29, 1857, from Ozark County and named for Stephen A. Douglas, Illinois
senator and later presidential candidate.
County Seat: Ava
|Different accounts conflict
concerning the history of Douglas County's courthouses. In addition to
the published histories, a manuscript by Herbert Garton, based upon
1937-38 Work Projects Administration interviews with early settlers and
county officials, provided more information about Douglas County's
After bitter quarreling over location of the county seat, Vera Cruz became the compromise choice. The first courthouse, made of logs by volunteer labor, was completed in six weeks. It had a puncheon floor and hand-crafted furnishings. County officials occupied the building December 27, 1857.
The county seat moved to Rome after a Civil War incident in which the courthouse in Vera Cruz was fired upon, but continued war activity in Rome prompted a return to Vera Cruz.
Beginning in 1866 a series of elections were held attempting to move the county seat to Arno. The elections failed but contributed to intensified rivalry between east and west. The struggle culminated with Arno advocates "stealing the courthouse" (i.e. county records) and moving them to the home of the circuit clerk in Arno on February 24, 1872. For two weeks no one knew where the records were.
Retaliation came when citizens of Militia Springs (called Ava since 1881) built a $350 courthouse in 1872, retrieved the records and place them in a log vault. Vandals burned the Militia Springs courthouse, destroying many records in July 1872, according to the Jefferson City People's Tribune. The paper's account carried a taste of cynicism:
" . . . who he is will probably never be found out, or if so, he would never be punished, as no crime committed in that county has been punished since the war, at least so far as we know."
Curry's A Reminiscent History of Douglas County mentioned an 1870 fire, which may have been a separate incident.
After the fire, citizens promptly began to rebuild a courthouse of hand-hewn lumber (the first not of logs) in Militia Springs, which was completed and occupied January 22, 1873. Precise location of this courthouse is not certain; it may have been in the center of the square, as Garton claims, or on a corner lot northwest of the central square, as another account reports.
Strong antagonism continued with repeated petitions presented to move the county seat. Again the courthouse was burned, this time by the county assessor-treasurer, destroying incriminating evidence of embezzlement. The court convicted him of arson and sentenced him to five years in prison. Date of the fire was about April 26 or 27, 1886. According to the Jefferson City Daily Tribune, it was May 2, 1886. Persistent attempts to move the county seat continued stirring dissension between sections of the county well into the 20th century.
A schoolhouse provided space for the courts to meet until a two-story, 40-by-70-foot, clapboard building with hip roof was built in 1888 on the square. This courthouse continued in use until 1937 when it was sold for $350.
Government talk of possibly funding about 50 percent of construction costs for a new courthouse prompted the Douglas County Planning Commission to assess needs. Their existing courthouse was a fire hazard and structurally weak; the building swayed, and doors could not be closed because of sagging timbers. The court hired Dan R. Sanford, who had experience with similar projects and government grants. The planning board recommended that the old site be turned over to the city and used as a park. Public opinion was divided, but the decision was made to move from the original square.
In September 1935 citizens voted a $50,000 bond issue, to be supplemented by a government grant of $33,545. Specifications that Sanford submitted included a $3,000 sum for purchase of a new site. The 185-foot square was too small to accommodate the new building. Then, too, a highway had been routed through the center of town in 1923; the noise from increased automobile traffic interfered with court business. An open central square in a county seat is rarely found in Missouri.
Contracts for building the new courthouse were awarded in December 1935 to Week's Construction Company, Kansas City. The red brick building is trimmed with "cast" stone, made with Carthage stone chips, crushed, mixed with cement, cast into blocks and polished to give the appearance of quarried stone. Work began in March 1936, and county officials moved into the completed building in January 1937.
burned in 1886.
Douglas County First Courthouse
Vera Cruz, located on Bryant creek at the confluence of Hunter creek, about 18 miles southeast of Ava, was the first county seat of Douglas county.
Douglas county was organized by an act of the state legislature on October 29, 1857, from territory taken from Ozark county. It was named for Stephan A. Douglas, the United States Senator from Illinois whose debates with Abraham Lincoln constitute an epic in American history. Additional territory was taken from Taney and Webster counties in 1864, giving it a land area of 804 square miles and making it the eleventh largest county in the state.
The legislative act creating Douglas county named Arthur Rippee and John L. Tate, of Wright county, and James Ellison, of Webster county, as commissioners to locate the county seat. Meanwhile the new county was attached to the Fourteenth Judicial District, and the dwelling house of James A. Wilson was designated as the place for conducting both county and circuit court.
The three commissioners located the county seat at Old Vera Cruz, about a mile north of what is now know as Vera Cruz. Here the county established its first seat of government and transacted its business in a primitive log courthouse until 1869.
In that year, after three far east end townships were, by petition to the county court, cut loose from Douglas county and attached to Howell county, the county voted more than two to one to move the county seat to Arno. Vera Cruz was then considered to be about eight miles east of the center of the county, and Arno was considered a like number of miles west of the center. Considerable dissatisfaction developed over the Arno location. Vera Cruz was too far east, and likewise, Arno was too far west. Trouble followed and the matter was taken to court for settlement.
Finally, about a year later, the issue was settled by compromise. The court appointed commissioners, representing both the east and west ends of the county, to select more satisfactory site for the county seat (nearer the center of the county).
It was then that Ava was selected, being about a mile west of the center of the county. At that time the site of Ava was government land, and the county court selected H. M. Miller to go to the U. S. Land Office in Springfield and cash enter the forty acres of land where the business section of Ava now stands, for the county.
The "Reynolds Hardware" store building, a log structure located on what is now the east side of the public square, was taken over by the county and served as the first courthouse in Ava. In 1870 the building and all the county records were destroyed by fire.
The county then bought a store building located on what is now the northwest corner of the square, where the Citizens Bank now stands, and arranged it for use as a courthouse.
On April 26, 1886 the store building used for courthouse purposes was destroyed by fire, and again all records were destroyed. For the next two years the school house in Ava was used in which to transact the county’s business.
In 1888, a frame courthouse was erected in the center of the public square, largely from donations and from the sale of lots. This building served the county until 1937, when the present courthouse on the southeast corner of the square was completed. In January 1937, the old building was sold to F. F. Buck and E. R. Fletcher for $350, "to be removed by them from the center of the square within 90 days."
All that remains of the original county seat at Vera Cruz is a recently established youth camp under the promotion and supervision of the Rev. Oscar Cunningham of Ava, and an ancient Baptist log church, still in use on occasions.
At its peak the Vera Cruz community was the scene of two general stores, a lumber mill and grist mill operated by water power.
|Records at Courthouse|
of Deeds: Index
to deeds, 1860-1893; Deed records, 1858-1920; Index to marriage records,
(no dates); Marriage records, 1877-1916.
of the Circuit Court: Index
to circuit court records, 1886-1931; Circuit court records, 1886-1909.
& Death Records Database
Local Records Inventory Database