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Townships played larger role in early county history

Staff writer

Will Meysing of Portland, Ore., recently discovered an old Clark Township book in the attic of his parents’ home at 2871 Quail Creek Road, northwest of Pilsen.

The 15-by-11missive is labeled “Justices Civil Docket” and contains recordings of civil proceedings and even a few criminal proceedings that occurred in Clark Township beginning in 1887, soon after the township was created.

If any other such books still exist, their whereabouts are unknown.

Between 1887 and 1910, the population of the county stabilized at about 20,500 people.

Given the fact that in those days the only means of transportation to the county seat in Marion was by horse and buggy, one could surmise that it was simpler to have a Justice of the Peace travel to the townships to preside over and settle disputes.

The cases in the Clark Township book dealt with disputes involving township residents. For example, in a case dated June 18, 1887, one farmer alleged the defendant owed him $1.50 per day for the use of his mower for 10 days, $6 for the use of a bull, and 20 cents per day for the use of his cultivator for 20 days. The case went to trial, and the defendant was acquitted.

In another case dated June 30, 1900, Badger Lumber Co., Hillsboro, claimed the defendant owed $5.25 for lumber. The case was settled six months later when the defendant paid the $5.25 plus 20 cents interest and costs.

A criminal case brought by the State of Kansas involved a threat against a Clark Township resident’s life. According to the record, the man was arrested, pled not guilty, and was committed to jail awaiting trial after being unable to pay a $1,000 bond. The record does not report the outcome of the trial.

Other cases involved unpaid wages or unpaid bills for purchases of goods.

Those serving as Justice of the Peace included T.S. McCandless, S. Johnson, A.S. Beltz, and J.R. Roberts. There is no indication where the proceedings took place.

Just 20 claims were filed between 1887 and 1901. Most of the pages in the book are blank. After 1901, disputes apparently were handled at the county courthouse in Marion.

A history

Townships in the U.S. came into existence as governmental units in 1785. Prior to that, property in the original 13 colonies was identified through a system of “metes and bounds,” in which a known landmark was the starting point.

Four years before the U.S. Constitution was ratified, the interim Congress created a system of governmental land surveys. Property identification was based on these surveys.

As settlement moved westward, each newly formed state was divided into counties and each county was divided into townships.

The standard township was six miles by six miles and was made up of square-mile sections of 640 acres each. However, many township sizes were not uniform due to the location of rivers and creeks and the need for correction lines due to the curvature of the earth.

The land in present-day Marion County was surveyed in 1859. The county was on the frontier and extended to the Colorado line.

After the county was officially organized in 1865, it was divided into three townships. Marion Township took in all of present-day Marion County. Cedar Township was to the southeast and bordered on Indian Territory. Santa Fe Township ran west from Marion Township to the Colorado line.

In 1869, Marion County was greatly reduced in size, and Cedar and Santa Fe Townships were eliminated.

The new Marion County had three townships: Clear Creek, Centre, and Doyle. All were along the eastern side of the county. By 1875, there were nine townships. Eventually, 24 townships were created.

Several townships are divided into two parts: Clear Creek East, Clear Creek West, Center North, Center South, and Grant North and Grant South. According to former Marion County appraiser Max Hayen, Grant Township originally was two townships wide but was split to create Durham Park Township.

Just how township boundaries were established is unclear. While in the appraiser’s office, Hayen found an unmarked book that recorded townships as they were formed, but not all recordings were dated. The book’s current whereabouts is unknown.

Hayen said some Marion County townships have odd shapes because pieces were pulled off the original townships as the population grew.

Townships played a leading role in developing the rural areas of the county. Supported by property taxes, each township had a paid trustee, treasurer, and clerk. The officers oversaw the construction and maintenance of roads and bridges in their townships. This continued for many years.

Hayen said the discovery of oil boosted taxes in some areas of the county, with the result of some townships being poor and others being rich. The rich townships could provide better infrastructure than the poorer townships.

Therefore, in the late 1940s, the county commission voted to make road and bridge maintenance a county responsibility, to ensure equitable road service for all rural residents.

Currently, each township still elects officers, but their duties have been reduced to overseeing support of rural fire districts and maintenance of rural cemeteries.

Some townships, like Clark Township where Will’s father, Paul Meysing, is the trustee, have neither fire districts nor cemeteries and thus have no budgets, but they continue to elect officers.

Last modified Sept. 8, 2011

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