Hamilton County, Ohio, Historic Courts
Superior Court of Cincinnati, 1854 to 1884
On March 15, 1838, the state legislature made provision for a Superior Court in Cincinnati. This court with a single judge, had concurrent jurisdiction with the Court of Common Pleas. It was authorized to hear and determine causes, punish contempt, and appoint and remove officers. The judgments and decrees, according to the statute, were to be liens upon the judgment debtor’s property, the same as made in the Court of Common Pleas. Appeals could be made to the Supreme Court of Ohio.
The court was abolished in 1851 by way of a constitutional provision, but it was to continue to operate until the second Monday, in February, 1852 when cases were transferred to the Court of Common Pleas. However, the Superior Court of Cincinnati was re-established in 1854. This time it was given jurisdiction over matters that exceeded the justice of the peace. It was authorized to hear, try, and determine action for the: recovery of real property; performance of a contract for the sale of real estate; action for the recovery of fines; actions against companies; actions against a railroad company or the owner of a mail stage or other coaches passing through Cincinnati; actions against turnpike companies, actions brought against a non-resident of the state, or a foreign corporation where the property or debts owed to the defendant were to be found in Cincinnati.
Any parties to any suit at common law, or in chancery, or to a civil action originally commenced in the Court of Common Pleas of Hamilton County might, upon the written consent of the parties or their attorneys, remove the cause to the Superior Court of Cincinnati.
The court terms began the first Monday of each month, except for July, August and September. Special terms could also be held.
This court, together with the Insolvency Court was abolished by the legislature in 1921 and its powers vested in the Court of Common Pleas. However, it continued to operate until the expiration of the term of office of the incumbent judges.
Many of our judges on the Superior Court of Cincinnati bench achieved higher offices in the levels of city, state or national government. William Y. Gholson became Judge of the Supreme Court of Ohio. Joseph B. Foraker became Governor of Ohio and a United States Senator. Alphonso Taft became Secretary of War, United States Attorney General, Minister to Austria-Hungary, and Minister to Russia. Alphonso Taft’s son, William Howard Taft became a Judge for the Sixth Circuit United States Court of Appeals, Governor of the Philippines, Secretary of War, President of the United States, and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.
Interestingly, some of the most celebrated cases that ultimately reached the United States Supreme Court for final adjudication, arose from cases heard in the Superior Court of Cincinnati. Some of those cases were the following: “Bible in the Public Schools,” involving the right of a Board of Education to have passages from the King James’ Bible read in the public schools; the “Doughty” case involving a fraudulent over-issue of capital stock of the C.N.O. & T. Railway Co., by its secretary; the controversy between the Main Street Railway Co., and the Bell Telephone Co., as to the right of a single trolley electric railway to conduct its business in the streets.
After the Courthouse fire on March 29th 1884, those Superior Court case records that survived were copied into 20 books of reconstructed cases, approximately 10,100 pages. A single index was created. For ease of use, the indexes have been separated into 26 files by first letter of the litigants’ surname, then by first letter of the first name. In the index example below, the center column has the abbreviation vs. (versus) or ads. (sued by).
Richard Ashcraft et al (and another) are the defendants and Chas. H. Kellogg is the plaintiff suing Richard Ashcraft, (Plaintiff: a person who brings a case against another in a court of law). The entries for this case that have survived are in volume 6 on page 261.
Businesses or partnership suits index has been grouped together. If the business is known as say “A. B. Smith & sons” it will be listed under S. You only need to look in the left-hand column as both Plaintiff and Defendant for every case can be found in the left column.
After finding your case number located within the name indexes, to obtain copies from the reconstructed case books, please send an email to Jason Alexander at JAlexand@cms.hamilton-co.org stating the litigants’ names and the book number and page number also stating that it is from a reconstructed Superior Court book prior to 1884 and that you are seeking any additional documents that we may have on file regarding this case.
Sources: Inventory of the County Archives of Ohio 31 Hamilton County (Cincinnati), WPA, CD 3447.A1 H55 1937 no.31
Sources: “Superior Courts and Special Courts- Chapter XXVIII” by Hon. Alfred Mack.
Supplement provided upon request from the Supreme Court of Ohio Library