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By Linda Emley
I don’t think any of us remember any other courthouse standing in the middle of our town square. So many merchants have come and gone, while our courthouse quietly watched. It’s hard to believe it is 99 years old.
Life began for this building Sept. 19, 1914 when the cornerstone was dedicated. This is how The Richmond Conservator reported it: “Early Saturday morning, the crowds began to assemble in Richmond and each train brought its quota and from the surrounding territory they came in vehicles until the time for the ceremonies and one of the largest gatherings seen in Richmond for many a day was present.
“At the appointed hour, preparations began for forming the march to the courthouse square. The Masons were assisted in the march by an escort of Knights Templar from this city, Chillicothe and Excelsior Springs. The Knights Templar were in full uniform and this made an imposing sight as they marched.”
The Richmond Masonic Lodge hosted the ceremony. Documents about Ray County history, the Masons and Richmond churches were sealed in a copper box and placed in the cornerstone. While the band played “Nearer My God To Thee,” the cornerstone was placed. Grand Warden Briggs tied the plumb on the stone and pronounced the work perfect.
The pouring of wheat, wine and oil on the cornerstone was performed with a silver pitcher. Grand Master Boor addressed the superintendent of works and delivered the completion of the building into his hands as follows,“Worthy brother, having thus as Grand Master of Masons laid the foundation stone of this structure, I now deliver these implements of your profession into your hands.”
Within a month, the first tier of stone was in place. A large derrick over 70 feet high was erected in the center of the structure to raise the stones. After its use, the derrick was sawed into sections and removed from the building.
The courthouse was dedicated Nov. 20, 1915. Many of the stores around the square were decorated with flags. The courthouse had flowers in the windows, in corners of the rooms and hanging from the electric light fixtures. In the evening, a dance was held on the first floor to music by an orchestra.
Many events have taken place in this building and one of the earliest turned out to be one of the most memorable. In 1919, Judge Frank Divelbiss was fatally stabbed in the Courthouse by Robert Lyon, editor of The Richmond Conservator. What would cause two prominent men to get into such a scuffle? I went and looked up the Richmond Missourian newspaper. Now remember, Robert Lyon was the editor of the Conservator and we are reading the Missourian. Back in 1919, the local newspapers were slanted to suit their own political needs. “A Deplorable Occurrence – Monday morning, at 10 o’clock, an unwitnessed fight occurred on the third floor of the courthouse between Circuit Judge Frank P. Divelbiss and Editor Robert S. Lyon of the Richmond Conservator. Immediately following the ending of the bloody struggle, Mr. Lyon walked straightway downstairs to the office of the prosecuting attorney, David A. Thompson, and threw a pocket knife on the table saying that it was the knife used in the fight with Judge Divelbiss and suggested that they send for the doctor to look after the wounded man.”
The judge died a few days later. It came out in the trial that the knife belonged to the judge and he had pulled it on Lyon first. Divelbiss’s death was ruled self-defense and Lyon was acquitted in a sensational trial in the very same courthouse. After reading all this, I still didn’t know why these men were fighting.
I called local historian Milford Wyss and he gave me the rest of the story. Robert Lyon had run for State Senator and lost by 300 votes. The judge had supported John Morton, who won the election. So politics cost these two old friends their friendship and a lot more. Robert Lyon lost the election, but the judge lost more, paying for it with his life.
Something good did come out of this. Due to the stabbing, Richmond got to claim Nelson and Howard Hill as its own. Howard Hill’s father, Dr. Nelson Hill, a Kansas City surgeon, was called to assist with the injured judge. He later came back to testify for the trial and decided to buy The Richmond News. Nelson died in 1956 and Howard took over as publisher. The Hill family will always be legendary in Richmond newspaper history.
Our courthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979 . Maybe this will help keep it around for another 99 years.
On Friday Sept. 19, 2014, we are going to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the laying of the courthouse’s cornerstone. Mark your calendars now and plan on joining us as we relive part of our history.
Next week we will be changing the showcase display at the courthouse and the theme for the month will be the story of 1914 Richmond and some early artifacts from our courthouse.
Have an interesting story about the courthouse? Share it with Linda at firstname.lastname@example.org.