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Clay County
Organized January 2, 1822, from Ray County and named for Henry Clay, Kentucky congressman.

County Seat: Liberty

Address:

Clay County
Courthouse
P.O. Box 238
Liberty, MO 64069

Photograph

History
"This court having viewed with regret the inconvenience the citizens of the county labor under, as well as the great inconvenience the courts encountered for want of suitable buildings for the accommodations of the different courts, deem it necessary to make an effort to construct a courthouse upon the public square in the town of Liberty."

Although Clay County organized in 1822 and Liberty was chosen as the county seat, it was not until the May term of court in 1828 that this proclamation gave authority for building the first courthouse. Several plans or drafts were submitted for the court's consideration, but commissioners accepted the one Judge George Burnett submitted.

No known illustrations exist, but there is a complete description in the County Court Record for June 1829 which indicates a 44-foot-4-inch, square, brick courthouse, five bays wide with doors on the south, east and west, featuring decorative semicircular fanlights. The courtroom occupied the north part of the building, apparently on the first floor. A hip roof was first planned, but in 1829 changed to a square roof.

Joseph Bright was contractor for the building, but progress was slow. The brick floor on the first story was laid in 1831, so some of the rooms could be occupied; final work was not completed until 1833. Costs of approximately $1,770 came from the sale of county lots and public subscription. Subsequently enlarged by additions on the east and west, it was described as being in poor condition by 1847-48. Fire destroyed this courthouse March 27, 1857.

A Liberty Weekly Tribune editorial reported the advantages of relocating the courthouse off the square, but tradition prevailed, and in May 1857 the court authorized construction of the second courthouse on the site of the first. The court appropriated $35,000 for the new building and paid Peter McDuff $100 for one of two plans he submitted.

McDuff resided at Weston, Missouri, but was born in Scotland in 1813. Little is known of his background, training or interest that might have inspired either this unique design or the one for Clinton County in 1859. In 1866 McDuff designed the Platt County courthouse, which is the only surviving example of his courthouse work.

The court also appointed McDuff superintendent. Crump and Thompson were the contractors. The building was received by the court November 9, 1859, and the Tribune boasted, "Clay County now has the best courthouse in the state." This courthouse was sold to a St. Joseph wrecking firm for $330 and razed in 1934, as the square was prepared for the next and present courthouse.

By 1934 Clay County considered its courthouse 75 years behind the time. During the 1930s Public Works Administration projects encouraged public building applications, and after Clay County approved bonds in the amount of $200,000, P.W.A. approved a $75,500 grant.

Thomas and Edward Drewin Wight, of the Kansas City firm, served as architects. When a sketch of their proposed modern design appeared, an uproar ensued by those who favored a traditional design, which they had thought the court intended to build. However, the traditional design which had accompanied the grant application was the action of a courthouse committee, rather than the County Court.

The court retained Wight and Wight, who designed a white limestone building 117 by 87 feet and 60 feet high. The architects needed to rework their original plans to bring costs within the acceptable range. Bliss and Duncan, Kansas City, received the contract for $192,330; construction began March 27, 1935. The cornerstone ceremony was conducted September 19, 1935, and, in spite of labor problems, the building was completed in June 1936. Construction costs ultimately reached $263,410.

Acute space problems developed in the 1970s. An annex was built and several ideas for additions and enlargements have been considered since. This is an outstanding example of a government project of this period.

Copyright 2002 University of Missouri. Published by University Extension, University of Missouri-Columbia.
Additional History
LIBERTY, Missouri: A new mural is at the Clay County Administration Building, Courthouse Square, Liberty, Mo. The mural is a new addition to the historical depictions on the third floor of the Old Courthouse. The painted murals show a number of historical scenes from throughout Clay County. The newest mural features Lewis & Clark and the Multnomah Plantation.

LIBERTY, Missouri: An important book in Clay County history is about to take its place on the shelves of the Clay County Archives and Historic Library. On behalf of Clay County Recorder of Deeds Robert Sevier, the Clay County Commission will give the book, titled Book of Sales of Lands in Sec. 16, and a plat cabinet, circa 1920, to the Clay County Archives at its Business Session, Monday, Feb. 11, 2002. "The book and cabinet are both historically significant to the history of Clay County and should be preserved for future generations," Sevier said. "The book includes entries from the sale of land from as far back as 1832. The cabinet was used for the storage of plats from various areas of Clay County and was used for that purpose by the Recorder of Deeds Office until the late 1980s. Technology has brought us a long way, and the cabinet is no longer needed." The significance of the Book of Sales starts with the beginning of Clay County. In January 1822, Section 16 of each Township was set aside so that the sale of that land would help support education of the students in that township. The Book of Sales of Lands in Sec. 16 documents those land sales. Ware S. May was appointed by the Clay County Court in February 1831 to oversee the sale of the Section 16 land. Samuel Tillery was appointed as Commissioner and made Section 16 land sales up to the spring of 1834. The Book of Sales of Lands in Sec. 16 is available for review until February 11, 2002, in the office of the Clay County Recorder of Deeds.

Records at Courthouse

Recorder of Deeds: Index to deeds, 1823-1889; Deed records, 1822-1890; Warranty deeds, 1885-1887; Quitclaim deeds, 1868 and 1884-1886; Mortgage deeds, 1868-1871 and 1884-1887; Deeds of trust, 1876-1879 and 1883-1887; Index to marriage records, 1822-1877; Marriage records, 1822-1917; Marriage license applications, 1881-1916; Negro/colored marriage records, 1865-1891.

Clerk of the County Court: Register of births and stillbirths, 1883-1884; Register of deaths, 1883-1884.

Clerk of the Circuit Court: Circuit court records, 1822-1878.

Clerk of the Probate Court: Guardianís/curatorís records, 1860-1863.

County Superintendent of Schools: Reports to the superintendent, 1915-1973.

More Links
 Birth & Death Records Database

Search for Clay County on Archives' Online Catalog

Roll by Roll Listing of Microfilm

Local Records Inventory Database

Missouri Birth & Death Records Database: Search & Record Availability

Clay County Archives