History of Kane County and the Kane County Bar Association

Early Kane County

Kane County is included in that part of Illinois discovered by French explorers Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet in 1673 when they traveled down the Mississippi River from Canada and discovered this region on their return north along the Illinois River. The land was later claimed for France by the explorer LaSalle and was placed under the government of Louisiana in 1717.

The territory remained a French possession until after the French-Indian War when it was ceded to the British by the Treaty of Paris in 1763. In 1778, British domination of the area ended when George Rogers Clark captured Kaskaski and Cahokia, cities on the southwestern border of Illinois, and the land was claimed by the Commonwealth of Virginia. After the signing of the Articles of Confederation, Virginia surrendered all claim to the territory to the federal government.

Thomas Jefferson wanted Illinois divided into 3 states with Kane County in the state of Assenisipia. However, at the advice of James Monroe, who had made several trips to the area and deemed the entire Midwest "worthless and uninhabitable," it was decided to give Illinois large boundaries.

In 1787, the Northwest Territory was established by Congress to provide for government of all land northwest of the Ohio River. In 1800, Illinois became a part of the Indiana Territory and, in 1809, the Illinois Territory was established by an act of Congress. Finally, in 1818, Illinois was admitted as the 21st state with Kaskaskia as its capitol.

There was no written record of non-native people residing in Kane County at the time of statehood in 1818. The first settlers are believed to have been Christopher Payne and his family who came from North Carolina and settled at a site 1 mile east of Batavia.

On January 16, 1836, the Illinois legislature formed a new county and named it after Elias Kent Kane, the highly respected attorney who helped draft the Illinois Constitution and was the first Secretary of State. Kane was later elected to Congress and represented Illinois in the U.S. Senate until his death in 1835.

The Early Bench and Bar

The following reminiscences are from the book of Judge John Dean Caton, who tried the first law suit in Kane County, and for many years was a judge of the district:

"In riding from one county seat to another, the judges and lawyers generally traveled in a band together, although not always in a compact body. Usually the gait was a fast walk or a slow trot, and frequently the land would be separated into little squads of from two to four, when the monotony of the ride was relieved by conversation and the relation of anecdotes or storytelling, as it was called, though ordinarily these last were reserved for the evening, when the whole party would be assembled. Then it was that the delights of circuit riding were most appreciated. All were good story-tellers, and with rare exceptions each one added somewhat to his store since the last meeting, either from having heard a good story from somebody else or invented one; and a new story, if it were only a good one, was always received in the way that showed that it was fully appreciated. Frequently a quite ordinary incident would be dressed up and so embellished as to be exceedingly ludicrous and amusing.

Sometimes a mock trial was instituted, when an indictment was presented against some members of the bar, accusing him of most ridiculous crimes, embellished with laughable incidents. On such occasions, the judge, the lawyers and the witnesses fairly overflowed with wit; and boisterous laughter was not considered a breach of decorum in that court, and the verdict of the jury partook of the character of the previous doings. A verdict of "guilty" was almost a foregone conclusion, and the penalties inflicted were frequently the most ludicrous and amusing of all the proceedings. If the wit was keen, it was frequently deeply penetrating, but the subject of it must bear good naturedly and console his irritated feelings with the reflection that he would get his revenge on some future occasion. To show irritation at hard rubs was the worst thing a man could do, but to turn them off in some witty way enhanced his popularity for the time.

The "old school" of lawyers are fast disappearing in Kane County, and but for a few exceptions such as W.R.S.Hunter of Elburn; Captain Brown, of Geneva; John W. Ranstead, of Elgin; Judge Montony, of Aurora; T.E. Ryan of St. Charles, and a few others, have answered the final call or retired from practice. That they were an able body of men non can gainsay. That they lived like men and practiced like lawyers knowing the dignity and honor of their profession none will deny. Wilson, Fridley, Parks, Joslyn, Barry, Dearborn, Herrington, Botsford, Montony, Garfield, Lockwood, Wilcox, Wheaton and Farnsworth are the names that will live long in the annals of the Kane County bench and bar. The practices of the later day, now becoming well dominant, are as different from the methods of that early days as the conditions now existing differ from those of the '50s (the 1850's). The multiplication of reports and statutes covering quite every point of experience and setting a rule for quite every case has compelled lawyers to become students of the law rather than orators on the facts. The jury, once more or less supreme, has become more subservient to the judge, and the attorney who formerly enjoyed unlimited time in which to address the jury is now confined to such time as the court may judge sufficient. Rules of practice have become more particular, and the court and lawyers more circumscribed by precedents that did not exist in the earlier time. Few matters are now heard outside the court room except criminal cases of importance. While the jury is still of value, the upper courts are more and more in view to the attorney in the trial of cases, for where one case formerly went to a higher court ten are now taken up. A new class of lawyers educated to the newer practices now prevails in the conduct of the courts.

