In courthouse’s 100th year, stories remain plentiful

By Linda Emley

On Sept.19, 2014, around 200 people gathered at the Ray County Courthouse as we rededicated the cornerstone. It had been 100 years since this cornerstone was dedicated Sept. 19, 1914. This event was hosted by the Ray County Commission, The Ray County Historical Society and Richmond Masonic Lodge # 57.

While the new courthouse was being built in 1914, the old courthouse was being moved two blocks south of the Richmond square. I’ve always heard that it took several years to be moved and one employee kept working in the building while it was being moved. I was told he used a ladder to get into the building each morning.

There are several loose ends about this whole story and since there are no eye witnesses still alive from 1914, I have been reading the old newspapers. As normal, I have more questions now than answers but the search for the truth goes on.

Since our Ray County Courthouse was added to the Historic Registry in 1979, I have a copy of the documents used to support this registry. It provided some very interesting facts about the process. Page 8 states, “Construction of the building began in earnest after the cornerstone ceremony. It was the largest building project undertaken by the county and required 11,000 box- car loads of material. By October 1914, the first tier of stone was in place. A large derrick, over seventy feet high, was erected in the center of the structure to raise the stones (some weighing over 10 tons) in place. After its use, the derrick was sawed into sections and removed from the building.”

I’ve been thinking about this story and I thought it would be interesting to give weekly updates about the building progress of our courthouse as it was told in 1915.   

We are already planning the 100th anniversary of the Courthouse, which was dedicated Nov. 20, 1915. Many of the stores around the square were decorated with flags and the courthouse had flowers everywhere. There were 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 accompanied by an orchestra . We are planning on having a dance in the courthouse lobby in November.

It’s my dream that by the time November rolls around this year, everyone will be excited about attending the anniversary party at our courthouse. We all know that any event is always more fun when you anticipate the excitement of counting down the days until it happens. I hope it will be an event that none of us will ever forget.

As I sit in my nice warm office and the snow is blowing outside, I wondered if they worked on the courthouse during the 1914-15 winter season. I found part of this answer in the Jan. 25, 1915, Richmond Missourian. “Courthouse Worker Injured. Mr. Arthur Bingham of Chillicothe, an employee of the Dumas Construction Company, builders of the new courthouse here, met with a very painful accident while at work yesterday morning. Mr. Bingham was in charge of the small derrick on the east side of the building. He was raising some material for the giant derrick to carry to the west side when he slipped on the snow and ice. He lost control of the crank – which turns by hand –and in its sudden turn under pressure of the load it was carrying it came in contact with his forehead, cutting a gash a few inches long. Dr. Shotwell said 5 stitches were required to close the wounds.”

I find it amazing that a little ice and snow caused Mr. Arthur Bingham to be forever remembered as the man who got a few stitches from our own Dr. Shotwell. Anyone who knows me has already figured out the next step in my thought process. Yes, I want to know whatever happened to Arthur Bingham, so I checked the Missouri Death Certificate files. These files cover everyone who died in Missouri between 1910 and 1963.

I only found one man named Arthur Bingham and I think he might be the man I was looking for. Arthur E. Bingham died March 20, 1935, in St Louis. He was 82 years old. He was born in Cleveland, Ohio Dec 23, 1852, and his wife’s name was Grace. His parents were Edward and Esther Sanford Bingham. He was retired when he died, but his occupation says he worked with lumber.

I think with a little more research we will find that this was the same man who slipped on some ice in Richmond on a cold snowy day in 1915 and lived another 20 years. This would make him 62 when he was running the derrick in Richmond, but I think it’s him because he was working with “lumber” while here. His cause of death was cerebral arteriosclerosis, the result of thickening and hardening of the walls of the arteries in the brain. In our modern world, he might have been a well-documented workman’s comp claim.

I also checked “Find a Grave” but didn’t find anyone in Missouri named Arthur Bingham. This could mean several different things. Maybe he doesn’t have a tombstone or you can’t read it now. I always like to know where everyone is buried, but I guess I will just have to take the information from his death certificate that looks like he was cremated. It also says something about Valhalla. RIP Mr. Bingham, whereever you are.

The Richmond Missourian from Feb. 4, 1915, had an article that raised another question. “Circuit Court Meets Monday. The regular February term of the Ray Circuit Court will be convened by Judge Frank P. Divelbiss at the court house in this city next Monday morning, Feb 8th.” Where did Judge Divelbiss hold court on Feb. 8, 1915? It wasn’t at the new courthouse and I don’t see how it could be at the old courthouse because I always thought it was still being moved. I will continue reading the 1915 newspapers for answers.

Judge Divelbiss has always been one of my favorite characters from our history. He had many ties with our courthouse. He was part of the ceremony that took place on Nov. 20, 1915. “Following the long parade, Circuit Judge Frank F. Divilbiss was presented at the south door of the new building by Hon. Will D. McKee.” Judge Divelbiss, who was a speaker at the dedication of our courthouse, was fatally stabbed in the same courthouse by Robert Lyon, editor of the Richmond Conservator.

To get the rest of the story, I looked up the Richmond Missourian newspaper for April 10, 1919. Now remember, Robert Lyon was the editor of the Richmond Conservator and we are reading the Richmond Missourian. In 1919, the two local newspapers were very slanted to suit their political leanings.

The Richmond Missourian said, “A Deplorable Occurrence – Monday morning, at about 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. Lyons walked straightway down stairs to the office of the Prosecuting Attorney David A. Thompson and threw a pocket knife on the table, saying that is 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 stabbing had taken place on the steps leading into the Circuit Clerk’s office near the northeast corner of the courthouse.

The Associated Press picked up this story and it made national news. On April 12, The Kansas City Star headline said, “Judge Divelbiss Not Out of Danger. Richmond, Mo. – Frank P. Divelbiss, stabbed nine times Monday by Robert S. Lyon, editor of the Richmond Conservator, to show improvement is causing more concern among the attending physicians.”

The story of the stabbling also appeared in the San Diego Evening Tribune and the Denver Post and various other newspapers across the country. This was the most famous murder in Ray County since the Winner-Nelson murders in 1896.

The judge died a few days later on April 13. His death certificate said his cause of death was pneumonia and the contributory cause was stab wounds in his abdomen.

I will share the rest of his story again sometime in the near future as we travel down the road of our past and learn more about our courthouse in its 100th year of existence.

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