approval. The commissioners ordered that block twenty-five in west Rockford be the site of the buildings. Thus closed a contest which had continued for seven years.
The brick jail as completed and occupied January 1, 1844. The court house was finished in July of the same year and was accepted by the county commissioners. Derastus Harper and John Beattie were the architects. It was one story, about fifty-six feet long, thirty-five feet in width and seventeen feet high. The court room was fifty-four by thirty-three feet; nine feet in the rear of the bench was partitioned off into jury rooms. Two rows of slips made in the style of those erected in the churches, filled the room outside the bar, and accommodated three hundred persons. The entire edifice, including the pediment, and four fluted columns in front, was built in the Grecian Doric order of architecture. The public square, jail and courthouse were furnished by the citizens of West Rockford without the outlay of a dollar by the county. The stone building in which the county records were kept was built in 1851. All these buildings have been removed from the square.
The first term of court held in the new building was in August, 1844. The presiding judge was Thomas C. Brown; James Mitchell, clerk; G.A. Sanford, sheriff. Many bright stars in the legal firmament of that day practiced in Winnebago County. Belvidere, Freeport, Galena, and Chicago sent their best talent. The famous "Mat" Carpenter of Wisconsin came to Rockford on professional business half a century ago.
-- The extreme height of the central courthouse dome from the ground will be 119 feet. There should be provision in its construction for an observatory. Such an opportunity for a commanding outlook should not be ignored [Rockford Journal, April 28, 1877]
A COURT-HOUSE FALLS IN RUINS
THE MASONRY DOME OF A BEAUTIFUL BUILDING TOO WEAKLY SUPPORTED--IT FALLS AND BRINGS DOWN THE WHOLE HOUSE--LARGE LOSS OF LIFE
[Source: New York Herald-Tribune, May 12, 1877]
Chicago, May 11--A special to The Tribune from Rockford, Ill., says that a pall has fallen over what this morning was a happy community. The Winnebago County Court-house, which this morning was the pride of the worn, is now a desolate ruin--a monument of criminal in competency. The building was not yet under a roof and a massive stone cornice which preceded the roof was to-day being put on. Just as the keystone was bring placed in the dome of the main pavilion the brickwork between the iron and stone gave way, and the entire dome and interior walls of the structure came crumbling down with a terrible crash, which was heard nearly a mile away.
A brief description of the structure will aid in understanding the accident. The building is of the French Venetian and Renaissance style, and was designed by Henry L. Gay of Chicago. The contract for the building was let to W.D. Richardson of Springfield, who in the Spring of 1876 began work. The Court-house has two pavilions and a center dome over the front entrance. The two pavilions each rise about 30 feet above the level of the cornice. The dome is 119 feet from the ground, and supported by the front wall on the north side, and by two iron columns, from 10 to 12 inches in diameter, on the inner side. These columns rest upon a brick wall, going up from the ground floor to the floor of the court-room. The walls were about 30 feet high, and it seems were entirely inadequate to hold the immense weight of the iron pillars and massive masonry of the dome, which rested on pillars upon the top of iron columns. There was a wrought-iron girder, upon which was laid the veneer and brick of the dome. It appears that the lower brick walls were crushed by the weight of the upper masonry and crumbed like so much rotten mortar, bringing with them the entire interior of the building, all the rafters of corrugated iron, the ceiling of every room with its concrete filling, and the iron joists. The scaffolding came down with a terrific crash, bringing with it nearly all the workmen who were engaged on the top of the building.
At the time of the accident there were from 20 to 25 men at work. Timothy Flanagan, who was in the act of putting in the keystone of the final cornice, jumped for the guy rope of the large derrick in front, but, missing his aim, fell 120 feet to the earth and was dashed to pieces. Most of the workmen, with the exception of four or five who jumped from the windows, fell on the inside of the tottering walls and were buried in the debris. The whole structure looked as though it would fall, and those assembled were greatly alarmed and feared to attempt the rescue of those buried beneath the ruins. But brave men went fearlessly to work before the dust cleared away and began to extricate the dead and dying. Terrible scenes followed. Men horribly mutilated lay shrieking for assistance, which could only be rendered at the risk of bystander's lives. One unfortunate man named William Gloss was extricated, but one of his legs was left beneath a ponderous stone. He soon expired in great agony. A negro jumped from a window 60 feet from the ground. He was badly injured but will probably recover. Within ten minutes after the disaster four bodies were recovered. A Swede named Andrew Bildahl had his head split open, but the wound was closed and the victim taken home and may live. The following is the list of victims as far as obtained:
DEAD--A. Haugh, J. Pipe, A.H. Hollenbeck, yet in the building; Frederick Haugh, yet in the building; J. Warren, missing and probably dead; George Gloss (colored); Timothy A. Langan(?), J. Lawson (colored)
INJURED--A. Lucas, engineer, leg broken and otherwise badly injured; T. Hayes, engineer, may recover; Wm. Melnnes, leg broker, elbow injured, and scalp wound; J.F. Peck, mortally injured; Geo. Smith, badly hurt; Hugh Eldreds, hurt in leg and face; (--) Sinhohn, dying; A. Baldhal, badly injured, but may recover; H.W. Ames, head badly hurt; Benj. Bown, colored, slightly hurt; Isaiah Donnelly, two severe scalp wounds and cut in head; Cicero Harris of Dixon, contusion on thigh. C. Harris of Dixon has had his leg amputated and will probably die.
