Lenawee County Michigan Court House Fire

Plus additional information on the county courthouse

From the Michigan Expositor, Adrian, Michigan, dated March 16, 1852.


Lenawee County Court House in Ruins!!

About four o'clock on Sunday morning our citizens were awakened by the alarm of "Fire", and it was soon ascertained that our noble Court House was in flames. When we arrived at the spot, the flames were already bursting out of the south windows of the County Clerk's Office. Our energetic Fire Companies were soon on hand, but as there was no water except in a common cistern in the jail yard,that was soon exhasuted with one Engine, No.2, and then No.1 supplied them with water from the reservoir on Broad St.,and as but one stream could be thrown upon the fire, it was of little avail to save the building.

The entire contents of the Registrar's Office are saved, also the Safe, and most of the Books, and papers of the Treasurer's Office; but the Books, Papers, Records, and everything connected with the County Clerk's Office are entriely destroyed, save a few half burnt Books, saved from the ruins.

The building was built in '38 and '39 at an expense of $19,000, and is insured, we understand, in the Aetna Co., for $4,000.

The fire originated in the Clerk's Office, and was without doubt the work of an incendiary; as no fire had been in the room for two days previous, the Clerk being absent; and we are told that auger chips were found under the window where the flames first broke out, which were probably made in boring off the bolt which fastened the inside shutters, with which all the windows were protected; the strength of which we can testify to, having helped break in one of the east windows of the Treasurer's Office, through which the contents of that office were saved, Safe, and all.

Had the suggestion of Geo. Crane, at the time the CourtHouse was built, been heeded, which was the Offices bearched with brick, and made fire proof, the fire would have been confined to the Clerk's Office, and soon extinguished there. We trust in the rebuilding that the supervisors will profit by this experience.

For years, also, the supervisors have been importuned by those who knew the value of plenty and accessible water, that the County Buildings were very unsafe for the want of a suitable reservoir in their immediate vicinity; but not realising the value of a well organised and well supplied Fire Department, the necessity of a few dollars expense "in the Village" has hindered the work; and for the want of it, ten thousand dollars, save the insurance, is lost to the County; to say nothing of the incalculable loss of the Papers and Records of the Clerk's Office. With a good supply of water in the Court House yard, our Chief and Assistant Engineers say the gallant Firemen would have saved most of the building. But you may as well expect soldiers to win a battle without powder, as Firemen without water.

But our Court House is gone; and only its bare walls and massive columns remain to remind the former guardians of our County Finances, that a few dollars expense in arching the offices, or constructing a suitable reservoir, would have saved it all, with only a slight damage.


Great credit is due the exertions of our Firemen and their Chief Engineer, James Berry, and his Assistance B. Hopkins; also our worthy Sheriff, Joseph R. Bennet, who was always thickest in the fight, and to whose untiring exertions the saving of the remains of the Clerks office depended. We believe "Jo" has received several "wounds in the conflict,"but never deserted his post. Our village Marshall, Andrew Gage, Esq., was also on hand with his usual energy. Many other citizens were also energetic and efficient in their efforts in saving the Register and Treasurers offices.

LOOK TO YOUR DEEDS-We trust the narrow escape of the papers in the Register's office will be a warning to those who have papers in that office. We are informed by the Register that there are a large quantity of Deeds in the office unpaid and unrecorded. Had the papers in tha toffice been lost, one can readily see the loss to the owners.

The offices of the Register, Clerk, and Treasurer, are for the present over Bidwell's Exchange Office.

A note from Carol Stevens.

I find the "Look to Your Deeds" article to be of most interest. It would seem from this that it was not at all unusual for a deed to be drawn up, signed and deposited with the Register until a later date. Maybe the total sales price had not been paid to the seller, maybe the new owner did not have the funds to register the deed. It would help to explain why we frequently find deeds recorded months, even years after the event, and after we know our ancestors had lived in the county.

Thanks Carol for this information.


Data taken from article that appeared March 8, 1962 in the Adrian Daily Telegram, Adrian, Lenawee County, Michigan.

"The majestic old building was built in 1884 for a total cost of $49,984. And it took workmen only 12 months to erect the structure with all its intricate stone work and high dome.

The board of supervisors appropriated $50,000 for the building and had just $16 left in the fund .

The court house was built by Allen and VanTassell of Ionia. There were about ten bidders from as far away as Big Rapids. The low bidder, Vick Vass, did not appear at the opening of the bids and his whereabouts were unknown.

There were only two bidders from Adrian. James Donough bid $53,000 and Beckand Vogt bid $55,000. The unknown Vick Vass was low bidder at $43,500. Allen and VanTassel's base bid was second low at $47,460.

A report of the building committee to the board indicated that the builder did not fare so well on the project. Committee Chairman Ira Swaney reported, "From the statements furnished your committee by the builders as required by the contract, it appears that they have suffered a loss of $8,375.54 on the construction of the building".

Serving on the committee with Mr. Swaney were Thomas W. Hunter, Alfred James, Horace Holdridge and William M. Corbet.

When county offices were moved into the building in November 1885, it was the first time in 33 years the county had had a court house. The original courthouse built after the legislature removed the county seat from Tecumseh because of the geographical location, was erected at the corner of Front and Clinton streets in 1837. Part of the land for the building was donated to the county by Addison J. Comstock and his wife, Sarah J. Comstock.

The first courthouse cost $10,000. The building was destroyed by fire March 14, 1852, and burned with it were many of the county records. The records of the register of deeds, however, were saved. The deeds and mortgages were stored in a safe. The safe fell through the first floor to the basement but protected the documents from the flames. A courthouse ledger read "The Lenawee county court house was burned about 4 a.m. Sunday by some 'unhung scoundrel'."

After the original court house burned, county offices were housed in a one-story brick building erected the same year on the southeast corner of the present court house block.

Until the new court house was built Circuit court was held in several other buildings in Adrian. Some were in the Oddfellows Hall, the third floor of the Underwood block and Dean's Opera House.

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