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When Albany County was divided into Albany, Charlotte, and Tryon Counties in 1772, Sir William Johnson used his influence to make Johnstown the county seat of Tryon. With a fund “not to exceed one thousand pounds for . . . a Gaol and courthouse,” Johnson began the construction of both that May. The court house was designed by Samuel Fuller of Schenectady, the same architect responsible for the design of Johnson Hall, and the cornerstone was laid on June 26, 1772 in the presence of Governor Tryon, Johnson, and other important residents of the area. The first court was convened on September 8, 1772, with Guy Johnson presiding. However, the court house and jail were apparently not complete until June the following year.


Following the Revolution, residents were eager to shed any identities that tied them to the monarchy. In 1784, Tryon County was renamed Montgomery, after Major General Richard Montgomery, a hero of the patriot cause who was killed in action during the Battle of Quebec. Johnstown remained the county seat. By 1836, however, the epicenter of the county had shifted, thanks to the completion of the Erie Canal. The county seat was moved to Fonda and the court house and jail were sold.


The citizens of Johnstown were not pleased by this move. They organized themselves to petition the state for the creation of a new county. This group, led by Judge Daniel Cady (father of Elizabeth Cady Stanton), was successful in their endeavor; in 1838 Fulton County was created by an act of the state legislature. It was named in honor of inventor Robert Fulton, a relative of Cady’s wife. The court house and jail were repurchased for the same price at which they were sold. A cupola and an addition were added in the 19th and 20th centuries. The court house is one of the oldest in the country still being used as a court today.


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