A coroner's jury had been impaneled and identified the bodies this afternoon. They will meet tomorrow and make a thorough investigation. Clergymen have arranged for a union meeting on Sunday evening, to hold memorial services. A subscription for the relief of families of the wounded and dead will be started. It is believed that at least 10 or 12 lives have been lost, and about 14 person more or less injured.
The loss on the building is from $50,000 to 65,000. Superintendent Latham lays the blame on architect Gay, whose instructions were followed implicitly. Mr. Richardson will not converse on the subject. To-night the papers place the blame on different shoulders. Digging for the missing is still in progress.
THE TOWN OF ROCKFORD
The thriving little city in which stood the beautiful building that fell in ruins yesterday is situated 97 miles west of Chicago, on the central line of the Chicago and North-Western line. It is built on both banks of the Rock Rover, and the stream supplies it with an abundant water-power, which had been made use of to turn wheels of a number of busy factories. Two railroads run through the place. This fact and the calls in the river have built up the town and made it a place of about 12,000 inhabitants. It is the capital of Winnebago County, a region of beautiful prairies and woodlands, whose soil is rich and productive, and is now generally under cultivation. Rockford is the market of the whole region. The place had at last accounts 12 or 145 churches, 5 banks, and several newspapers. It was upon on of the latter, by the way, that the journalist who is now editor of The Graphic and Jennie June made a considerable reputation in the West. The prosperity of Winnebago County is shown by the attempt to build a handsome and costly courthouse. [Source: New York Herald-Tribune, May 12, 1877]
[Source: Rockford Weekly Gazette, May 17, 1877]
Our Fair City Appalled by a Terrible Calamity
Architectural Slaughter, Plain, Hateful and Horrible -- Fall of the Interior and Dome of the New Court House -- The Weak Support Gives Way and the Structure Comes Down
Eight Unfortunate Workmen Killed Outright -- A Dozen More Mangled in as Many Varying Shades of Ghastliness -- Narrow Escape of Several Persons from the Building
A Catastrophe That Had Thrown Rockford into Mourning -- Touching Evidence of Humanity and Bravery -- Lists of the Killed and Wounded -- Description of the Scene, the Building and the Ruins -- The Weakness of the Structure, Coroner's Inquest, Etc.
One of the most shocking catastrophes that ever happened in the history of Winnebago County, occurred on Friday morning of last week , in which it is feared not less than eleven men, certainly ten, lost their lives; several persons were maimed for life and others have sustained serious injuries. At 11:30 o'clock on the morning in question, the under wall, and main stay of the inner wall of the dome of our new courthouse gave way without any warning, and came down with an awful crash bringing with it nearly all the persons who were engaged in putting on the roof. In order that the
CAUSE OF THE ACCIDENT
May be more fully understood it will be necessary to give a description of the building of the dome. The outside of the dome is sustained by the massive masonry over the from entrance, and is unquestionably strong enough to support the top as the plans and specification of architect H.L. Gay are drawn on the inside a brick wall running up 30 feet, to the court room floor was the basis upon which was to have rested the entire weight of the south side of the dome. On the top of the walls were two hollow iron pillars, twelve or fourteen inches in diameter and running up level with the top of the building; these pillars of iron were surmounted with a wrought iron girder, upon which was built the veneer and brick work of the south side, or inner wall of the dome.
DEFECT OR WEAKNESS
Appears to have been in the brick wall running from the foundation of the building to the floor of the courthouse. "It crumbled" said an eye witness "like so much rotten mortar," and with a terrific crash brought the whole interior of the building to the ground. The first intimation that our citizens had of the disaster that had befallen the community was the terrible crash made by the falling masonry, and the immense cloud of dust that arose immediately afterward. The dust had hardly cleared away before a large number of persons were upon the scene of the disaster. For a moment all stood appalled. The fear of the tottering structure taking another tumble prevented those who were willing from rushing forward to the assistance of the human beings who lay
MANGLED OR DEAD IN THE RUINS
The scene of distress which followed was almost indescribable. The first terrible sight that met the eyes of those upon the scene was Flannigan's
LEAP FOR LIFE
Timothy Flannigan was engaged setting the key-stone of the pediment of the dome when the walls gave way and commenced to slide. He made a leap for life and lost it. Failing to catch the main guy rope he fell to the ground a distance of over 100 feet and his body reached the earth with a
DULL SICKENING THUD
And was hastily carried off by four bystanders and laid upon the rich green sward in front of the county offices a corpse. When Flannigan fell the whole of the pediment came too, and at that moment the scene was exciting. With the crumbling of the masonry as it fell on all sides, might be heard the calls for help; men could be seen dangling in mid air on the end of ropes; others jumping from the windows; a negro jumped from one of the top windows a distance of 60 feet and stuck upon a large pile of ashes receiving no severe injuries in the fall.
RICHARDSON AND LATHAM
The dust had hardly cleared away before Mr. W. D. Richardson the contractor and Mr. F.E. Latham supervisor, appeared upon the northwest corner of the main building. It appears these gentlement had gone up for the purpose of making an examination, and both of them had some doubts of the secureness of the dome. They were talking about the probabilities of its falling when Richardson heard the cracking of the building and accompanied by Latham they both ran toward the northwest corner of the building and from thence to the west wall where they stood when the front fell.
