News from the Courthouse
Greetings from the Wakulla County Courthouse. As we begin a new year, it presents us with an opportunity to evaluate ourselves, set new goals, and start toward them. This is true of individuals and of organizations.
We in the Wakulla County Clerk’s office are committed to serving the interests of you, the people of Wakulla County. We have our goals for this new year. But sometimes, in order to move into the future, it helps to be aware of the past.
To work in the Courthouse in 2014 effectively, it can be helpful to know a little about this part of our history. Clerks are in some ways historians, since much of our job is recordkeeping and preservation. So I am going to cover some of the history of the Courthouses of Wakulla County in the next two articles.
No doubt all of you have seen and many of you have visited our present Courthouse. I hope most of you have seen the old wooden Courthouse, built in 1892-93 that resides just behind and south of the present day Courthouse.
If you are like me, you may have wondered about the old wooden Courthouse building and the activities that took place therein down through the years
I plan to share with you the entire (although not exhaustive) history of the courthouses of Wakulla County. But before we get to that, it will help to go over some of the background of why Courthouses are located where they are…in places called the County seat.
You probably know that County government has been around since the earliest of colonial days. In order to have a form of local government, there needed to be a place for such county business to operate from, and this became known here in America as “the County Seat”.
One of the most basic and earliest functions of local government, certainly here in Florida, was the Court system. The first two counties were immediately established after the US acquired Florida from Spain (1821), and they were East Florida (named St. Johns County) and West Florida (named Escambia County).
The two “seats” of government were established in St. Augustine for St. Johns and Pensacola for Escambia County. I believe the term County seat comes from our English roots and perhaps is related to the symbol of a throne from the days of monarchy form of government.
Those two county seats were two of the oldest and most established towns in America, but for many counties that was not such an obvious choice of where the County seat would be located.
Each time a county was created here in Florida, by act of the Legislature, a county seat was established. Courthouses were built in the County seat. The building of a Courthouse was what makes a county seat such, since in those days all county functions (except in some cases the jail) were housed at the Courthouse.
For the creation of Wakulla County, the act of the territorial legislature of Florida dated March 11, 1843, in section 9, stated:
Be it further enacted, that the county site of Wakulla County shall be fixed and determined by 3 commissioners, to be elected on such day and in such manner as the county court may direct, by the persons entitled to vote for county officers; who being duly sworn faithfully, and the best of their skill and ability, to discharge their duties, shall proceed to select the most eligible place for the county seat, to lay off lot, and dispose of the same to the best advantage for the benefit of the county, make transfers of the title on payment of the purchase money; also, to contract for the building of a courthouse and other buildings for the said county…
Since there had to be a place set up immediately in a new County, in most cases including Wakulla County, the first county seat was temporary while the process of a permanent decision was made as to the most suited place, as the law required.
For newly created Wakulla County, the temporary seat of the county was in Port Leon. This was almost a no-brainer decision for the temporary location of the first courthouse as Port Leon had quickly became the 6th largest city/town in territorial Florida. This was amazing as this town had only been established in mid 1830’s.
Port Leon was located about 3 miles south of St. Marks, at the terminal of the one of the first railroads built and operated in America! And it was on the St. Marks River with a port, so these are the main factors as to why it grew so fast.
The first Courthouse in Port Leon was no doubt a temporary building, likely rented. Many times though, the first Courthouse was of necessity the residence of the Clerk, as sometimes there was no other alternative if no funds were available for renting a building.
It was typical in Florida that many of the earliest Courthouses were constructed as log cabins, and not those nice airtight, climate controlled ones like you can rent in the mountains. Typically there would be some type of fund raising operation to get the dollars needed to build a permanent Courthouse.
At this point, you might wonder why the County seat was ever moved if that original site was that well situated to Crawfordville.
Well, this has all been background on the first county seat and courthouse for Wakulla County, but you will have to read next month’s article to find out more about the history of Courthouses in Wakulla County.
I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and I pray your 2014 is a great one. Please set as one of your goals to become an informed citizen. Study all the issues you can, and participate in government at all levels. Hold your elected officials accountable, and pray for our Nation! Until next month, this is news from the Courthouse.