Courthouse History

Learn about the history of the Madison County Courthouse in Wampsville, NY

Early Courts

After Madison County was established in 1806, the first courthouse was built on Seminary Street in Cazenovia. In 1807, Governor Lewis appointed Silvanus Smalley, Edward Greene, Francis Cleveland, Hubbard Smith, and Elisha Paine as judges and Peter Smith, of Peterboro, as first judge of the county’s Court of Common Pleas. (Smith was the father of lawyer and abolitionist Gerrit Smith. Gerrit Smith created a bas-relief craving of his father’s profile which hangs in the large upstairs courtroom in the present-day courthouse.) The county seat and courthouse was moved to Morrisville several years later.

That courthouse was renovated in 1849 following damage from a fire thought to have been caused by the Loomis Gang, whose members were on trial there at the time.

Present – Day Courthouse

The courthouse on North Court Street in the Village of Wampsville stands on land sold to the county in 1907 by John Wesley Coe for the price of $1. James Riely Gordon, a New York City architect famous for designing courthouses and who also designed the Cortland County Courthouse, planned the building. A cornerstone was laid in 1909, containing lists of attorneys, judges, and local officials, as well as copies of the newspapers published within the county. A newspaper account from the time reported that more than 2500 people attended the ceremony.

The building opened to the public in 1910. A complete renovation was done in 1969-1970 which allowed the building to be used as a judicial center only, with the addition of a county office building next door. The leaded skylight and brass lamps in the large, upstairs courtroom are original to the building.

The courthouse will undergo an extensive renovation beginning in the fall of 2017 and court operations will be moved to the former Oneida Ltd. Administration building in Oneida for at least two years.

Lady Justice: “Maat”

“Maat” is the name of the statue of Lady Justice in the rotunda of the courthouse, which was originally placed atop the courthouse dome in 1910. She was retired to the courthouse basement in the 1960’s after deteriorating in the weather and was discovered more than 20 years later by Isabel Bracy, the county historian, who led a campaign to have the statue restored. Dorothy Riester, an artist and sculptor from Cazenovia, donated her services and spent many months restoring “Maat.” The statue was completed and placed on display inside in 1984. It is 12 feet tall, made of zinc and finished in bronze.

Maat was known in ancient Egypt as the goddess of truth and justice. She is blindfolded and holds scales and a sword. The blindfold signifies a decision based on fairness, the scales indicate the balance of the matter being decided, and the sword represents punishment for those found guilty of wrongdoing.

“Maat” reminds all who come to the courthouse that they are due justice.