J.E. Alschuler, the well known attorney from Aurora, wrote: "So far as the date of the organization of the Kane County Bar Association is concerned, I have to say that it is not truly known. It must have been organized before the admission to the Bar of all of the oldest living members, none of whom can recall the date, even approximately. When we were admitted, it was just there!"

In 1858 there were 32 lawyers and 4 law students listed in the County. Fifty years later, in 1908, there were 122 lawyers. As of June, 1998, Attorney's Registration lists 1350 lawyers in Kane County; some of these commute to Chicago to practice law, but the Kane County Bar membership is over 900.

Courthouse History

A committee of 3 members of the legislature selected LaFox (Geneva) as the Kane County seat since James Herrington's Tavern and Inn had the only post office in the county. Herrington's Tavern, located on State Street near the Fox River, also served as the first county courthouse. The first circuit court session was held June 19, 1837. Judge John Pearson presided at that first session, and the first jury trial was that of Wilson vs. Wilson for trespass. The jury assessed damages at $4,160.66, "probably an amount equal to all the money in circulation in the county at the time."

The following year the responsibilities of the County Commissioners were divided. The administration of the county was transferred to a Board of Supervisors consisting of one supervisor from each of the 16 townships. Another elected official, the county clerk, was added. In 1849 a chief judge and two associate judges assumed the judicial responsibilities formerly held by the commissioners. The first judge from this county being Isaac G. Wilson, whose first term as judge of the Circuit Court began on August 11, 1851.

In 1837, the county offices were moved out of Herrington's Tavern into a new courthouse on the corner of 4th and State Streets in Geneva. Total construction cost for this courthouse was $3,000. Kane County had outgrown these quarters and 7 years later, a new courthouse constructed of quarry stone, was built on the site of the present Geneva City Hall on Rt. 31.

Overcrowding in the jail and the courthouse soon created a need for a newer and larger building and in 1854, bids were let for construction at the site of the present courthouse on 3rd Street in Geneva. Disputes with the contractor over completion dates and workmanship prevented the building from being occupied until 1857.

The new courthouse was a magnificent structure, considered the most important architectural monument in Kane County. It was designed by John M. Van Osdel, one of Chicago's leading architects. The ornate, three-story limestone building was capped with a large cupola which became a favorite valley vantage point.

Besides financing construction of the new courthouse, the Kane County Board faced other budgetary problems as the Civil War required a continual outlay of men and money. In July 1861, the Board appointed a War Committee which appropriated money for horses, bounties, equipment for the troops, and family benefits. The hundreds of men from Kane County who volunteered to serve in the Civil War attest to Kane County's involvement in the war operations. The names of these men are preserved in a plaque on the monument in front of the present courthouse in Geneva.

On the night of March 13, 1890, Kane County lost one of its most prized buildings when the courthouse burned. Fortunately, the records of the recorder, county clerk, and the circuit clerk were locked in fire-proof vaults and not damaged.

For the next two years, the county rented a house at 2nd and Campbell Streets in Geneva for $30 a month in order to conduct county business. The clerks crowded into the various rooms and the judges held court in the dining room.

The Kane County Board commissioned Chicago architects W.J. Edbrooke and Franklin P. Burnham to design the new courthouse and jail. The massive 4-story courthouse which stands today is still regarded as one of the finest in Illinois. The original construction cost was $195,000. The square dome rises high above, the rotunda. Decorative ironwork railings encircle each floor and eleven murals, depicted various scenes from the county, are painted on the arches of the 4th floor.

Kane County continued its rapid growth during the 1900's. The population doubled from 65,000 to 130,000 during the 50-year period from 1890 to 1940. The population doubled again to 260,000 in the next 30-year period to 1970. Along with the increasing number of residents was an upsurge in the number of industries, medical centers, and educational institutions. In 1967, the United States Government built Fermilab, a center for energy research and development, on a 6,800 acre site outside Batavia. This research center provides educational and cultural opportunities for residents of Kane and surrounding counties.

The Board was immediately faced with problems in the county jail. The 1892 facility had come under attack for being "totally inadequate" and having "deplorable conditions." In June, 1972, construction was authorized on Fabyan Parkway in Geneva. The new institution, costing 31/2 million dollars, was considered at that time one of the most modern in the nation.

In November, 1972, the County purchased the Sacred Heart Seminary on Rt.31 Geneva. Remodeling began and by spring of 1975, all county administrative offices had moved to the site, called the Kane County Government Center.

With the continued growth of the County, a new courthouse facility at Peck Road and Rt. 38 was commenced in 1992. The Kane County Judicial Center, as it was formally called, was designed by Wight and Company. The building was formally occupied on October 1, 1996. All family law, juvenile and criminal matters are heard at the Judicial center at the present time. The balance of court matters continue to be heard at the Kane County Courthouse on 3rd Street.

That as a result of the growth and social problems in the county, there became a need for a new facility for juvenile offenders. Accordingly, On October 10, 1995, ground was broken for the Kane County Juvenile Justice Center which serves as the County youth Home as well as a Court for Juvenile offenders. The building was completed in 1997.

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