RESCUING THE LIVING
The bystanders could be kept back no longer by the far of more of the building falling and the work of rescuing the men was promptly commenced. Several of the wounded were speedily got out. Bystanders ran for doctors and within a few moments C.H. Richings, J.B. Lyman, J.D. Burns, W.D. McAffee, Dr. Reynolds, T.G. Vincent, A.E. Goodwin and others were upon the scene. Dr. Richings took charge of a man who was bleeding most profusely. His name was Andrew Bildahl. His head was badly cut and in the gash was sand and mortar. He was taken home in a hack and his wounds were immediately dressed. William McInnes of Rockford was badly buried in the ruins but was extricated and taken in a hack. His leg was broken and he sustained other severe injuries, though will probably recover.
A SHOCKING SIGHT
One of the most distressing sights was the taking out of George Gloss's body. He was badly mashed, and one of his legs was left beneath a massive stone. A shudder ran through the brown as the body was carried to the old court house. Two men were rescued from the building by mean of the fire escape, promptly brought upon the scene of the accident by chief engineer John T. Lakin
HEARTRENDING SCENES AROUND THE BUILDING
Few who were not in Rockford on the fatal Friday, can fully realize the sorrowful scenes of that day. As the killed and wounded of our own townsmen were taken out of the debris, their relatives and friends gathered around and mournfully took them either to the temporary morgue, or in hacks to their residences. The poor fellows who had no near relatives in this city were not unmoored; An old chum who had escaped, or acquaintances formed in Rockford, were ready and willing to render all possible assistance. As the wives and families of several of the killed were in Springfield, the number of terror-stricken women who had lost their husbands, their fathers or their brother, were measurably reduced. One poor German woman was frantically calling for her "Poor, dead husband," and when at last he (Albert Haug) was brought out, a SICKENING SPECTACLE HE PRESENTED, gaping gashes over the face, and loosely handing to him were pieces of flesh that had been torn off him by the heavy stones that had fallen upon his mutilated and mangled remains. Stout hearts sickened at the ghastly sight, and he was hurriedly removed into the wing of the Court House. A little girl, the daughter of A.H. Hollenbeck, was inquiring in the vicinity of the ruins
IF HER PAPA WAS SAFE and no one had heart enough to tell her the sad truth. The dead and wounded so far as known at this writing (Monday morning) are as follows:
Fred Haug, Springfield
A.H. Hollenbeck, Rockford
John Warren, Springfield
A. Haug, Springfield
John Pipe, Springfield
Geo. Gloss, Springfield
Tim Flannigan, Rockford
John Peck, Rochester, Minn.
August Lucas, hip dislocated and cut in the head
Thomas Hayer, sever cut on the cut
William McInnis, slightly
Geo. Smith, slightly
Hugh Eldridge, slight cut in the head
Cicero Dickerson, slightly
Hendrez Beldahl, dangerously
Isaac Donelly, slightly
Fred F. Harris, badly
------, Linholm, badly
We shall give further particulars elsewhere in this issue regarding the dead and wounded
THE HISTORY OF THE COURT HOUSE
The history of the Winnebago county courthouse in brief, and a description of the building will be necessary in order that the reader may better understand the facts of this terrible disaster. In the early part of 1875 Winnebago county advertised for plans to build a court house, and after the usual number of plans and specifications had been examined those of Mr. Henry L. Gay, of Chicago, were accepted. The contract for the building of the edifice was let to Mr. W.D. Richardson of Springfield, who early in the spring of 1876 commenced work of the structure. The corner stone was laid June 22d amid grand festivities, and with Masonic honors, nearly all the leading lodges of the state taking part in the ceremonies. The work progressed, favorably and the structure as it arose impressed all with the beauty of its plan, and the seeming solidness of its structure. The specifications call for the building to be roofed in during the year 1876, which owning to inclement weather the contractor failed to do.
THE STYLE OF THE BUILDING
The style of the building is French Venitian of the Renaissance. It has two pavilions and a center dome over the front entrance. The pavilions rise about 30 feet above the level of the cornice--the dome was supported by the front walls on the north side and two iron columns from 12 to 14 inches in diameter on the inner side; these columns rested upon a brick wall, going up from the ground floor to the floor of the court room. The walls were about 30 feet high and it appears were entirely inadequate to hold the immense weight of the iron pillars and the massive masonry of the dome which rested upon the pillars. Upon the top of the iron columns was a compound wrought-iron box girder upon which was laid the veneer and brick of the dome. It appears that the lower brick wall was crushed by the weight of the upper masonry, and crumbled like so much rotten mortar, bringing with it the entire interior of the building, taking all the rafters; the corrugated iron ceiling of every room, with its concrete filling, the iron joist, the scaffolding came down in one terrific mass bringing with it nearly all the workmen engaged on the upper part of the building.
The courthouse was converted into a morgue and the mutilated bodies were covered with cloths and laid therein. The jury was composed of the following highly respectable citizens: Hon. Selden M. Church, foreman; H.W. Carpenter, Geo. H. Haskell, John R. Porter, G.A. Sanford, A.G. Lowery, J.B. Howell, Thomas Butterworth, George Wilson, J.W. Seccomb, D.L. Emerson, W.H. Smith. The jury did not attempt to inquire into the cause of the accident Tuesday afternoon, but merely met for the purpose of identifying the dead bodies. The bodies lay in a row on the floor of the court house.
No sooner had those assembled regained their presence of mind from the first shock, than a more organized plan of operation was inaugurated. Headed by W.D. Richardson, Ald. S.P. Crawford, Chief Engineer John T. Lakin, Marshals Sully and Dame, men were set to work excavating and searching for the bodies. As is was feared more of the front of the dome would slide off, and indeed, what remained of the cornice at the bottom of the pediment, and some of the veneer on the east side looked very threateningly upon those below. By 2 p.m., four bodies were recovered; those of George Gloss, colored, Springfield; Timothy Flannigan, Rockford; Albert Haug, Springfield, and John Pipe, son of the leading mechanic on the works. A number of wounded had also been recovered. John Peck, who died at the City Hotel on Saturday morning, was among those who were taken out alive, also Jerd F. Harris and a Swede names Linholm. Harris and Peck were removed to the City Hotel, where every attention and the best medical aid was given them.
