Mention burnt courthouses and we automatically think of fires set by the opposing side during the Civil War, resulting in a great loss of records. However, marauding armies were not the only ones who set fire to courthouses.
Hoping to destroy records which might be detrimental to one side in a law suit was another reason for courthouse fires. In Hardin County, Illinois, the courthouse burnt twice – at least once, it is rumored, to destroy records that might be important in a trial involving the infamous Logan Belt, a former resident of Crittenden County, Kentucky. Sadly, Hardin County has almost no records prior to 1884.
In an issue of the Crittenden Press, one such event was reported as follows:
“Princeton, Ky., March 13, 1905 - “An attempt was made to burn the Caldwell county court house this morning. At 7 o'clock this morning when the courthouse was opened, the floor was found to be on fire in the large court room, just inside the big double doors that lead from the corridor on the second floor. The blaze was quickly extinguished.
If the courthouse had been burned it is probably that all the county records would have been destroyed, as there are no fireproof vaults.
It is suspected that some person interested in the destruction of documents on file in the courthouse is responsible for the fire.
The fire burned a hole about two feet wide and five feet long, through the floor and ceiling; the damage was not large.
Evidences of incendiarism were many. Bob Asher, a negro, was to have been tried today for the murder of another negro, but the trial was postponed.
Mike Beverly, grocer, against whom there are now three indictments for house burning, was also on the docket for trial.
The grand jury is in session and indictments probably will be returned in connection with this case of arson."