By: David McDonald, BCHS –
Justice came with the new settlers when they forged their way into south central Michigan territory in the late 1820s. Not long after arriving in the prairie area in the future west side of Branch County, legal issues were re-enforced with the appointment of a Justice-of-the-Peace. This new job fell on the shoulders of Jabez Bronson, who would temporarily shut down his tavern in order to hold court.
The first Court case held in Branch County above the level of a Justice-of-the-Peace was conducted in the store of Silas Holbrook on August 20, 1833 by Peter Martin, judge of probate. The first case was the estate settlement of Joseph Corbus.
With the new community of Branch, MI designated as the new county seat of Branch County, they built a log cabin courthouse in the summer of 1837. Constructed with hewed logs and thirty feet square, it would serve as both the court and county jail. This new county seat and courthouse would have a short lifespan.
In the beginning of 1842, the contest was going full scale between Branch and Coldwater over ownership of the coveted title of county seat. At the beginning of 1842 the Legislature passed a bill moving the seat to Coldwater. The first county board meeting was held in Coldwater in July 1842.
They did not immediately construct a courthouse. Apartments were rented for some time and the court moved into a building next to the 4-Corners Park. In 1847 the board voted to dedicate funds to build a permanent courthouse. Construction began in 1848 at a cost of approximately $5,000. The building was located near the corner of Division and East Pearl Streets. The building did not face Division Street, but instead was turned to face the southeast section of the 4-Corners Park.
There are drawings of the Greek Revival style building available, and in fact, the only thing available when I created and published the new Branch County History Book in spring 2017. But, while a team of board members were doing some exploring in the basement of the Wing House Museum in the spring of 2019, we discovered a very old black & white photo of what is claimed to be the Branch County Courthouse.
Apart from the archway over the main front door the photo is very close to the drawn image of the building. In the photograph you see what they describe as the dirt Division Street running along the side of the building. Also, a chain fence that could serve as a hitching rail. In the right side of the photo you can just see what appears to be the corner of the first high school building. The front entrance empties north into what would be the southeast section of the 4-Corners Park. The year of the photo is not recorded.
There is a feature in the photo that tells me this is not the Branch County Courthouse. So, more detailed dates will have to be uncovered to confirm or disprove the old pencil note on the back of the photo. In the meantime, it is a great image of the Greek Revival architecture that represented Coldwater’s first constructed courthouse.