DRESDEN — The interests of justice will be served once again in the pre-Revolutionary Pownalborough Court House when the Maine Supreme Judicial Court hears arguments in two appeals cases there Oct. 12.

Matthew Pollack, executive clerk and clerk of the law court at the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, said the Oct. 12 court visit was arranged to coincide with the 250th anniversary of the courthouse.

Oral arguments will be heard in two civil cases on appeal from Cumberland County Superior Court:

* At 10 a.m. Christopher J. McCormick v. Michael D. LaChance, et al.; and

* At 10:45 a.m., Christopher J. McCormick v. Lawrence Crane.

Both cases involve easements on property. Briefs in most of the cases are posted on the court’s website.

The next day, the justices will sit at Richmond High School.

For the past six years, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court has heard oral arguments in appellate cases around the state, generally at high schools and at the invitation of local legislators.

The Oct. 12 visit to Pownalborough Court House by the state’s top court was prompted by a letter from an advocacy group to members of the Maine Bar Association.

The letter — signed by former Chief Justice Daniel Wathen, former Superior Court Justice John R. Atwood and Sen. Seth R. Goodall, D-Richmond — solicited donations to help the Lincoln County Historical Association restore the 1761 courthouse.

“This is where we began,” Wathen said. “It bridges the time when we weren’t even a country; it was colonial. Then, the United States becomes the country and we’re still the district of Maine, part of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

“All of the great lights of the day came there at some point and tried cases, like John Adams and others of legal renown. It is one of the last of the Maine tavern courthouses where they held court on the second floor in a tavern.

“It was a real old traveling circuit. In the evening, everybody stayed there. They would all have dinner down below the courtroom, hold mock trials, part of English kind of tradition. It was a wonderful time in our history. It’s an absolutely beautiful site.”

Lincoln County Historical Association members earlier this month celebrated the 250th anniversary of the courthouse, and officials say the group wants to continue its preservation efforts.

The Association bought the building in 1954 and decided to refit it as it would have appeared between 1764 and 1791. Jay Robbins, president of the association, said that involved “some undoing of more modern trappings.”

“We approached the lawyers because we’re doing major work,” Robbins said, including chimney repair, a new roof, new electrical work and other jobs.

Jail inmates are working on the windows, removing and replacing an estimated three miles of putty before the windows are cleaned, reprimed and painted Robbins said.

Next year, the association is hoping to have the building painted.

“We have $25,000 in hand to put into the building,” Robbins said.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial court sat in the courthose annually from 1786 to 1794, and Robbins said the jurists heard at least eight murder trials there — and at least three people were hanged at the site.

The road was less-traveled and certainly less smooth than modern Route 128.

In his 1802 autobiography, John Adams, who had just finished his term as the second president of the United States, recalled his 1765 trek along it as a young Boston lawyer:

“The roads where a Wheel had never rolled from the Creation, were miry and founderous, incumbered with long Sloughs of Water. The Stumps of the Trees which had been cut to make the road all remaining fresh, and the Roots crossing the path some above ground and some beneath so that my Horses feet would frequently get between the Roots and he would flounce and blunder, in danger of breaking his own Limbs as well as mine.”

Adams won his case at Pownalborough along with the future legal work of the Kennebec Proprietors, his pleased clients.

Barring a warm day, the 20-foot-by-45 foot, generously windowed second-floor courtroom could be chilly on Oct. 12. The fireplace will not be functioning.

The building has only one staircase.

Robbins recalled that, in 2003, staff from the Office of the State Fire Marshal were there with fire extinguishers. Similar concerns this year limit the number of people in the courtroom to 60, Robbins said.

Wathen said this appears to be the third time that the Maine Supreme Judicial Court has sat there. It held court there in 2003 and once during Vincent McKusick’s term as chief justice.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]


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