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County Courthouse once housed county government

LAKE GEORGE Theres no building in the area that quite embodies the range of local history like the old Warren County Courthouse does. The grand brick building was once the headquarters for Warren County government, but became the home of the Lake George Historical Associations museum of local history after the group saved it from the wrecking ball about 40 years ago and proposed using it as a local history museum. Completed in 1845, the building originally housed the county courthouse, the county jail and the seat of county government. It served in these capacities until the county Municipal Center in Queensbury was finished in 1964. The use of the first site as the seat of county government goes back to the founding of the county on March 12, 1813 when act of the state legislature established the county. At first, county court was held in the Lake George Coffee Meeting House just south of where the Old Courthouse was built and is now located. In 1815 James and Elizabeth Caldwell deeded land along the west shore of Lake George for the benefit of all county residents. James Caldwell was the villages first mayor and a major area landowner. This grant prompted citizens to build the countys first court house on the Caldwell plot where the Old Courthouse now stands. Because the Town of Lake George was a center of population and transportation by lake and roadway, it was legally designated the county seat. When fire destroyed the courthouse in 1843, prisoners in jail at the time were sent off to jail cells in Saratoga Springs and, with a State legislative act of 1844 providing funds for county court and office buildings, the courthouse that stands today was completed in 1845. An architect from Glens Falls prepared the design and plans. Specifications called for two-feet-thick stone walls in the basement where a portion of jail cell area was also allocated as a suitable dwelling for the jailer and his family. The total cost of the building, which would cost millions of dollars to build today, was a mere $3,975.32. By 1868, the need for more space had grown considerably, and county leaders started considering either an expansion of the county headquarters, or moving them to Queensbury or Glens Falls. People in Glens Falls and Queensbury seized on this situation and raised $30,000 as they attempted to have the county offices, court and jail moved to Queensbury. County supervisors petitioned the state legislature for such a move, but nothing came of it at the time. In 1877 the growth of Warren County population and government had reached the point that the seat of government, the Court House, had to be expanded. That year, county supervisors pledged to raise $11,000 for an expansion project. In 1878, a front portion was added to the courthouse containing a tower and clock giving the building its "Italianate" look. The Seth Thomas clock works were installed by J.P. Juvet, a famous jeweler in Glens Falls, and they continue to operate to this day by weights that are wound every seven days by Town employees. In 1887, a small stone annex, built decades earlier near the street to house the County Clerks office, was torn down. The jail cells that today's museum patrons visit in the courthouse basement were deemed unfit after their first 13 years of use and so the new addition of a two-story jail was built in back of the courthouse overlooking the lake. Living quarters for the sheriff and his family were added at this time. During court terms, the sheriff allowed the judge and lawyers use of some of this living area for their relaxation, and the countys top law officer was known to serve dinner to his guests during noon recess. The sheriff was renowned as a fine cook and a thoughtful host. The county Board of Supervisors was routinely convened in the county courthouse chambers or sometimes at the Glens Falls armory until 1905, when the second floor over the county clerks office was remodeled as a meeting room. The old county courthouse wasnt necessarily as up-to-date as other courthouses around the state, but it had its indisputable amenities as well as its place in history. It was the only courthouse and office building in the state situated on the edge of a scenic, pristine lake. It was considered the the most pleasant place anywhere to hold court. And until about 1960, the courthouse had a rear porch where in pleasant weather, the judge and attorneys would hold conferences or wait for juries to assemble. This brick courthouse and government headquarters on the shores of Lake George was fully functioning for Warren County until 1963 when the county court, jail and offices moved down Route 9N to the new and vastly more spacious Municipal Center complex. The Old Courthouse was left vacant and slated for destruction. But the Lake George Historical Association was formed in a last-ditch effort" to save the complex, gathering money for its preservation and restoration. The Town of Lake George purchased the building and the operation continues to be handled under a contract between the Town of Lake George and The Lake George Historical Association. This has proved to be an appropriate home base not only for the Historical Association but several other organizations. The courtroom with its original appointments has become the centerpiece for the Association's collection of artifacts depicting the history of the Lake George region. The building also now serves as the home of the Lake George Arts Project and its Courthouse Gallery, as well as a providing offices for the Lake Champlain-Lake George Regional Planning Board and Community Maternity Services. Sources: Lake George Historical Association archives and History of Warren County NY, edited by William H. Brown; 1963.

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