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Court House, Jail and City Hall
The Kent county court house originally was in the Public square, present Fulton Street park, that site being selected for the purpose November 8, 1833. In 1838 the county built a court house there. A portion of it was used for a jail and a sheriff's residence was in the building, which was a two-story frame about 30 by 40 feet, fronting east and west, with a hallway through the center. There was a cupola on it, surmounted by a gilt ball. It was destroyed by fire July 12, 1844, and was replaced by a smaller one-story building with an entrance hall and a single room. This modest structure, which cost only $600, was used for about six years, and the annual elections, local and general, were held in it during the village days.
The county ceased to use the site about 1852 and until 1860 rented offices in various parts of the city for official and court purposes. About 1858 offices were rented in the Taylor & Barns block, which burned January, 1860, when the records were destroyed.
Finally, in 1887, the board of supervisors purchased for $32,500 the land upon which the present structure stands. The next year the people voted $150,000 to build a court house. The corner stone was laid July 4, 1889. The architect was Sidney J. Osgood.
After the first court house and jail in Fulton Street park was burned in 1844 the county had a meandering lock-up for its prisoners. For some years it used a cellar under a building on Monroe avenue between Pearl and Lyon. Then a two-story frame residence for the sheriff, with a jail at the rear, was built near Bridge street and Front avenue, on the west side. Although the jail was not a very secure place and at times prisoners escaped, it was occupied from 1855 to March, 1872, when the new jail was completed on the present site, which was originally on Island No. 2.
The construction of a city was first declared a necessary public improvement May 10, 1873, when the scheme was to build at Ottawa and Pearl. Plans were invited, but nothing was done, despite constant agitation, until July 12, 1883, the council again and for the last time declared the erection of a city hall necessary and instructed the board of public works to procure plans for a building to cost from $100,000 to $150,000. The question was again considered by the council March 31, 1884, when a resolution was offered by Alderman Brenner to submit to a vote of the electors a proposal to raise by loan $100,000 to build a city hall. Alderman Gilbert moved an amendment, providing for $150,000 for the purpose, and the amended motion was passed. The proposition was submitted to the electors April 7, 1883, when the load was authorized by a majority of 3,278 votes.
Six architects were asked to submit plans by October 1, 1884, and on October 21 the board of public works unanimously adopted those of E. E. Myers of Detroit and made the award to him. The board advertised for proposals for the erection of the building. Six bids were received, but when they wee opened March 19, 1885, they were all rejected and the work re-advertised. When the second bids were opened April 9, that of W. D. Richardson, Springfield, Illinois, at $185,641.68, was found lowest, but as that sum exceeded the amount voted, the bids were laid upon the table. A special meeting of the council was called for April 10, and all citizens were invited to it. Many went to the meeting and those present voted unanimously for the erection of a city hall after the plans adopted by the board of public works, and resolved that the contract be awarded to Richardson for the sum he asked. The contract was approved by the council April 11, 1885, and work on the structure was begun in May. The cornerstone was laid September 9, 1885, and the event was the signal for a civic holiday. the building was accepted and dedicated September 26, 1888.
Transcriber: Ronnie Aungst
Created: 16 January 2000