THE COURTHOUSES OF COLUMBIA COUNTY, FLA.,
There have been no less than six courthouses in Columbia dating from 1867 to 1901. There are no facts existing as to [to] first [C]ourt[H]ouse, except that it was destroyed by fire in 1867 in the month of February, and not even its site is known.
In December 1874, the courthouse that was built after the destruction of the first, in ’67, was also destroyed by fire. This was strongly suspected to be a case of arson, by some lawless characters who had been suspected of stealing hogs. An indictment was found against these persons for the abovementioned offense, and in their ignorance, common enough in those days, they believed that if the indictment were burnt, there could be no case against them. But there was not enough proof that these outlaws had set fire to the courthouse, so no charges were made.
While a third courthouse was in the course of construction, court was held anywhere where accommodations could be found, in assembly halls, lodge meeting rooms, dance halls and even theatres. Indeed one ”cause celebre” which stands out in the memory of the old residents of Lake City, was held in what was then known as Cleveland’s Opera House. This building which was several blocks from the burnt courthouse of 1874 (which stood at what is now the corner of the east side of Marion St, and the south side of East Franklin St.) was situated at the corner of what is now the east side of Marion St. and the north side of Madison St. was the scene of the trial for the murder by one Paxton of one Bethea. The circumstances of the case are not available, but Paxton was acquitted.
Another murder case was also held here but it had nothing to do with any of the residents of Columbia County. This was a case that had been transferred to this district which was then known as the Columbia Circuit District. The man in question whose name was Stern lived at Dead Man’s Bay in Dixie