On August 26, 1714, John Reid sold a plot of land on the Burlington Path, less than an acre in size, to the Board of Chosen Freeholders for 30 shillings. The bargain price may have been the deciding factor in settling a then raging dispute between Middletown, Shrewsbury and Freehold Townships over the location of the county seat.
The first courthouse and jail was built on the Reid property in 1714, and while there are no known drawings of this building, it is thought to have been a small frame structure. It had to be replaced in 1719 because two prisoners escaped from it. Unfortunately, this structure burned down in 1727, and it was not until 1731 that a new courthouse was constructed. It was in this "1731 Courthouse" that the Declaration of Independence was read in 1776, several days after its adoption in Philadelphia. This same courthouse was used to care for wounded British and American soldiers after the Battle of Monmouth. In fact, when General Henry Clinton withdrew British forces under the cover of darkness after the battle, some five wounded officers and 40 men were left behind in the courthouse.
In 1806 construction on the fourth courthouse was begun. It was completed in 1809 at a cost of $28,000. This building survived until 1855 when it suffered extensive damage as a result of a fire set by a woman prisoner in the county jail. It was rebuilt and remodeled only to suffer another devastating fire in 1873. Despite extensive damage to the courthouse and surrounding structures, most vital records were saved.
Utilizing some of the stonework of the building that had just burned, work was rushed to complete a new courthouse in just four months. In the meantime, court sessions were held in the nearby Reformed Church. In 1884, a large addition was added to the rear of the courthouse along Court Street.
In 1930, fire again plagued the courthouse, resulting in extensive damage to a stairway and belfry. From 1714 to 1954 the county courthouse was located at Main and Court Streets, the original site purchased from John Reid. In 1954 a new courthouse was completed two blocks north of the original site, next to Monument Park, on Court Street. The structure located at the corner of Main and Court Streets became known as the Hall of Records.
However, thanks to John Reid, a courtroom still exists in the Hall of Records. In 1714, Reid wanted the county seat located in Freehold Township and thus sold the property to the Freeholders at a bargain price. But in return, he placed a provision in the deed that, should the property ever cease being used as a courthouse, ownership would revert back to the Reid family. Direct descendants of John Reid still reside in Freehold Township. The present Hall of Records contains the recently restored courtroom and chambers of Judge Thomas W. Cavanaugh Jr. and various administrative offices of the Board of Chosen Freeholders, the governing body of the County of Monmouth, along with offices of the County Surrogate.
Page Last Updated: 2/4/2008 12:32:00 PM