THE BUILDING'S WEAKNESS
The GAZETTE reporter being on the scene at the moment the building fell, and having on last Sunday, in company with of the leading architects of the country, made a most thorough examination of the ruins from basement to top, is enabled to give thus early a detailed account of what is now accepted by the best architects and builders to be the cause of the accident, and also to disclose to the GAZETTE readers the weakness and defectiveness of the structure.
DISCOVERY OF HOLLEMBECK'S REMAINS
Before going into these important details, it will be necessary to give the facts in relation to the finding of the bodies of A.H. Hollembeck and Frederick Haug Sunday morning. The work of excavating was continued night and day since Friday. The search for the bodies was especially directed towards the room west of the dome, and at precisely 12 o'clock Saturday night, one of the men discovered human hair, and in a moment afterwards it was found to be a portion of Hollenbeck's scalp. A huge cornice stone, weighing several tons, LAY UPON THE BODY. There was no means of moving the stone, so drills were procured and the entire corner of the rock was drilled and split off. It was then found that part of the arm was still beneath the stone, and as more of the stone could not be drilled off, the mangled body was CUT OFF FROM THE ARM His brains and scalp were entirely gone. By his side lay all that remained of Frederick Haug, "Big Fred" as he was familiarly known in Springfield, his home. The latter body was too horribly mangled to describe. It took the large gang of men over four hours to recover the two last bodies after they were discovered. The remains were taken to the old court house, and at 9:30 o'clock the coroner's jury passed upon the last two bodies. It is still hiped that Harris and Linholm may recover. The relatives of John Peck, who died at the City Hotel Saturday, arrived in this city from Rochester, Minnesota, in time to superintend the funeral. His body was taken home Sunday afternoon. The coroner's jury passed upon eight men who were killed outright; there are beside the numerous broken limbs and slightly injured, eleven men who are mangled in eleven varying shade of ghasliness.
PEN-SKETCH OF THE SCENE OF THE DISASTER
THE GAZETTE representative had already given a description of the exterior of the building, its style of architecture, etc. Those who have heard of the accident are anxious to obtain a reliable description of the present appearance of the wreck. A special train from Rochelle brought large numbers of persons to the city Sunday morning, who wanted to view the building. No one, however, was allowed to go near, and a special force of police aided by ropes kept the crowd back. As before intimated, the GAZETTE reporter obtained a special permit to examine the ruins, and, after the usual cautions, started on his errand.
VIEWS OF THE BUILDING
Frank Leslie's Weekly has had several different views taken of the accident, and will prepare from them wood cuts of the fallen Court House. The whole of the back and side walls of the pavilion; upon which the dome was to have rested, are gone. The two main columns which supported the back of the pavilion are both down and partially buried in the debris. One-third of the pavilion over the main porch and deep recess arch has also fallen, but most of this, including the massive pediment upon which Flannigan was working, fell on the outside of the building. One of the immense columns
RAKED A DEEP RAGGED CHANNEL on the north side of the pier, indicating that it plowed its way down the north side of the pier
Entering at the north side of the building, the reporter stood in the room where most of the dead bodies were found. A little to the west is what remains of the crumbled pier, which started first and upon which rested the southwest quarter of the dome. Here is a miscellaneous mass of stone, brick iron floors, pipe, mortar, scaffolding, with here and there, dangling upon ropes and what remains standing of the derricks, men's coats, vests, and even boots, as sad reminders of the tragic end of those who lay buried beneath the ruins. Coming out from here, another entrance was effected by climbing over vast piles of debris, and we stood nearly in the centre of the vast structure. To the north loomed up the back of the outer wall of the main pavilion, which was just completed ready for the superstructure of the dome. About forty feet from the top, the inner side of the recess arch bulged out. The massive iron girder, 23 feet in length, the iron columns, iron ceilings, and in fact the whole centre of the structure, lay in one miscellaneous heap--a shocking and endless wreck to gaze upon.
IN THE VAULTS
We made our way into the subterranean vaults of the building, and found that in two instance massive iron columns from the gallery of the Court room had, like the ram-rod of the gun, shot through three iron and concrete ceilings and buried themselves in the earth at the bottom of the building.
