Tryon County Courthouse

On the Tryon County Courthouse, Johnstown, NY

From "Forts & Firesides of the Mohawk Country" by John J. Vrooman

THE LAW which created Tryon County in 1772 also authorized the appropriation of ;91,000 for a courthouse and a jail, to which an additional ;C6OO was made available the following year. Sir William superintended the construction of the buildings, employing a man by the name of Bennet brought from England to take charge of the details. After construction was under way, a man named Zephaniah Bachellor, a carpenter who also had some ability as an architect, came from Boston to Johnstown and found employment. Sir William was heard to remark later that he liked Bachellor's work, whose success, he felt sure, was due in a measure to his personal happiness. Bachellor had fallen in love and married a Johnstown maid and so became a permanent citizen of the town. The plans for the building were drawn by Samuel Fuller of Schenectady, who designed Johnson Hall and other buildings for Sir William. A glimpse of Fuller's relationship with Sir William may be had from the following letter dated almost teriyears prior to the date of the courthouse, proving that Samuel Fuller's work must have been satisfactory.

Fort Johnson, May 8th, 1763. Mr. Fuller:
My reason for coming here this Day was to agree with the Workmen whom you intend taking into the Woods with You, and as I had not an Opertunity of Seeing you or them, I leave this paper to let you know that I am determined to give no more than five Shillings per Day to any whom you may employ for my work; if they will not agree to that, I desire you will not bring them with you. Neither will I give more to any (Yourself excepted) who work at Cap't Claus' House. What I have promised you shall be paid.
am y'rs
(Signed) Wm. Johnson.

The cornerstone was laid June 26th, 1772, in the presence of Governor Tryon, Sir William, their ladies and a large gathering of citizens. This Governor Tryon was the last English governor of the Colony, and the County was named for him. At that time it comprised about eight million acres and was subtracted from Albany County, which previously had extended westward to the Indian lands, bounded by treaty limits. In 1784 the name of the County was changed to "Montgomery" in honor of General Montgomery, who lost his life in the unsuccessful attempt to capture Quebec. Governor Tryon became so unpopular through his antagonistic activities (he had earned the nickname of "Bloody Billy") that the people insisted upon the change. Thus it was that Tryon County existed for a period of but twelve years, from the years of fomentation preceding the Revolution to the well-earned peace and quiet which followed. Of all the war-torn arenas over which the battles swept, none was more bitterly contested nor more brutally ravaged by savage cruelty than Tryon County. The courthouse was completed and a Court of Quarter Sessions convened on September 8th, 1772. Guy Johnson was the presiding judge.

Later in this building the famous Southwick trial was held, Aaron Burr defending Southwick. Daniel Cady, Ebenezer Foote and Abraham Van Vechten were some of the other well-known attorneys present. Burr was at this time heartily disliked for his killing of Alexander Hamilton in their duel and it was thought Burr's appearance might provoke a disorderly demonstration, but no sound was heard. Hamilton was known in Johnstown and had appeared in the very room in which the trial was being held. Burr entered followed by a negro servant carrying an armful of books. He was a rather small, neatly dressed and dignified gentleman with powdered wig, who appeared quietl confident before the bar. He smiled at Judge Kent, who was then presiding, made an easy and graceful bow and took his seat. Southwick was acquitted.

It has often been said the bricks that went into the building were imported from Holland as is the case with so many of the buildings of this early period, but this is not true. The,bricks were made on the farm of Jacob Yost, less than a half mile from the site of the building. In the cupola is the triangle, which served as a bell and was first used to announce the sessions of court. The building, through the years, has been maintained in an excellent state of repair. It is the only Colonial courthouse in New York State and because of its connection with Sir William Johnson and with the many stirring events which run through the history of old Tryon County, the edifice is among the most highly prized of all New York's historical shrines. The building still serves as courthouse, and is now the seat of government for Fulton County, formed from a part of the original Montgomery County in 1838. Montgomery County at one time (like Tryon County) comprised all that part of New York State lying west of a line running nearly through the center of the present Schoharie County. Several blocks distant from the courthouse still stands the jail, also built in 1772, and still used as such. It is a sturdy stone building, but the addition of modern brick wings rob it of that indescribable character bestowed by age alone.

Back to Historic Sights Page
Back to Introduction Page