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   History of Lapeer County

 

 
 
     

History of Lapeer County

Lapeer County Courthouse
Courthouse Square, Lapeer, Lapeer County
The Lapeer County Courthouse was built by Alvin N. Hart, one of Lapeer's first settlers. Born in Connecticut in 1804, Hart came to Michigan in 1831 and platted the village of Lapeer two years later. He also served as sheriff and as a member of both houses of the state legislature.

Although the date in the pediment, 1839, marks the construction of the county's first courthouse, this building was erected in 1845-46 and bought by the county in 1853. It is an impressive Greek Revival structure. The two-story exterior is of native white pine, supported by a brick foundation. The facade of the full-height portico has four fluted Doric columns supporting the pediment. A three-tiered tower rises at the rear of the building.

The Lapeer County Courthouse is now the oldest courthouse in Michigan which serves its original purpose. It remains a fine example of the dignified Doric style.

Michigan History Division
MICHIGAN DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Richard H. Austin, Secretary of State

 
Lapeer County Courthouse 150 years ago...
His smile said it all...
State Senator Alvin N. Hart was more than satisfied after the signing of the 1845 bill which allowed local governments to raise taxes to pay for county buildings; something only a direct vote of the people could do before.

To most people, it was just another piece of legislation designed to strengthen the county governments. Yet to Hart, who quietly shepherded the bill through the smoke-filled back rooms of both houses, this was the last big step toward what he wanted most, the Lapeer County Courthouse.

His first try at getting the courthouse in Lapeer's "lower village," where he owned most of the land, was a disaster.

The Whigs, led by Jonathon R. White, blind-sided Democrat Hart with an offer to donate a courthouse to the county as long as it was built in "their" upper village. To get the bid, Hart was forced to tell the board of supervisors that he, too, would donate a court house.

When the building's frame was up, Hart asked to be paid for the work. He told the supervisors that he never intended to honor his promise.

The question of whether or not to pay Hart went to the voters. They answered that a free court house was offered and, thus, expected.

The supervisors accepted the Whigs' renewed offer and the county opened its first courthouse on the hill at Main and Genesee Streets on July 4, 1840.

For the next five years, Hart waited for his opportunity to change the place where court was held. The chance arose during the legislative session of 1845.

A bill originated in the state House which proposed moving Lapeer county's "seat of justice" from the upper village to the lower.

While the Lapeer Whigs were busy speaking out against that bill, the funding bill was moving swiftly through both houses. By the time the Whigs knew they had been hoodwinked, the bill had been signed.

As the ground thawed in the spring of 1846, Hart's courthouse was being built. Funding was not important, because Hart knew he would eventually get it.

In the final hours of 1846, the supervisors voted to rent Hart's building for one dollar per year. They then ordered the sheriff to move all of the furniture from the old court house into the county government's new home.

On April 5, 1847, newly-elected Judge Alvin Hart presided over a naturalization ceremony, the first business in his court house.

Court has been held in the same court room, surrounded by much of the same furniture, every year since.

Russell Franzen

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