April 12, 2008
Homer lobbied several times to be county seat
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
“Old Courthouse on the Hill,” an 1841 painting by William Pearne is on display at the Cortland County Historical Society. The perspective of the painting would be facing west while standing in Courthouse Park.
Cortland County may have celebrated its 200th birthday Tuesday in Homer High School’s gym had Homer residents gotten their way in the 1800s.
Starting from the county’s formation 200 years ago, and continuing for decades, Homer residents lobbied to serve as the location of the county seat.
Cortland County was formed on April 8 after it split from Onondaga County. In the beginning, court was held in a schoolhouse in Homer, on the north side of the village green, Homer Town Historian Martin Sweeney said.
But on April 5, 1810, state legislative act appointed three men — Joseph Richardson of Auburn, Nathaniel Locke of Chenango and Nathan Smith of Herkimer — to a commission to select a site for a county courthouse, according to Cortland County Historical Society documents.
“Then began a strife between Homer, Cortland and Port Watson (which is now the portion of the East Side of Cortland along the Tioughnioga River), each presenting, with all possible urgency, its claims as the most eligible points for the public buildings,” according to the book “History of Cortland County New York,” which was published in 1885.
Residents of each location believed the county seat would eventually become the center for a thriving village.
The hamlet of McGrawville also expressed its interest in being the county seat, though it did not campaign as actively as the other locations did.
Cortland resident Jon Hubbard “quietly visited all the commissioners” at their homes, according to Cortland County Historical Society documents.
He offered a free conveyance of land west of the village of Cortland, belonging to Samuel Ingalls, who had agreed to give it to the county for $1.
Hubbard also agreed to pay $1,000 toward the building of the courthouse.
“These offers were no doubt a strong argument, as the commissioners decided upon this site,” according to a 1905 account from Mary Hubbard, Jonathan Hubbard’s granddaughter. “Of course, much bitterness was felt in Homer and Port Watson, but the Cortlandites were jubilant and celebrated the event with bonfires and great rejoicing.”
The courthouse was built in 1812 and 1813 just west of the village of Cortland, which is now the college hill area.
The courthouse’s location paved the way for Cortland serving as the county’s seat, even though Homer was a busier location.
“From 1815 to 1820 Homer was the largest of the three places, and was growing faster than the others; its business was larger, at least in the beginning of the period mentions,” according to the “History of Cortland New York.”
Cortland began to grow, developing a newspaper in 1815 to rival Homer’s newspaper.
Letters in each paper criticized the other village, touting the merits of the letter writers’ village.
In 1817, when town supervisors raised $5,000 to build the county’s first jail, Homer officials and residents called for the jail to be built in Homer.
Cortland’s newspaper, the Cortland Republic, fought back, publishing letters from Cortland residents and editorials stating their belief the jail would be out of place in Homer.
Cortland residents formed a committee that traveled over the county getting signatures in opposition to the jail going to Homer.
“Meetings were held … in Virgil, in Solon, in Cincinnatus and perhaps other southern towns to protest vehemently against locating the site in Homer,” the “History of Cortland New York” states.
The state Legislature ended up favoring building the jail in Cortland as opposed to Homer, but the fight for county seat was not over.
In 1873 and 1874 the board of supervisors was considering a new county clerk’s office in Homer. A public meeting was held in Homer at the fireman’s hall on James Street, according to an account from a Homer Republican newspaper cited in“Homer History Volume 6.”
Residents said they would build the clerk’s office at their own expense.
“One prominent Homer manufacturer was quoted as saying, ‘We mean business … we are ready to bond for $75,000. This is a rich town,’” according to “Homer History Volume 6.”
The board of supervisors ended up deciding to build the county clerk’s office in Cortland, keeping the county seat in the city.
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