THE WEAK PART OF THE BUILDING
as stated above was the inner wall of the pavilion which was to have supported the dome. Our reporter made a careful examination in the ruins Sunday and finds the construction of the piers upon which the iron columns rested was of uniform size from the ground floor upward. They were built of stone in the sub cellar. Upon the stone commenced the brick work which crumbled away and caused the fall of the building Friday. He brick piers are 29 ½ inches square. They were built without bond stones in entire height. The pier wall was anchored in the basement story with wall surrounding fire-proof vaults, on the first story built with slip joints for arch, but were not tied in with side vaults. The vault walls is 4 inches less in thickness than the piers, or 25 ½ inches, consisting of a 12 inch wall and an air space between the piers, capped with Athens limestone 12 inches thick, full size of piers. Upon these were the iron columns--upon measurement we found the core of the column 7 ¾ inches in diameter, the outside measurement in 12 inches at top and 14 bottom. Upon these rested a compound wrought iron box girder. As some say this girder was not strong--particular care was taken to examine it. The girder was 16 inches on top, 24 ½ in. high; 2 webs; 3/8 inch top and bottom plates 16 x ½ inch; angle iron 4x5 inches. Studs of T iron 4x2 inches on both sides. Studs just 2 feet from center; Angle iron riveted to top and bottom plates and to rivets 3 inches from center; studs riveted to angle iron and web by rivets 4 ½ inches from center. Upon this girder rested the brick walls supporting dome wall above roof, built with stone, bearing stone cornices and pediments. The superstructure of the dome was not completed. The weakness was located in the walls or piers between the stone foundation and the iron girder above described. Had the piers been carried up with Illinois hard limestone at a cost of $1,000 extra, the pier would have stood, safe weight, 3,000 pounds pressure to the inch, or the piers would have stood the weight of 1,734 tons; whereas, according to the government tables it would only be safe to put on the weight of 40 tons upon such piers; it is not improbable that evidence will be forthcoming that at least 150 tons were upon each pier. Added to this the quality of brick was poor, and Henry L. Gay himself acknowledge this to be a fact. To show that our figures are correct, we quote the safe weight of different materials as prepared by the government:
Iron, wrought 8,000 lbs. to inc
----, cast 30,000 "
Stone hard 3,000
Thus, it will be seen, the worst of all material was selected--a poor quality at that--for the main support of the dome and Court room. Added to this, it is built with the poorest mortar and roughly put together. The motive seems to have been a double one--to secure a fancy dome, and yet not to reduce the size of the Court-room, so iron columns were arranged to run through the room. [--Rockford Weekly Gazette, May 17, 1877]
The Dome of the New Courthouse Gives Way, Carrying Destruction and Death in Its Path
NINETEEN MEN BORNE DOWN, NINE OF WHOM ARE DEAD
Details and Incidents of the Horrible Scene
Opinions of the Architect and Contractor and Experts as to the Cause of the Catastrophe
Latest Facts and Investigations of the Coroners Jury
Friday, May 11, 1877 will ever be a black day in the annals of the history of Rockford. A day when for the first time our city was called upon to taste and drink deep the bitter dregs of a great public calamity. Never before has any public affliction found its way so near the doors of our own homes, touched so deeply our hearts, or been made so sacredly our own. Witnesses of the sad scene of that day will pass away, but as long as one stone of the stately and handsome courthouse edifice remains upon another, it will stand as a witness to the solemn and tragic events which have consecrated the whole into one vast monumental pile. It is now a week since the sorrow fell upon us, and still its dark shadows broods over our city. Not yet have our citizens fully recovered heart to pursue their various occupations and labors with their accustomed vigor and life. The details of the terrible catastrophe have been made familiar to the public, and it is our endeavor to sketch them briefly and accurately, which the time which has intervened has given us an opportunity to do, giving a full account of the investigations and revelations which have thus far been made, as to the cause of the sad event.
At about half-past eleven last Friday morning the whole city was startled by a low, rumbling jar, followed by a loud crashing sound. Those who were in the neighborhood of the courthouse instinctively turned their eyes toward it to witness the toppling over of the dome, the falling of the immense blocks of stone, together with brick and mortar, wooden beams and iron girders, in one confused and frightful mass. Mingled among the falling debris, could be distinguished into forms of human beings being precipitated in mid air and going down amidst the universal crash. The new spread like wild-fire through the streets, and crowds hurried to the scene. Those first of the spot hesitated not a moment in the work which duty and their humanity told them was before them. Among the ruins hardly yet stopped from falling, men risked their lives to save, if possible, the lives of those over whom the calamity had fallen. The view which presented itself to the gaze of those who pushed themselves forward into the building was appalling, and a sickening consciousness stole over the faces of those who had come to the rescue that human assistance was of little avail. Immense block of stone, two and three tons in weight, were piled in confusion among heavy iron girders and pillars, and shoots of corrugated iron, the whole covered over with it and sandwiched by splintered wooden beams, brick and mortar. The firemen were early on the scene, the ladders were mounted above the devris, and the building searched for the wounded. An hydrant and hose, meanwhile, were all ready to stay the flames should a fire break out.
RECOVERY OF THE DEAD AND WOUNDED
On blocks of stone piled up in front of the courthouse, was found the mangled form of Timothy Flannigan, who was at work on the top of the dome when it crumbled away. He either fell, or jumped from the dizzy height of an hundred feet to the rocks below. He was laid out on the greensward, and in a few moments expired. Another body had been taken lifeless from the ruins, and the two were taken lifeless from the ruins, and the two were borne into the north wing of the old courthouse, which was turned into a morgue. One of the rescuers in the east room pushed aside the debris, to meet a cold, upturned face the body buried under an immense stone. Jack screws were secured, the stones pryed apart, and the crushed and severed body was taken to be placed by the side of the others in the old courthouse. Another body was found, wedged between two stone blocks, the head downward as if the unfortunate man had dived into the very jaws of death itself. The firemen, meantime, had searched the building, and had found the engineer of the upper engine, which had been precipitated below, lying helpless, and bruised with his thigh dislocated. Others clinging to the walls were rescued by the ladders, and two workmen on the top, who had no way left them to escape to the ground, were brought in safety down. Two more of the wounded, with broken limbs and disfigured bodies had been carried into the City Hotel, and others less severely injured had been found and cared for. It was not long before all that human aid could accomplish for the saving of life had been done, and still there remained three bodies unrecovered. The work was not stopped. About nine o'clock, Friday evening, one had been found, and about five o'clock, on Sunday morning, after a search of forty hours, the last two of the bodies, filling out the list of the unfortunate victims, had been recovered.
