Kankakee Circuit Court

The first term of the Kankakee County Circuit Court was held in November 1853 in the Illinois Central freight depot with the Honorable Hugh Henderson of Joliet presiding. The clerk of the Circuit court, Luther B. Bratton, wrote for the May 1912 Docket:

The Circuit of which we are a part is now known as the Twelfth Judicial Circuit and comprises the counties of Kankakee, Iroquois, and Will, each county having a residential judge.

Hon. Thomas P. Bonfield, the nestor of our bar, who started the first suit in chancery in this county, is still in good health and holds his membership in the Kankakee County Bar.

William A. Chatfield was foreman of the first Grand Jury and all members of the first Grand Jury, as well as members of the first Petit Jury, have passed away.

We might proceed and write line after line about what has transpired since our memorable beginning. Our forefathers builded a well and are pleased to remember and revere their splendid achievements, but will be brief and announce the removal of our Court, by order of Hon. Charles B. Campbell, from the Y.M.C.A. building on Saturday evening, April 27, 1912 at 8 o’clock P.M., to the present magnificent quarters.

We present to you in this issue of our docket likenesses of our Court, Attorneys and other officials connected the Kankakee County Circuit Court.

The Judges of our court are fearless and honest, and all litigants receive justice at their hands as prescribed by the law.

The members of the Kankakee County Bar are able and will compare favorably with any Bar to be found. Among them a feeling of friendliness, good-will, and fraternal spirit prevails to an extent not excelled in any other similar organization.

The Sheriff, Stenographers and all Deputies are careful, painstaking and perform their duties in a conscientious manner.

The Clerk desires to express his thanks for the treatment he has received from the Court, all of the Attorneys and all other officials of this court, and extends his good-will and best wishes to all of them.

This begins a new epoch of the Kankakee County Circuit Court.

Yours truly,


Clerk of the Circuit Court

From the 1883 Atlas of Kankakee:


The first Judge who held court in Kankakee County was Judge Henderson; he was succeeded by Judge S.W. Randall. In 1856, Kankakee, Iroquois, and Livingston Counties having been organized into a new circuit, Charles R. Starr, of Kankakee, was elected Judge, and subsequently re-elected as his own successor. He held the office until 1867, when he resigned to return to the active practice of his profession. He was succeeded by Charles H. Wood of Onarga. Judge Wood occupied the bench until 1873, giving up his seat to Nathaniel J. Pillsbury, of Pontiac, and who now occupies a seat by virtue of his position as Circuit Judge as one of the three Judges of the Appellate Court of the Second District. In 1877, when the Appellate Court Act was passed by the Legislature, Franklin Blades, of Watseka district, was elected as the additional Judge in the new consolidated district, where Judge Pillsbury and Judge Reeves, of Bloomington held office; all three of the Judges were re-elected in 1879. Judge Blades has held the most of the time as the Presiding Judge of the Circuit Court in this county since his election. It is quite probable that the very able judiciary which it has been the good fortune of Kankakee County to enjoy from her organization to this date, has done much to give her the well deserved reputation which she has, of having an able though no large Bar.


The County Court of Kankakee originally had little but probate jurisdiction, of which in its early days there was but little to do, the estates being few and small. Latterly, however, since 1872, there has been added a common law criminal jurisdiction, making it but little less in importance than the Civil Court. Phillip Worcester was the first County Judge; he served until December 1853, when Orson Beebe succeeded him and held it until 1861. Ara Bartlett was then elected Judge and held it until December 1864, when he resigned to become Territorial Judge of Montana, and C.C. Wilcox served from December 1864, to 1865. In 1865, Warren R. Hicox became Judge, and in 1869 Westbrook S. Decker succeeded him. IN 1873, Judge Starr was without opposition elected to fill the office and continued therein until 1877, When James N. Orr was made County Judge, and still occupies the position.


Closely allied with the judicial offices is that of the States Attorney. Up to 1872, the district of the States Attorney was co-extensive with that of the Circuit Judge, but by an act passed in 1872, each county elected a States Attorney. Sherman W. Bowen served from 1853 to 1856; James Fletcher one term, pro tem., in 1856; Simeon Dewitt from 1856 to 1858; Ara Bartlett, pro tem.; from 1858 to April, 1859; Charles J. Beattie from April 1859, to September 1860. Ara Bartlett, pro. Tem., September, 1860; Charles H. Wood, 1860 to 1864; W. T. Ament, 1864 to 1868; M. B. Loomis, from 1868 to 1870, resigned; C.C. Strawn, from 1870 to 1872; H. L. Richardson, 1872 to 1876; Daniel H. Paddock, from 1876, still in office, having been re-elected in 1880.


Thomas P. Bonfield, 1853, Harrison Loring, Ara Bartlett, M. B. Loomis, James N. Orr, O. G. Bartlett and Daniel H. Paddock, the present incumbent.

From the 1906 History of Kankakee by L. Tourneau and Kenaga:


Kankakee County has no feature, since its organization, that it looks upon with greater pride than its most excellent judiciary. The firm determination exhibited by the members of the bar, that the judges of Kankakee county be second to none in the state—having in mind the constant and faithful service of its two first judges. Henderson and Randall, has had much to do with molding public opinion, so that our bench has always been honored by those who have occupied it, and respected by those who have come within its rulings.

Judges Henderson and Randall creditably acquitted themselves in the office they had been called upon to honor until 1856, when, upon the amalgamation of the counties of Kankakee, Iroquois, and Livingston in one judicial circuit, Charles R. Starr was elected to the enlarged responsibility, thereafter succeeding himself as judge until 1867.

In praise of the judiciary, the bar of this county should not be overlooked for its ability to guide the destinies of individuals and corporations is shown in the Supreme Court and legislative records of state and nation.