The 1724 Courthouse in Chester on the Ave. of the States. It is the oldest Courthouse in Penna. and was the center of activity when Chester was the county seat.
Note: It has been almost 170 years since Chester City was the county seat of Delaware County, this article from over 100 years ago gives an idea on what it was like.
When Chester was the county seat
Little more than half a century ago, in 1851 to be quite accurate, the old court house in Chester ceased to be the center of legal activities and the county seat was removed to Media. Among the legal fraternity of Chester there remain a few who remember seeing court sit in this city, and recall scenes connected with the event.
Judge William B. Broomall, as a lad seven years of age, more than once attended court in Chester with his father, the Hon. John M. Broomall, and his impressions are sufficiently vivid to recall the arrangement of the ancient building when it was the seat of the judicial district consisting of both Chester and Delaware counties.
“At that time the court room occupied the first floor,” states Judge Broomall. “There were entrances through two doors on the south side of the building, and an avenue of beautiful linden trees offered an approach from Fourth Street. An open staircase led to the upper floor which was divided into three chambers, two rooms for jury purposes and one for the use of the grand jury. The latter was in the bay to the north, and was regarded as palatial in its appointments in these days.
“The old prothonotary’s office House on the site now occupied by the Chester Times. About forth feet back of the street at the corner of Fourth, was the Sheriff’s office and residence, and Back of that the jail. These comprised all of the buildings on this side of Market Street between Fourth and Fifth Streets at that time and the ground was parked with trees and grass.
EARLY HISTORY – “Upon a bench on a raised platform in the court room, extended a settee shining with a coat of green paint, and sufficiently long to seat all of the Justices of the Peace within the early jurisdiction, with the middle sent separated by arms from the rest, for the presiding Justice,” and Judge Broomall in continuing his description. “This was one of the appointments of a former system of court, but was part of the furniture at the time of the removal of the court to Media.”
The early history of Chester as the seat in the first judiciary in Pennsylvania, was also interesting recounted by Judge Broomall, although not from recollection. He recalled traditions of the first courts, those presided over by an Indian Chief and his warriors; the early administration of justice by the Dutch and the Swedes in primitive houses of justice and defense,” which were located here in the last half of the Seventeenth Century. With the advent of Penn and the establishment of his government, a regular court was instituted in Chester, and the first Grand Jury convened in Pennsylvania assembled here. Over a century ago the jurisdiction of the Chester court extended westward beyond the Susquehanna River, but there is a family story still fresh in the minds of the older generation, of the long journey from a western district to settle a family controversy, having been adjusted amicably enroute during the days the would-be litigants traveled together to reach the Chester court.
“In those days,” continued the Judge, “the practice prevailed in important cases of having the court presided over by Circuit Judges. It was the custom of the sheriff and his posse comitatus to meet the judges at the county line and conduct them in proper procession to their headquarters in Chester. There they would array themselves in their judicial gown and wigs, and proceed under the leadership of the sheriff to their seats on the bench, in the Chester Court room.
The removal of the court house to Media Judge Broomall touched upon lightly, agreeing that the activities of George Smith, senatorial representative of the district at that period were in a large measure responsible for the change which severed the seat of the court room from its traditional and historic setting.
The Congressional campaigns of the Fifties and the Sixties, Judge Broomall remembers distinctly, having been the Whig and Republican candidate for the office. The story of Hickman’s success as a Democrat, a ‘Know Nothing,’ an Independent and finally on the Republican ticket showed a mastery of politics not surpassed in the present day.
When his father was elected to Congress in 1862, and served through several sessions Judge Broomall spent some interesting days at the national capitol. He attended the impeachment of Andrew Johnson, and heard William Everts deliver his famous address in Johnson’s defense.
POLITICAL RECOLLECTIONS – Party conventions which kept the judicial features of the county stirred during Judge Clayton’s tenure of office are political recollections with which Judge Broomall is most conversant, as he practiced in the Delaware County Court during the entire period. There is probably not a Delaware County Court case of any import in the last forty years, with which Judge Broomall is not familiar, or with which he has not been connected in some capacity.
One of the most dramatic coincidence of his career was in the case of a client where it became necessary to establish a date by proxy.
“I had a witness, an old lady,” said the judge, “who could testify to an occurrence which was a matter in contention, but she could not fix the date. However, she knew it had occurred on the day when the marriage of one of her friends took place in a Philadelphia church. In order to fix the date it became necessary to prove the date of the marriage of the persons to whom she referred. The custodian of the church was subpoenaed, brought to court and placed on the witness stand. He testified to the genuineness of the book of records, and was asked to open the book and turn to the place where the record of the aforementioned marriage appeared. He did so and handed the book to me. I took the book in my hand, and there opposite the record under inquiry, I was amazed to find the record of the marriage of my father and mother in October 1841.”
Coming this Friday!!