Safe and sound
book recovered from
rubble of Courthouse fire
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
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.
by Konnie McCollum
Court Judge Ted Todd holds
the law book (below) he recovered
from his fire-ravaged third floor office
in the Jefferson County Courthouse.
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. Todds 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 wasnt 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 didnt think he had actually moved
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 werent 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, thats 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
We will keep it until the courthouse is restored, said director
Joe Carr. We are thrilled the book was saved.
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