The reader may be startled that a county as old as Baltimore has records dating only as
far back as 1851 when the county and town of Baltimore became separate governmental units.
The reason for this division of records is a purely practical one. It was cheaper and more
convenient to leave the records of Baltimore County in Baltimore City than to move them to
the new county seat of Baltimore County in Towson. These records have fared well in Balti-
more City and with the exception of the early administrative records and some of the judg-
ment records they are intact.
The following note of the Clerk of Court will be interesting because of its detailed
description of the fire of 1835 and also because of its judgment as to the cause of the fire. For
some curious reason arson was almost universally accepted as the cause of fire in courthouses.
Entered in Minutes under date of Friday, February 13, 1835, Court met agreeably
On This day about 11:00 o'Clock when the County Court in the upper Court room &
the City Court in the lower room were both in session, The dome of the Courthouse was
discovered to be on fire. Whether by accident or design is not known, yet the latter is
supposed, because stoves were used in all the rooms but one, which are not likely to have
conveyed sparks of fire from the tops of the chimneys used by them and if sparks had
risen from the fireplace, the distance of that Chimney and all the others from the dome
and the Wind at the time being from the South West would have borne the sparks across
the House and not towards the dome—The general impression is that after the opening
of the Jury room from a door opposite [the] Stairway which led up to the dome, the Key
of which was tied to and left with the Key of that room in the door, must have been
taken by someone unobserved and thereby got up there to the dome and set fire to the
dome which is rendered the more probable as both Keys were, soon after the alarm of
fire, found upon the private stairs leading to it.
The Clerk deems it proper further to remark That all the Public Records, Books and
papers have been pre[served] uninjured by the fire (at least none useful are missed) and
very [illegible] but little wet by the great quantity of water s [prayed] by Engines into
the building. These are the joint results [of] fire proof offices and the unremited [sic]
care and attention of all the persons employed in the Office during the conflagration which
continued through the day and most of the following night.
In the Proceedings of the May term 1836 of Baltimore County Court (pp. 197-198)
there is an interesting account of the laying of the cornerstone of the Record Office built
after the fire in the courthouse of February 13, 1835. There is so much relevant information
given here and this kind of document so rare I have thought it worthwhile to quote it in toto.
On motion of the Clerk, the Court here order and direct that the following
be spread upon the minutes of the Court, to wit:
"The ceremony of laying the cornerstone of the new City and County Record
office, on the Court house lot, was yesterday (28th June) performed by Solomon Etting,
Esq. President of the Board of Commissioners for repairing the Court house &c. assisted
by General Samuel Smith, our venerable mayor, in presence of Chief Justice Taney, the
Judges of the different Courts, and other City and County officers, and a numerous
assemblage of Citizens and Strangers. Previous to fixing the Stone in its place, Mr.
Etting addressed the meeting as follows:—Gentlemen: The destruction by fire of a