The Putnam County Historic Courthouse hit a milestone last Thursday when county and local officials and dozens of residents packed the Carmel building to celebrate its 200th birthday.
For two centuries, the Historic Courthouse, built in 1814, has been standing. Historians for the county spoke to the significance and the intrigue the building brought over the years, including the multiple times it was almost disposed of. Calling it the “most important thing that the new board of supervisors did when Putnam County was created,” Deputy County Historian Sallie Sypher said courthouse was an integral part of Putnam.
Before the courthouse was built, Sypher said residents had to travel to Poughkeepsie in Dutchess County for the main courthouse. If a Putnam resident had to see the court clerk, their lawyer, file a lawsuit, swear an oath, or had jury duty, the travel time would be about two days on horseback.
“People didn’t like this very much,” Sypher stressed. “Especially the lawyers.”
A courthouse in Putnam was eventually built for a cost of $6,000, Sypher said. Once it was built, there were several times its very existence was threatened. In the 1840s, there was a chance of the courthouse being disposed of, but according to the deed, the land the courthouse was on could only be used for that purpose or the land would go back to the family that donated the land. Instead of selling the land, the county “gussied” it up by adding columns and other decorative details.
In 1924, a fire at Smalley’s Inn across the street extended to the courthouse and resulted in damage on the roof, Sypher said. But she said the county Board of Supervisors voted 4-2 to rebuild the structure.
Finally, in the 1970s and 1980s New York State officials deemed the courthouse unusable, calling it a dungeon, Sypher said, and the county was ordered to build a new courthouse, which stands a short walk away from the old courthouse. Though there was a new courthouse, Brewster resident Eleanor Fitchen worked with other concerned citizens and was able to get the original courthouse restored in 1988.
“Let’s hope this courthouse that has survived three near death experiences will go on for another 200 years,” Sypher said.
Christina Micciolo, a clerk in the Historian’s Office, talked about the many trials of resident Henry Werner. Because Werner built a dyke in the marshlands, water became stagnant and infected many residents with malaria in the Village of Cold Spring. “Court case after court case” with Werner on trial were held at the Historic Courthouse, but he was found not guilty. As a result, factory workers in the village broke onto Werner’s property and got rid of dykes on the north and south side, where the waterway flows freely to this day.
Former County Historian Denis Castelli was also honored at the commemorative event. One of his friends, Richard Shankowitz said Castelli enjoyed a second career in public service and was always doing “many random acts of kindness.” Castelli died in April at the age of 67.