The 19th Century
The Legislative act which set off Ocean County from the southern half of Monmouth County on February 15, 1850, was created after an appeal from Joel Haywood, a pioneer Stafford Township resident. Haywood complained that the citizens south of the Manasquan River were not receiving their fair share of funding for roads, bridges and welfare for its poor. Toms River was selected as the new county seat of government over Lakehurst by a one vote margin.
-----The new governing body of Ocean County conducted their organizational meeting on May 8, 1850, in the Tavern of Thomas P. Barkalow, located on the corner of Main and Water Streets in Toms River. Colonel Samuel C. Durham, the local dock master, was chosen to be the first director from among the body of twelve freeholders. Each of the six townships selected two representatives to the Freeholder Board. (Stafford, Dover, Jackson, Plumsted, Union and Brick.)
While the new Freeholder board was conducting monthly meetings, which began at 8 a.m. and sometimes lasted for two or three days, consideration was being given to determine where the new Courthouse would be built. Interested citizens offered several lots in the Village of Toms River, but the one chosen was "a lot on the center of my lands on the north side of the road from the meeting house to the Schenck's Mill Road", a cornfield on what is now Washington Street. It was offered by Joseph Coward, who was so pleased when his site was selected that he presented the Board with 6,000 bricks to start the construction.
----- The design of the Greek Revival-style Courthouse reflected the mid-nineteenth century interests in classical architecture which was built from the architectural plan borrowed from Hudson County. With its tall Doric columns supporting a massive pedimented portico, the Courthouse is an excellent example of the temple form that was the most distinguishing feature of the Greek Revival style. ----- The new Courthouse began to take form with the bricks shipped from Haverstraw, New York, by schooners and unloaded at Robbins Cove at the foot of Allen Street. Teams of horses pulled the wagonloads of brick up the hill to the new building site. The building was finished in September 1851 so that all the official business of the County could be conducted in one building.
After the Courthouse construction was completed, the Hudson County architectural plans were entrusted to a local man to be returned to that county. He did not get too far out of town on horseback before he stopped of at Hyers Tavern in Jackson. The plans have never been seen since.
----- The official county seals were selected at their first meeting. The County Freeholders' seal was a sloop, the County Clerk's seal was a schooner and the Surrogate's seal was a steamboat. These seals reflected the commercial interest of the citizens enclosing the words "Ocean County, N.J.".
-----The old cornfield, where the courthouse was built in the center of what later became a city block, is now bounded by Horner Street, Hooper Avenue, and Washington Street. Hooper Avenue was just a narrow dirt lane to Cedar Grove and the Metedeconk in 1850. Thomas Hooper, a local Toms River merchant, felt so strongly that the town was now going to expand eastward that he used his own money to widen the Metedeconk Road. He was honored by having the road bear his name.
----- Washington Street, at the time, was called "Meeting House Road". The old Methodist Meeting House stood in the cemetery at the crossing of the two roads. The Meeting House Road had only extended to Dock Street; its name was changed to Washington Street in the 1870's for Washington Hadley who built his mansion at what is now known as "The Mott Place" at Dock and Washington Streets.
-----The first County Courts were held in the old Mormon Church which was located at the triangular point formed by Flint Boulevard and South Main Street on the south side of the river. Governor Daniel Haines had appointed James Gulick as the first Judge of the Court on Common Pleas in Ocean County. Other officials appointed by the Governor were Joseph Parker, Sheriff, John J. Irons, County Clerk, and David I. C. Rogers as Surrogate. The first Supreme Court Justice to sit in the new Courthouse was James C. Nevins.
-----The second floor in the new Courthouse housed the Courtroom which seated 250 persons on plain straight-backed benches. The judge's bench of carved black walnut was on a raised dais behind the walnut rail which separated the bench from the spectators.
-----The 1872 extension of the Courtroom in back of the judges bench, called a "Grecian bend", with an overhead domed skylight, brought a more Victorian look to the Greek Revival style 1850 Courthouse. It is believed that it was at that time that the use of dark wood and elaborate ceiling carvings of birds, cupids and ribbons were added in the French Rococo period of the late Victorian period.
-----A costly fire in the Grecian bend on October 26, 1829, destroyed the judge's bench and furniture, charred the seats and woodwork and damaged the courtroom with smoke. The fire broke through the skylight which caused a draft that fueled the fire, but the local firemen were able to contain the fire to the Courtroom, thus saving the Courthouse. This large Court Room, located in the most impressive building in town, has been used for many community, civic and religious functions other than the courts. During the Civil War, this room was the scene of Union recruiting rallies. Company F, Fourteenth New Jersey Volunteers, under the command of Captain Ralph B. Gowdy, was organized in this room. Military drills were conducted on the lawn in front of the Courthouse steps.
-----On August 17, 1862, Company "F" assembled on the Courthouse grounds for the appropriate stirring farewell exercises before the Company started for Camp Vredenburg in Freehold, in a long array of carriages, sent off amid sounds of music and peals from the Village church bells and the booming of cannons.
-----As the village expanded during the building boom of the 1850's the Courthouse became surrounded by homes. The Gulicks, Havens, Van Hise and the Van Nostrands were some of the famous families who lived in the block. In 1853 the Methodist Church built a church on the northeast corner of the block, at the corner of Hooper Avenue and Washington Street. That church stood until 1874 when the congregation built another church across the street. All of these home sites eventually became part of the Courthouse Complex as the County began to expand and the need for additional governmental facilities became necessary for it efficient operation.
-----The Sheriff's House, with ten attached jail cells, was built behind the Courthouse by Robert Aiken for $4250 in 1851 in the Federal/Greek Revival style. The Sheriff's and their families occupied this building for over 75 years. In 1921 twenty-four new jail cells were added in a wing at the rear of the building.
-----Until 1926, family functions and social affairs were held in the living quarters of the Sheriff's House, which occupied the front section of the building, while prisoners were incarcerated in the cells attached to the back of the house. Those first ten cells were nine feet long, nine feet high, and five feet wide. Each cell had a cot behind iron doors. A corridor divided the cells with men and women fraternizing there during the daytime hours, but locked in separate cells at night. In the first two decades of the jail there were rarely more than two prisoners confined at one time with an annual average of about twelve prisoners.
-----No prison records were kept until 1860 when Sheriff Charles Wardell began compiling them. His records show that crime cost the County about $1,000 per year. The sheriff's wife cooked the meals for the prisoners which the sheriff carried through the connecting door of the living quarters to the prisoners in the jail. The County paid the sheriff fifty cents for each meal fed to the prisoners.
The old bell, housed in the cupola on top of the building, was used by the Sheriff to alert the Village when there was a prisoner escape. This bell is now in the belfry of the Cedar Grove Methodist Church on Bay Avenue and Cedar Grove Road.