The following is the full list of the killed and wounded:
Tim Flannigan, killed by falling
A. Hollenbeck, crushed in the ruins
John Warren, crushed in the ruins
A. Haug, crushed in the ruins
Fred Haug, crushed in the ruins
John Pike, crushed in the ruins
George Gloss, crushed in the ruins
John Peck, died after being taken from the ruins
Hendroz Bildahl, badly injured
Augustin Lucas, hip dislocated and cut on head
Thomas Haynes, severe cut on the head
William Melnnis, broken leg, with severe wound on the head
George Smith, badly hurt
Hugh Eldreds, hurt in the leg
H.W. Ames, badly hurt about the head
I Donnelly, severe scalp wounds and cut in the head
Cicero Dixon, severely injured in the thigh
O. Harris, injured internally and in the leg, which was afterward amputated; died Tuesday night
Benjamin Brown, slightly bruised
Mr. W.D. Richardson, the contractor of the building, was on the roof at the time of dome fell. His attention was first called to the falling dome by a pumping sound, and then the whole dome seemed to fall through. It seemed to give way first on the west side of the main entrance. The wall on the south-east also tilted, throwing out the pier on the south-west corner, as was shown by the iron column which rested upon this pier, simply slipping out from beneath and falling only about a foot out of plumb. The cloud of dust which arose preventing the witnessing of the whole of the fall. Mr. Richardson said he had made an examination of the piers and walls only a short time before the accident, but discovered nothing wrong about them.. He had never expressed an opinion that the piers and walls were not safe. He had told his foreman to be particular in the examination of the walls, and report to him at once if he found any cracks in the walls. He told his foreman that Mr. Gay, the architect, had not had the experience of older men, and that he should take particular care in his examination.
Mr. Latham, the superintendent, was on the roof, about 80 feet west of the dome when it fell. The fall was accompanied by a jarring noise. It seemed to give way first at the bottom at the rear of the dome, the prior supporting the south-west corner going first. . The dust and confusion was so great he could not tell farther in regard to it. The men working upon it had not time to save themselves. Others who were on the building at the time have been interviewed, and their story goes to corroborate the statements of the contractor and the superintendent that the falling of the dome was almost without a moment's warning, the whole mass slumping through as if the supports had been knocked out from under it. The dome rested on two iron columns, and those columns were supported on two brick piers or walls 80 feet in height, 9 foot 10 inches by 3(?) feet 4 inches. An examination of the building shows that the brick wall or pier beneath the iron column on the west entrance crushed out. This seems to have been the direct cause of the accident. The walls in other parts of the building do not show evidence of being crack or shattered. In the evidence before the Coroner's jury, which we give in full, will be found further facts developed in regard to the strength of these walls, the weight which was upon them at the time they fell, and the weight they were designed to sustain.
A Coroner's Jury was empaneled Friday afternoon, consisting of the following gentlemen: Hon. S.M. Church, foreman; J.B. Howell, Thomas Butterworth, D.L. Emerson, George Wilson, W.H. Smith, H.W. Carpenter, A.G. Lowry, J.W. Seccomb, George S. Haskell, G.A. Sanford, John K. Porter. An inquest was immediately held over the remains of the dead, as fast as they were recovered.
Of the nine killed, two only, A.N. Hollenbeck, and T. Flannigan were residents of this city. The others, with the exception of C. Harris, carpenter from Dixon, came with Mr. Richardson, from Springfield. The remains of the Springfield men were sent to that city, for funeral obsequies and burial. The funeral of A.N. Hollenbeck was held on Monday under the auspices of the G.A.R. and Free Masons.
The clergymen of the city held a meeting Friday evening, to perfect arrangements for memorial services on Sunday. The churches on the East side united with the Third street M.E. Church, Judge Brown presided and made brief but timely remarks. Revs. Wilder Smith, J.H. Ritchie, H. Orews(?) , and others made a spiritual application of the calamity, each being practical as well as interesting in his remarks. A collection was taken and a committee, consisting of S.F. Penfield and A.I. Enoch, appointed in to act with the West side committee in soliciting subscriptions for the relief of the sufferers. Services on the West side were hold in the Second Congregational Church, which was filled to overflowing. Rev. Mr. Woodbury spoke briefly in opening the meeting, as he with other pastors of the city had made the subject of the calamity the central thought in their discourses to their people in the morning. He introduced Mayor Ferguson, who took charge of the meeting. Mr. Ferguson said they had come together not only to show their sympathy with those who had been so sorely afflicted, but also to give to them substantial aid. Those who had been so suddenly taken away had families and friends dependent on them for support, and he expressed the belief that the citizens of Rockford would respond generously to the call for aid, which was now made upon them.
Prof. Mandeville next addressed the meeting, referred to the disasters which had fallen all about us, at Brooklyn, and Ashtabula, and St. Louis, and now Rockford realized the full depths of sorrow of their meaning, while hitherto she had known it only through the papers. In proportion to the population of our city, Rockford's loss was greater than Brooklyn suffered at the burning of her theatre. The whys and wherefores of this great sorrow which had fallen upon us we can not answer. All we can say is, that God permits them. The disaster might have been worse; the courthouse might have stood until finished, and when the courtroom had been crowded, the whole might have been crushed down, with a fearful loss of life, with which the present loss is not to be compared.
Rev. Dr. Kerr spoke very briefly of the calamity which had fallen upon the city, and the effect, which it had had of drawing the community closer together in one common board of sympathy and love.
