The history of the Lincoln County Courts can best be summarized by quoting Mrs. Margaret Clare, a member of the Historical Society of Lincoln County. A portion of Mrs. Clare’s statement at the dedication ceremony for the 45th Judicial Circuit, August 29, 1991, is as follows:
“We find in 1818 that the Territorial General Assembly passed an act organizing eight new counties. They were Jefferson, Franklin, Wayne, Lincoln, Madison, Montgomery, Pike and Cooper. Another act divided the area into three judicial circuits: Southern, Northern, and Northwestern. Lincoln was placed in the Northwestern, along with Cooper, Montgomery, Pike and Howard. Frederick Bates, who was Secretary of the Territory of Missouri, appointed David Todd the first judge of the Northwest Circuit . . . . . .
The first court of the new Northwest Circuit was held April the 5th, 1819, in the home of Zadock Woods in what is now Troy. He was one of the founders of the town of Troy. Tradition has it that the house was inside Wood’s Fort. John Ruland was appointed the first clerk, and the county was then divided into four parts with four commissioners. They were appointed to select the site for a permanent place for a county seat.
The second term began August the 2nd, 1819, at the same place. . . . . . The commissioners had found by this time a place to have the county seat. Almond Cottle, Nathaniel Simon and Ira Cottle had given 50 acres in the town of Monroe. Court was held in the Woods’ home until April of 1820 when the jail and courthouse at Monroe had been completed. At this time the Circuit Court handled all cases as there was no probate or county court.
The law providing for the formation of the county courts was passed in the first session of the State Legislature, which was held in 1820 before Missouri was formally admitted to the Union. The Territorial Legislature divided the State into four circuits. Lincoln was then placed in the 2nd Circuit along with Gasconade, Ralls, Pike, St. Charles, Montgomery and Callaway.
In 1822 it became evident that Monroe was not a good place for a location for a court. Being down in the southeast corner of the county made it almost impossible for the other people to be able to come there. So, a commission was appointed to find and purchase a location of no less than 50 acres, no more than 200 acres, and not to exceed three miles in any direction from the center of the county. So, thus Alexandria was chosen.
The last court was held in Monroe in November of 1822. The first was in Alexandria in February 1823. At the time a courthouse had not been erected. There was only one house in Alexandria and that was the home of Alexander Smith. Now, very little is mentioned in the records of what took place on that first day, but according to Dr. Mudd, the late 1800 County Historian, it was a stylish residence and the lady of the house surrendered the best room for the court. It was large enough to accommodate the officials and 20 spectators. . . . . .
The courthouse that they later erected was an eighteen by twenty foot courthouse. It wasn’t long until the majority of the citizens of the county became dissatisfied with Alexandria, mostly because of the inaccessibility of water. . . . . . The vote was taken as to relocating the seat of justice. It was 211 votes for it and two against it.
George Collier and his wife donated the lots for the courthouse where it sets on Main Street. By 1870, there was a need for a new building. That building, the current courthouse, has since been added to on three occasions.
The number of the district has been changed many times, starting out with Northwest, 2nd, 3rd, back to 2nd in 1873, to 19th in 1881, back to 3rd in 1893, to 11th, but in 1911 to 35th, and then in 1956 back to 11th District again. In 1830 the case load began to increase and by 1971 we had two judges, increased to three in 1975 and then on to four judges, back again to the 45th District with one judge.”
As of August 29, 1991, Lincoln County and Pike County became the 45th Judicial Circuit. There was one Circuit Court judge, for the circuit, and an associate circuit court judge in each county. As a result of population growth, a second associate circuit court judge was authorized in Lincoln County in August of 2001. There were just two courtrooms within the courthouse for use by three local judges as well as visiting judges. Examples of the increased court activity for the circuit are: 434 domestic relations cases, and 129 felony cases were filed in the fiscal year ending June 30, 1992. In the fiscal year ending June 30, 2008, 1181 domestic relation cases and 749 felony cases were filed.
Due to the increased demands on the court system and the limited space available within the Courthouse, alternate sites were considered, with a decision made to build near the Lincoln County jail. The new building has three full size court rooms, as well as a multi use room which sometimes serves as a courtroom. There are offices for the three current judges, Circuit Judge Dan Dildine, Associate Circuit Judge Ben Burkemper, and Associate Circuit Judge Amy Kinker. Associate Circuit Judge David Ash of Pike County regularly helps in Lincoln County. Other judges serve as visiting judges on occasion.
The Lincoln County Court clerks serve under the supervision of Circuit Clerk, Grace Sinclair, and are located within the Lincoln County Justice Center. There are also temporary holding areas for persons in custody that need to appear in court. The new facility allows for more security, which has often been a concern in today’s environment.
The second floor courtroom of the Courthouse remained available for court use through December of 2007. It is now used for meetings and for mock trials used for educational purposes. Space in the Courthouse, which was vacated by the Courts, allowed expansion of offices remaining in the Courthouse. Those still in the Courthouse include the County Commissioners, County Clerk, Collector, Assessor, Treasurer and Recorder of Deeds.