Caladonia Court House: A History

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CourthouseThumbnail1ST.JOHNSBURY-The Caladonia Courthous has a rich history that dates back all the way to the 1700s, but many know nothing about it. The story begins in 1792 when Caledonia County was first formed.

        Then in 1796 Danville became the official county shire. Up until 1801, when the first Caledonia Courthouse was built in Danville, court proceedings were held in private homes.
         It wasn't till 1856 that St. Johnsbury took over as the country seat. Due greatly to the Fairbanks family and their business, the fairbanks scaling company, the town had become a bustling community. So when the proposal to move the county shire was brought up in 1856,influential Justice Luke Poland, as well as many other important figures at the time, pushed to have the promising community the new shire.
         Dale Sherbun has spent his whole life in Caledonia county. He now works in the courthouse part time, and has heard the same stories passed down through the generations. "Some of the officials at the time thought St. Johnsbury was becoming a bigger town than Danville, so they moved [the courthouse] up here".


     When looking for a place to build the court house officials settled on the old public cemetery. By the 1850's it had become overrun and unkempt, and a new cemetery, called Mt. Pleasant graveyard, had already been erected outside of town. The fact that it was already deeded to the town, and it's prominet status atop a hill in the center of town, made the site the perfect place for the new courthouse and town hall.


      The town spent two years clearing the cemetery, but in 1856 construction began on the new building, with disregard to the previous tenants.. Bodies were encountered whenever underground work had to be done on the courthouse. A problem that wasn't fully addressed until 1995.


     Horace Carpenter designed the original building. Carpenter was an employee of the Fairbanks Scaling Company, the same family which helped make the town what it is. Carpenter is also attributed to building the Orange County Courthouse in Chelsea. The original building only cost $4,200, which may seem like a small sum now but was enormous back in the 1850's. The building was designed in the Italian Style, which was gaining popularity at the time. It's arched windows, brick cornice, eave brackets, pilaster and horizontal divisions were all inspired by Italian architects.


      The new courthouse became the center of activity for the small metropolis. City hall, the town common, and even at one point an ice rink were all located on the old grave yard along side the courthouse. It was a hub for town activities and recreation, all of which happened above the bodies of the past.
     In 1995 it became obvious that the courthouse as it was could not meet the spacial demands acquired of it. Though most counties have more than one courthouse it was decided that a new building was not the way to go. Instead the state decided to add another wing.  


    Once the decisions to build an addition was made the ongoing problem of the yet to be exhumed graves had to be addressed. Archeology students from the University of Vermont conducted an archeological dig of the grounds, uncovering 79 graves, 20 of which contained full skeletal remains. Students studied these bodies, uncovering information of the lifestyles and physical health of the towns 19th century inhabitants.


   courthousethumbnail2 By 2000 E.H. Danson Associates of St. Johnsbury finished the complex, which now houses the Superior, Children, District, and Probate Courts, all county offices, and the sheriff's department. A new canopy was also added to the Main Street entrance, small balconies were take off of each door, original window sashes were replaced and the chimneys were rebuilt.


   The original courtroom was also restored to all of it's past grandeur. The beautiful room is used for larger trials, such as the Prue case, as well as juror selection. It includes several portraits of importance, along with modern conveyances such as speakers and added rooms to hold prisoners.


    Security guard Steve Russell says it is his favorite room, because he enjoy it's "older character."


     If you would like to learn more about the Caledonia Courthouse there is an extensive display on the second floor, past the old courtroom.