In 1833, the State of Illinois sent three men here from Morgan County to select a location for the courthouse and to name it. The September term of court was held in the new log courthouse which was located on the south side of the present courthouse square. The entrance was on the north end with a platform at the south end for the use of the judge, two glass windows provided light during the day. This cabin was also used for church services, public meetings and sometimes as a school house.
The next courthouse was a two story brick structure – 50 by 50 feet in size and costing $3,700, was accepted by the board of supervisors on June 7, 1839. The first case to be tried in the new courthouse was on April 25 of that year. William Fraim was charged with murder as a result of a drunken brawl. His attorney, a tall, lanky; not very handsome man from Springfield, IL by the name of Abraham Lincoln, lost the case and Fraim has been the only person legally executed by hanging in Hancock County.
In 1868 a fireproof addition was built on the east side of the courthouse. It had a tin dome on it, alongside the tall cupola on the original building. In Mark Twain’s book, “Roughing It”, he wrote about the Mormons in Hancock County. “They prospered there (Nauvoo) and built a temple which made some pretensions to architectural grace and achieved some celebrity in a section of county where a brick courthouse with a tin dome and cupola on it was contemplated with reverential awe.”
A small majority of the 1906 voters approved the issuing of $125,000 in bonds for a new courthouse. Records and offices were quickly moved to empty buildings and scattered empty rooms around the square and bonds were issued. The old building was raised and in July of 1907 – only eight months after the election – the cornerstone of the new structure was laid with great ceremony.
On October 20, 1908, the new courthouse, constructed on the same location as the previous one was dedicated. It is a beautiful building, built of white Bedford stone from Indiana and topped with roof of red Spanish tiles. On the interior, a four-foot wainscoting of Tennessee marble lined the walls of the corridors. The steps and risers were also marble and the floors of mosaic marble. The dome over the rotunda and the courtroom was of fish scale art glass. Above the staircase leading to the third floor was an art glass window depicting “Justice”. This one window is today valued at several times the original cost of the completed building.
The structure had all the modern conveniences of 1908 including more than 700 light bulbs and “all the principle rooms had toilet rooms”, this at the time when few homes in the area had electricity or running water. The new courthouse was built for $117,828.30, more than $7,000 under the estimate and still there was talk that such a pretentious building would bankrupt the county.
Today the tile roof has been replaced with regular shingles. Just under the dome were four seven foot circles, one facing each of the four directions where clocks were to be installed soon after construction. They were not installed until 79 years later when the Kiwanis Club of Carthage promoted a successful fundraising program and put them in place in 1987.