Hon. Wm. Lathrop said it was possible to build up again the courthouse in all its contemplated strength and beauty, but it is impossible to give back to friends their loved ones who had been taken from them.. Mr. Lathrop made an appeal to all to manifest their sympathy by giving liberally to the relief of those who had thus been made needy. Mr. Lathrop was followed by the Rev. Mr. Adams, who referred to the fact, that he had heard that only a short time before the accident occurred there had been persons walking through the building examining it, and that he believed such persons, and those who had friends who escaped unhurt would be glad to make a thank-offering that they had been preserved from harm.
The collection was then taken, amounting to $1000. Several subscriptions of $100 each were received. A committee composed of the following gentlemen was then appointed to act with a similar committee from the East side to solicit further subscriptions: W.A. Talcott, N.E. Lyman, N.O. Thompson, S.P. Crawford, Byron Graham.
The subscriptions received up to yesterday amounted to nearly $1,500. It is hoped that $8(?)000 or more will be secured.
INVESTIGATIONS OF THE CORONER'S JURY
The coroner's jury commenced the examination of witness, and experts, as to the cause of the disaster, on Monday. The testimony of the architect, contractor, and superintendent, and architects and builders brought out from Chicago, by Mr. Gay, to examine the building, also experts who came at the instigation of the Board of Supervisors, has been taken.
H.L. GAY, the architect, testified that he had pursued his profession for nine years. Had built a number of business houses in Chicago, and the Grand Central Hotel. Mr. Gay was called upon to give the foundation and construction of the piers on which the dome rested. The concrete forming the foundation under the dome, was made of small broken stone or gravel, free from foreign substances, mixed with Louisville cement. The footing stones were to be 4 feet 6 inches square, to be set in cement. The piers to rest upon those to be 2 feet 10 inches by 2 feet 4 inches, to be built of the hardest burned brick. Estimated weight to rest upon these piers, when completed about 100 tons. If they had been built according to specifications they would easily have held it. The piers would have supported 30 to 40 tons to the square foot. He had put this weight on piers of this size, and he should do it again. The brick was to be first class, laid in lime and cement. The mortar to be of the best quality of hydraulic cement. Examined the bricks in June, and settled upon the hardest burned bricks. Had not been out to the courthouse since February. Was to come whenever called by the superintendent or building committee. Have been out seven times since the work was commenced When I came in February the columns were standing in position to receive the dome. The work appeared to be satisfactory and well done. Understood that there had been a constant rejection of brick by the superintendent. When asked to give the weight, which the pier he inspected in February would sustain. Mr. Gay asked for time before he gave an answer. He did not know whether it had been built 24 inches or 4 feet thick. Wanted to make an examination of it. The iron columns rested upon 2 inch plate, bearing upon the walls, and piers below of bricks, these rested on a stone foundation up the line of the second story floor. Plates were the size of the pier, 28 inches in diameter. Think there was about 60 tones on a pier when it fell. Cannot give the cause why it should have fallen. Mr. Richardson made an examination of the pier and walls only a short time before and found them all right. It seems to have been effected by the ground below, and would almost partake of the nature of an earthquake.
WM. D. RICHARDSON, contractor for the court house, testified that he had been engaged seventeen years in building. Had built a number of large buildings, among then the Illinois State House, and Illinois Female College. He was called upon to give his theory of the cause of the disaster, and said the crushing of the brick of the west pier, underneath the iron column which rested upon it was the direct cause. The iron column which rested upon the pier slipped off, and stands now almost plumb, which would not have been the case if the cause had been different. The walls are not shattered a particle. The foundations were built exactly according to the plans. The wall or pier was built 9 ft. 10 in. by 9 ft 4 in. There was already on these piers 200 tons, 180 tons to a pier, 60 or 70 tons additional would have been required to have finished the dome. A pier intended to carry 40 tons, permanently, should be built to carry 400 tons. He had never expressed any fears about the building not being strong enough. He had told his foreman to call his attention at once to any cracks. He had expressed the opinion that Mr. Gay was a young man, and he had not so much experience as others, and he had been particular with the work.. He had never called Mr. Gay's attention to the piers, but Mr. Latham had. Mr. Gay said they would stand double the weight which was to be put upon them. Had put in extra strength where he had thought enough had not been allowed by the architect. Thinks the wall tilted on the southeast side, throwing the weight on the pier on the west side of the main entrance which gave way.
I am a farmer. Have been superintendent of the building of the courthouse on the part of the county. I was originally a mechanic. Have done no contract work for twenty years. Was on the building when the dome fell. Saw it fall, the rear of the dome at the southwest corner falling first. The pier gave way at the foot of the iron column supporting the west side. Had barely time to escape, and did not see any more, the coud of dust raising up. Have had experience in working on a number of buildings and stores.
WM. W. BOYINGTON
I am an architect, and have lived in Chicago 25 years. Have built a number of large buildings, among them the Grand Pacific hotel. Should say that a brick pier should sustain permanently 20 tons to the square foot. Am surprised that the pier which gave way at the courthouse stood as long as it did. The pier is not as large as the pier called for by the specifications. There is as much as six inches difference. Think it would have sustained the weight if it had been built according to specifications. The material was not such as was called for. The mortar did not show cement. It was to be bonded every fifth course, and have counted ten courses that were not bonded. Think the specification must be followed closely, there was not much leeway given. The cause of the disaster was in the inferior quality of the material, and in the manner in which it was put up. Could find no brick with the mortar taken hold of it. The mortar was killed. Should have allowed it to have been built as it stands. Had employed Mr. Gay as a draughtsman.
