MARION HISTORICAL MUSEUM PHOTO
Longtime county official Fred L. Frazer (1853-1927), then serving as deputy treasurer, and other county officials pose, probably in 1901, behind the county’s previous stone courthouse, completed in 1881. The old courthouse, located in what now is Williams St. along the north side of the present courthouse square, was demolished in 1906 with the construction of the present courthouse, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Always a battleground, even in 1881
Only partially complete, Marion County’s first stone courthouse was the focal point of a series of protracted countywide battles in 1881.
In those days, power in the county was divided, much as commissioner districts have been for nearly a century and a half, into three camps — one centered in Marion, then known as Marion Centre; one in Peabody, at the time the county’s largest city; and one in Hillsboro, at the time a relatively new and upstart city.
Rather than complete the courthouse shown above, political forces in Hillsboro and Peabody united to petition that the county seat be moved from Marion Centre to Hillsboro.
An often-vicious campaign ensued. A Florence minister whose news items appeared in the Marion County Record was particularly vitriolic over the Record having included near his column some small “filler” items, urging voters to choose to keep the county seat in Marion Centre.
A circular the minister distributed in Florence, a key “swing” are in the vote, proclaimed: “Let all honorable citizens be on the lookout and on Wednesday rebuke by their ballots the tricks and frauds of this class of public robbers.”
The Record’s production foreman went to a public forum in Florence the day before the election to explain that the “fillers” had been innocently added, not in an attempt to make the minister seem to support Marion Centre in the election.
But the minister was unimpressed and took up Hillsboro’s cause.
“On election day,” Record editor E.W. Hoch wrote, “this man who preaches the gospel of charity and right, or ought to, laid aside the sacred robes of the ministry and, in the role of a petty demagogue rather than that of a divine, personally peddled the vile circulars.”
The vote in favor of Marion Centre as county seat was 1,165 to 744. Hillsboro received zero votes in Centre Township and just 1 in Grant, 3 in Gale, 4 in Durham Park, and 6 in Wilson. The only townships to favor Hillsboro were Risley (139-10), Liberty (67-5), the combined East and West Branch (78-26), Summit (45-17) and Peabody (258-16).
Soon after, a second election appropriated funds to complete the half-done stone courthouse at a total cost of about $6,000, about $150,000 in today’s dollars.
It served as the seat of county government for the next 25 years until the present courthouse replaced it.