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Cambridge Courthouse

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

The hundreds of county courthouses that dot the American landscape all reveal how important they were to a county seat's economy. They were almost always the most imposing building in town. Made of brick or stone in imitation of Greek or Roman temples, gothic Victorian mansions or Italianate villas, each tried to outdo the courthouse in the next county over.

The Henry County Courthouse in Cambridge, Illinois, marched to a different drummer—literally. The Cambridge courthouse went for a different kind of glory: it set a record as the most restless county seat in the United States.

Henry County had already had two county seats—Richmond and Geneseo, by the time the courthouse was built at Morristown, twelve miles north of Cambridge, in 1841, at a cost of three thousand dollars.

Cambridge looked down its nose at Morristown, empty buildings surrounded by cornfields, they said, and set about to get the courthouse moved to Cambridge. "Wherever a courthouse is, that's the county seat," one of them said. They took action.

One newspaper account says that a posse of Cambridge citizens visited Morristown in the middle of the night in 1843 and ran off with the courthouse to Cambridge. Actually, the Illinois Legislature had voted the move earlier that year. The courthouse ended up on a tract of land between White Oak and Sugar Tree Grove.

The small frame building was already too small for growing Cambridge, and had to double as a school, political hall, and village meeting room.

In 1846, the building was sold to the Gaines Brothers who used it as a combination store and home. In 1902, it was moved to South Ridge Street, expanded, and made into a private home.

The restless courthouse made one more move. In 1991, the Henry County Historical Society took pity on the old building. Volunteers took two months to separate the old courthouse from the addition. The original building was then moved back, one last time, to courthouse square in Cambridge for use as a museum as part of a sesquicentennial celebration.

Now, the Henry County Courthouse may stay put for a while, although it does creak and grown in a restless manner now and then.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by the Scott County Regional Authority, with additional funding from the Illinois Arts Council and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.