I am an architect and builder. Have been 88 years in the business. The brick of which the pier was built were not good brick. If they had been good brick, carefully laid, in good mortar, they would not have crushed. The piers were not made according to contract. It is the customer of the architect to oversee his own work. It was the superintendent's business to see the work was done according to specification. Cutting the skew-backs out of the pier, weakens it. Think there was 95 tons on that pier. Have not the least doubt, but it would have stood if it had been built as called for by specification. The pier would no carry over 20 tons to the square foot. There was no good brick there. There is no association among architects for protecting one another.
I am an architect, and reside in Chicago. I have been in the business 25 years. Have built a number of large buildings, among them the Times building. Have examined the pier. It is a wonder to me that it stood at all. It was built of common brick. Five tons would have been a good weight for it. Should have built a larger pier, and drawn it larker in the plan. The brick was not such as the contract called for. Did not notice a good brick in the building. Would have made the pier five times as strong as a common wall. The brick had not enough sand in to make them firm. Should not allow it to have been built as it was. The foreman ought to have better understood his business. Could find no brick on which the mortar had taken hold. Would have pulled down two or three feet of the pier and examined it, if I had had supervision of the work.
Have been architect for 80 years. Believe that the pier would have carried 20 tons to the square foot, if it had been built according to specifications. Would not have built it on those piers . Should have wanted more strength. Would not have had any hesitancy to have built the dome on those, if had known the parties who would have done the work. Should have increased the size of the pier for bearing the weight of twenty tons, which is more than the average weight which is allowed to go on a pier of that size. Would in my own practice allow 15 tons. Other walls are built according to specification. I would have taken particular care in building them if I had been superintendent. Would have put 1.5 to 1.8 of what would have been crushing weight on a pier. When the building was finished, and the court room filled with people, the weight of the pier would have been over 120 tons. The piers did not comply in size or quality to the specifications.
I am a builder. Live in Chicago. Have been in business 18 years, and have built a number of buildings, among them the Chicago University, and the Union Park Congregational church. Always wet my brick when building a pier. Would not cut a skew-back in a pier, and do not see how a contractor who cares for his reputation could do so. Would have called the architect's attention to any weakness. I examined the walls; they were not built according to specification. The brick was soft and not fit to put in. The wall was not bonded in some places for ten courses. The mortar was good, but there was very little, if any, cement in it. I would have called the attention of the Brick committee to this particular wall or pier. Should have objected to the brick. It was the architect's place to have designated how the skews should have been fitted to the wall. I should say that 25 tons was the outside estimate to do the mason work of the courthouse, and would have built the courthouse on those specifications.
I have been an architect for 25 years. Have built a number of building, among them the office of the North-Western railroad. I have never build a building involving the same principle as this. Should say the disaster was caused by the insufficiency of the brick work under the iron column. The mortar was as hard as the brick. If it had been Chicago mortar, the brick would have split. The skew-back out never to have been cut in the pier. I should have called particular attention to those two piers, if I had been the architect. I have no faith in the ability of a country farmer to construct a building. Would rather have furnished the brains for the construction of the building, than to have trusted it with a mechanic. Think there would be 120 tons on a pier when finished, and 1000 tons on it when it fell. The brick did not come to the specifications. If they had been the best quality of brick, they would have stood to-day. I would not have built a brick pier, but would have used an iron column. Think it would have sustained the weight intended to have been put upon it, if it had been built according to the specification. The brick used is not the brick specified, and there is not the bond stone specified. I should say the blame rests with the superintendent, and with the contractor. The criminality consists in not taking particular car in building that particular work. Should say it was very ordinary piece of work, badly bonded at that. Mr. Bauman said be came to visit the ruins on his own account. He had met with the other architects at the Holland House, who had been invited here by Mr. Gay, and had looked over the plans and specifications with them.
Mr. Richardson's foreman next took the stand, and testified that he had had charge of the brick work in the courthouse, and had been a brick layer for 40 years. Had done heavy jobs in New Orleans and St. Louis,. Mr. Pipe said all the brick which had been received was under the county superintendent's dirction. The pier was laid solid--I laid some myself. I do not know of any place where the pier was not bonded for fifteen courses. The talk about the skew-backs is a farce, and the gentlemen know it is false. The weight crushed the brick. I think it was fully carried out according to specifications. We have the man with a hose to keep the bricks wet. Mr. Gay never made any objection to the material or workmanship. I told Mr. Latham these piers would have to be reinforced sometime with iron pilasters. I had my doubts about them, and built them better than ordinary work. Never have seen a pier crush down like this before. Every brick which was rejected by the superintendent was thrown aside. Should say the bricks for the pier were up to the specification. Yesterday morning witnesses not being ready to appear the jury spent the morning listening to the reading of the evidence which had been taken. In the afternoon Gen. F.O. Smith, Edward Burling, P.B. White, experts from Chicago, who had been invited to make an examination of the courthouse, by the Board of Supervisors, presented a report which was read by Mr. White. The general nature of the report was that the architect had not drawn his plans with sufficient care; the contractor had not done as good work as he ought to have done in the construction of the building; the superintendent was at fault in not calling attention to the error sin the plans and specifications, and in the work of the contractor; and the Board of Supervisors were to blame for appointing a novice to superintend the construction of the building.
This morning Gen. F.O. Smith will take the stand again. The examination of witnesses will extend through the week. [Source: Rockford Weekly Register-Gazette, May 18, 1877]
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