October 25, 2007

Judge Webber Returns to Roots to Honor Courthouse Centennial

Who better to speak at the centennial celebration for the courthouse in Memphis than one of Scotland County’s own famous sons – one that went on to greater things after getting his start in that very same building.

Judge E. Richard Webber returned to where he began his career, helping celebrate the 100th anniversary of the dedication of the cornerstone of the Scotland County Courthouse.

The Judge grew up in Scotland County. He returned to Memphis to enter private practice after earning his law degree at the University of Missouri. The Crawford native was appointed first circuit judge, presiding on the third floor of the facility until 1995. President Bill Clinton nominated Webber to a federal judgeship, serving in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.

“I don’t think people realize that there are only 94 federal districts in the United States,” said Judge Gary Dial, who introduced the event’s feature speaker. “Not bad for a kid from Crawford, Missouri. Judge Webber has never forgotten where he came from.”

“Any personal success that has been granted to me is attributable to the people of this area, and to a large extent events that occurred in or around this building,” Webber told the packed courtroom as the festivities were forced indoors due to inclement weather.

But it was the success of the celebration committee that Webber wanted to highlight as he praised the work of the group to host the centennial gathering in conjunction with efforts to restore the courthouse clock.

He also praised the efforts of the many county officials over the years that have found fiscal means to maintain the courthouse even when finances were tight.

“There have been many times when tax money has been insufficient to maintain this courthouse,” Webber reflected. “It is not the grandeur of the building that determines the substance of justice. Our forefathers held court in barns and in some cases under trees. The most valuable lesson I have learned in the affairs of government is that government serves the people best at the level where officials are most directly accountable to the electorate.”

History is unclear whether the first Scotland County Courthouse was under a tree or in a barn. Scotland County was formed in 1841, and at that time included what is now Knox County. County government was handled at Sandhill, a central location at that time. Official business was handled in a log cabin until ultimately being moved to Memphis when the two counties were divided.

The first courthouse in town stood until 1857 when it was replaced by a new facility on the square. That courthouse was condemned in 1905 paving the way for construction of the current facility in 1907.

Over the 100 years, Webber pointed out the courthouse was far more than just the home of judicial proceedings over the next century.

“The edifice has served so many more functions in the last 100 years than the primary purpose for which it was ordained,” he said. “It has been a gathering place for families to meet before our bravest men and women have departed to foreign locations in the response to the call to arms,” Webber said. “It is a place where monuments have been constructed in the memory of those unable to return.”

He added that the courthouse has witnessed many marriages, the resolution of countless numbers of disputes and been the center of hundreds of events that have circled the building.

“As a young boy I rode in a 4-H float with a John Deere tractor and Case plow as Leo K. Drake, Scotland County resident and World Champion Plow contest winner was honored,” Webber said. “One of the saddest days of my life was during the days of the Farm crisis of the early 1980s when farmers from over the county drove their tractors around this courthouse in what was a statement of expression of solidarity for what we were all suffering at the time.”

Those numerous events witnessed by the 100-year old building have made it what it is today, a point reiterated by Webber, Dial and fellow Judge Karl DeMarce who also took the podium during the festivities.

The court received resolutions from the Missouri House of Representatives as well as the Missouri Senate, with Senator Wes Shoemyer present for the event.

Clark Mustoe made a special presentation to the court, offering a framed keepsake to presiding commissioner Mike Stephenson for display in the courthouse.

Guests were also treated to musical entertainment by the Brothers and Sisters Quartet and the Scotland County R-I Band before being treated to refreshments and tours of the courthouse.

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