Lafayette County
 Lafayette County
Organized November 16, 1820, (effective January 1, 1821) from Cooper County and named for Marquis de La Fayette. Originally organized as Lillard County in honor of James (William) Lillard of Tennessee, who served in the first state constitutional convention and first State Legislature. The name was changed in honor of Marquis de La Fayette’s visit to the United States by an act of the Legislature on February 16, 1825.

County Seat: Lexington


Lafayette County
P.O. Box 416
Lexington, MO 64067


Lillard County came into existence along with seven other counties in 1821. Mount Vernon was the temporary county seat for Lillard County, which was named Lafayette in 1825. At that time the permanent county seat was in "Old Town" of Lexington, and as at Mount Vernon, courts first met in homes.

Henry Renick, who was also justice of the peace, built the first courthouse in 1824-25 on the square. The record is unclear about how much Renick was paid. One payment of $875.15 was made June 27, 1825; another of $467.41-1/4 appeared on November 23, 1825, for construction of the courthouse. Apparently, the court accepted the building November 23, 1825, and continued using it until 1832.

William Chiles delivered an address July 4, 1876, and claimed that young "bucks" celebrated the 4th of July in 1831 by tearing down the walls and blowing up the foundation of the courthouse. This story has been often repeated. The following year the county declared the building unsafe and ordered James Fletcher to sell the brick and timber from the courthouse except for the foundation materials. William Young, in History of Lafayette County, claims it was sold August 1, 1832.

The second courthouse, which was also on the square in "Old Town," was built in 1835. It was a three-story building, regarded as perhaps the finest, most classic public building in Missouri. Three-story buildings were very rare in Missouri during the early 19th century. Mr. Rollins did the masonry and Charles Thomas, the carpentry. This brick building continued in use until 1849, when the present courthouse was occupied. The Baptist Female College bought the 1835 courthouse on March 25, 1849. During the Civil War it became a hospital, subsequently an isolation hospital for smallpox. Finally abandoned, it was sold for brick.

No known illustrations exist, but a description, written in 1853, called the building (which by that time was the Female Seminary)

  • . . .one of the noblest structures of art. The passing stranger would suppose at a glance that it was the legislative hall of some proud nation, instead of an institution for the improvement of the human mind. Both external and internal the building is superb in every sense of the word.
The principal business district of Lexington moved about one mile west after the town incorporated in 1845; the courthouse site moved to a new, central location. The old courthouse was inconvenient, and, according to the Lexington Weekly Express, there was ". . . nothing to do while whiling away the time waiting to be called." The Express called for a large elegant building, a fine specimen of architecture, one of which the county need not be ashamed.

The court appropriated funds for the third and present courthouse that has continued in March 1847. It is the oldest Missouri courthouse that has continued in use as a courthouse. In April 1847 the court paid William Daugherty, a 30-year-old carpenter, $40 for his plans and specifications; a number of contractors completed the building: William Hunter and John Alford did the brick work; James A. Crump did the stone work. Completed in 1849, the costs were about $12,000. Ray and Caldwell counties had courthouses built upon the same plan with minor variations in trim. During the 1861 Civil War battle of Lexington, the courthouse was fired upon; a cannon ball embedded in one of the columns remains an object of great curiosity.

A small annex was built in 1854 for the clerk's office, and a two-story annex was constructed in the 1880s. The Lafayette County courthouse has been included on the National Register of Historic Places. This courthouse and the Ralls County courthouse, 1858, are the only two temple-type courthouses from the 19th century that are still used as Missouri courthouses.

Copyright 2002 University of Missouri. Published by University Extension, University of Missouri-Columbia.

Additional History
In 1822, the area we call Lafayette County was called Lillard County. The Lillard County Courthouse was located one-half mile east of Tabo Creek on a bluff overlooking the Missouri river. In 1823, the county seat was moved to Lexington by a vote of the people. The next structure

that was used as our courthouse was Dr. Bucks house, located at the corner of 24th and South Streets. James Bounds, John Duston and James Lilard were commissioned to locate and plat a site for our next courthouse. They chose to establish the first formal courthouse on the square at 24th and South Street.

In 1826, Lafayette County was carved from Lillard County and a new courthouse was built on the square at 24th and South Street. This area later became known as "Old Town" because of it’s historical significance to our city. The new courthouse was so poorly constructed that the entire structure was torn down and the materials used to build it were sold. Office space was rented while a new structure was built on the same foundation. This structure was a three story brick building which was used for ten years. Later a decision was made to move closer to the Missouri River for commercial purposes. Once again office space was rented.

In 1847, a decision was made by Judges, (today called commissioners) Thomas Gordon, Nathaniel Price, and Joseph W. Hall to build a new Lafayette County Courthouse on the present site. The plans chosen called for a magnificent structure of the Classic Greek Revival design. The project and contract overseers were, Silas Silver, John Catron, Robert Auli, and Henderson Young. The architect was William Dougherty. On April 1, 1847, their plans were accepted and $12,000 was set aside for building the new structure. The final construction costs were $14,382.46. The old courthouse in "Old Town" was sold for $1,500 and the old jail was sold for $51.00 This left the total expenditure for the new building at $12,831.46.

The County office holders building was started in 1854, with the first floor construction. In 1879, a second story was added. In 1896, an addition was made to the original courthouse to add more offices on the South end of the building. In 1940, more office space was added to the office holders building thus creating the "u" shape of the present building.

In September of 1970, the Lafayette County Courthouse was placed on the National Historic Register.

Records at Courthouse

Recorder of Deeds: Index to deeds, 1821-1886; Deed records, 1820-1895; Index to marriage records, 1821-1973; Marriage records, 1821-1919.

Clerk of the Circuit Court: Circuit court records, 1821-1886.

Clerk of the Probate Court:Index to probate records, 1821-1897; Probate records, 1821-1887; Administrator’s/executor’s letters, bonds and records, 1821-1914; Inventories, appraisements and sale bills, 1850-1891; Proof of publication, notices and affidavits, 1863-1877; Guardian’s/curator’s records, 1879-1924; Will records, 1821-1924.

More Links
Birth & Death Records Database

Search for Lafayette County on Archives' Online Catalog

Roll by Roll Listing of Microfilm

Local Records Inventory Database

Missouri Birth & Death Records Database: Search & Record Availability