By Katy Savage, Standard Staff
Folded on the ground in the attic of the Windsor County Courthouse was a piece of paper-covered in soot, listing deaths in Norwich, Pomfret, Sharon and Windsor from June 1859 to June 1860. The name Henry Blaisdell was scripted in calligraphy. Next to his name was his age, 18, and his cause of death.
“He was committed to jail for attempting to commit a rape,” the document said. “He was taken to jail in the afternoon and was found dead in his cell the next morning, having hanged himself.”
There was also John Roberts, 54, of Sharon who died in May of 1860 of a “sudden death.”
He “cut his throat, severing the trachea and nearly severing the esophagus,” the document said. But, he lived through it. He was transported to Hanover, where he drank poison, which finally killed him.
The macabre manifest is just one of the artifacts found at the courthouse as the historic building’s walls have been torn apart and floors stripped back.
The courthouse is in the midst of a $2 million renovation project that began last year to make the 1855 building handicap accessible. Once the renovation is complete, there will be a small addition to the back with an elevator and handicap accessible bathrooms on the bottom and top floor. The courthouse’s doors are also being refinished. The project is set to be complete in July.
Voters in all 24 county towns approved the project last year.
Right now, the inside of the courthouse is covered in soot and sawdust. There is white plastic covering the judges’ desk chairs and there are holes in the walls, showing old construction patterns from 1855, upstairs and 1940 construction, downstairs.
“You can pick it all out now that we’ve stripped it all back,” Assistant Judge and historian Jack Anderson said.
Before it was a courthouse, the building was the town hall.
The former red-and-pink, hand-painted ceiling of the town hall has started to reveal itself. The old green-and-white paint of the judges’ chambers upstairs is also visible.
Anderson has found all sorts of nails — cut, stamp metal and flooring — in scraps of wood.
“It’s really easy to tell when they were pounded,” he said.
Anderson discovered old quill pins in the judges’ desk. He also found what looks like plaster molds for decorative detail in the attic. “The problem is I cannot find anything on the courthouse interior or exterior that has that motif,” Anderson said. At one point in the building’s history, the painted ceiling was lowered about a foot to put in pipes for heating. The floor was also raised about 15 inches.
“My only explanation is they probably thought the ceilings were too darn high,” Anderson said.
But the most significant artifact found so far is the sheet of death records. Most of the people died of consumption.
“Why is this in the attic in the Windsor County Courthouse?” Anderson said. “There was never any storage up there.”
These types of records were kept in 1860, 1870 and 1880. The person who took the census in June had to innumerate the people who died in the previous 12 months.
“From the research I’ve done these were usually about 80 percent accurate,” Anderson said.
Anderson is going to have the documents preserved at the Woodstock History Center.
“This building has got some great history,” Anderson said.
This article was first published in The Vermont Standard 04/03/2014 edition.