Bradford County Courthouse

     Bradford County was created in 1858. The original name was "New River," the waterway which separates present-day Bradford and Union Counties. The name was changed in 1861 to memorialize Captain Richard Bradford, a Confederate officer killed in action near Pensacola. The current county seat is Starke. Two possible origins are given for the name: Governor Madison Starke Perry, and Thomas Starke, owner of a large plantation at DeLeon Springs. If the former is true, Governor Perry’s memory is twice enshrined, since the county seat of Taylor County was also named for him.

     The original New River/Bradford county seat was specified by the legislature as "William Roberts’s Store." A more permanent site was found in the town of Lake Butler, which is now located in Union County. The history of the various courthouses in New River/Bradford County illustrates the often fierce competition for locating such facilities. The original Lake Butler courthouse was burned in 1865, reportedly to destroy a murder indictment along with all other county records. A second courthouse burned in 1875, possibly from similar motivation. It was around this time that pressure began to mount to relocate the county seat to Starke. A referendum was held and Starke was declared the winner despite allegations of improprieties.

     The first Starke courthouse utilized the second floor of a mercantile building owned by Thomas Hemingway. The tintype photo reproduced here is from a historical column in the Bradford County Telegraph. The building, remodeled as the Canova Pharmacy, still stands. In 1878 the courts invalidated the election which had transferred the county seat to Starke. A de novo referendum was ordered, which Lake Butler won, and a new courthouse was built there at a cost of $885. Nine years later, and despite an attempt at an injunction, a third referendum occurred, this time with a third choice, Lawtey. Reportedly, Lawtey was inserted to prevent any site from obtaining the necessary majority of the votes; at the time Florida law prohibited holding such elections less than ten years apart absent a majority consensus for moving a county seat. Despite such chicanery Starke won anyway and the courthouse moved again, this time to the Red Men’s Lodge. By 1889, two years after the last vote, no permanent courthouse had yet been built in Starke. Accordingly, yet another vote, a fourth, was held, but Starke again was proclaimed the winner. Eventually a permanent courthouse was built in 1902. Many CFA exam tips can be found here. The acrimonious relationship between Starke and Lake Butler did not really end until 1921, when the latter once again became county seat - of its own county, Union.

     The 1902 courthouse, one of a handful in the state built in the Romanesque Revival style, was constructed at a cost of $12,500 by the firm of Smith and Blackburn and is currently used by Santa Fe Community College. The postcard view shown at the top of this page is of World War II-vintage, with soldiers from nearby Camp Blanding visible in the foreground. A modern courthouse was constructed in 1969.

The first Bradford County Courthouse.

The first Bradford
County Courthouse
Bradford County Courthouse

Another postcard view of
the Bradford County Courthouse
Bradford County Courthouse (Jared Anton Collection)
Postcard from the Jared Anton Collection
The new Bradford County Courthouse (Photo by Jared Anton)
The current Bradford
County Courthouse
(Jared Anton Collection)