Safe and sound

Law book recovered from
rubble of Courthouse fire

Rare book contained names
of lawyers who practiced there

"When firefighters asked me what I thought
would be irreplaceable in my office,
I could only think of the book.’
– Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Ted Todd

By Konnie McCollum
Staff Writer

Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Ted Todd watched in shock and dismay as firefighters battled the blaze on May 20 that severely damaged the historic Jefferson County Courthouse. When the roof collapsed onto his third-floor office, he had thoughts for only one item – a historic book that he believed he had left lying on top of a bookshelf.

Judge Ted Todd

Photos by Konnie McCollum

Circuit Court Judge Ted Todd holds
the law book (below) he recovered
from his fire-ravaged third floor office
in the Jefferson County Courthouse.

Courthouse Law Book

Up until 1930, when the Indiana Constitution was revised, the way to become a lawyer in town was to appear before the local circuit court and sign the book. The first signatures, William Hendricks, Michael Bright and Joseph Marshall, were documented on March 18, 1844. Other prominent family names, such as Vawter, Schnaitter and Cooper, can be found throughout the book.
There was a brief period after the state constitution changed when some lawyers did not sign the book, but most continued to do so out of a sense of tradition. Todd’s own signature is recorded in 1965, and he has worked to keep up the practice for decades.
“When firefighters asked me what I thought would be irreplaceable in my office, I could only think of the book,” said Todd. “I was worried it was lost forever.”
When he was allowed to briefly view the damage to his office, he just knew he would find the book lying among the charred and sodden ruins. But it wasn’t there.
Later, when he could make a more thorough search, he realized the book had obviously not been in its usual place on top of that bookshelf. He remembered that he was at one point thinking he should put the book away somewhere safe because it looked awkward hanging over the edge of the bookshelf. However, he didn’t think he had actually moved it.
“We searched and searched, and it was at that point that I realized I must have put the book in an antique wooden cabinet in my office,” he said. “But when we tried to open the drawer, it was sealed shut, so we weren’t certain it was in there.”
Twelve days later, the antique cabinet was opened, and there was the book – completely untouched. While it does have traces of fire damage, that’s because it managed to survive the 1859 fire that also ravaged the courthouse.
Todd believes that the book was saved when the wooden cabinet swelled and the drawer was sealed due to the heavy amounts of water used to put out the fire. His office sustained mainly water and smoke damage; it was not aflame like the roof and cupola.
The book is currently being safely stored at the Jefferson County Historical Society.
“We will keep it until the courthouse is restored,” said director Joe Carr. “We are thrilled the book was saved.”

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