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    Litchfield is a beautiful town in the Central Hills of Connecticut. It’s sits on top of one of those hills, a New England town green is the center of town, brick and stone buildings line part of the six roads that cross in its center, white colonials and bright Victorian homes line the others.

    The town dates back to 1719 when the land was purchased from the Tunxis Indians. A signer of the Declaration of Independence lived there (his house still stands); George Washington stayed there; one of the first law schools in the United States operated there for over 50 years and had a long list of famous alumni; Harriet Beecher Stowe grew up there, the church where her father, at the time also famous, still stands; viewers of Ken Burns’ Civil War may remember the poignant segment filmed on the town green – the men of the town were virtually wiped out at Cold Harbor, Virginia in 1864.

    Litchfield is in the news this week. Its iconic 1890 stone courthouse closed last Friday. It was in continuous use since its construction. When it was built, gaslights illuminated it.

    There has been a courthouse on the site since 1797, this one is the third, the other two, both made of wood, burned down – hence the stone construction.

    The land the courthouse is built on was ‘given’ to the State of Connecticut in 1803 by six prominent locals, veterans all, it is said, of the Revolutionary War. Their only stipulation was that a courthouse had to always occupy the site. With the building no longer a courthouse, the question was, who owned it?

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    A local attorney with a client well aware of his ancestry answered that question shortly before the courthouse closed Friday. The provisions of the land lease clearly stipulated that the minute the building was no longer a courthouse it was to revert to the descendants of the men who made the original gift.

    The six original owners filed paperwork in probate court to record the provisions of the gift. It was incumbent on each successive generation to do the same. Only one family did, the last filing was in 1989. That man’s son just inherited the building.

    There’s a lot to be said for keeping an eye on paperwork in probate, even if it takes 200 years.

     

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