A history of some of Westborough’s buildings
By Glenn Parker, Contributing Writer
This is an article in an occasional series about important events or things from Westborough’s past.
Westborough’s first Town Hall, 1839-1929
The First District Court of Eastern Worcester was established by an Act of the Legislature in 1872. The new court district consisted of the communities of Westborough, Grafton, Northborough, and Southborough. The court sessions were split three days at the Westborough Town Hall and three days in Grafton. This schedule remained in place until 1929. (Resource: History of Westborough, DeForest, 1891)
Keating Building 1915
In 1915 the court as well as the post office moved into the newly constructed Keating Building on East Main Street. Then in 1929 the County Commissioners had negotiated a lease agreement with the town and moved into the newly constructed Westborough Town Hall. The new court facility was located in the rear of the building on the lower level.
The second Westborough Town Hall 1929
The large room where the selectmen meet today was the court-room where arraignments and trials were conducted on a daily basis. The judge’s bench and the clerk of courts were elevated above the attorneys, the defendants and the spectators. The court heard all manner of criminal and civil natures but felony cases where remanded to the Superior Court in Worcester. Juvenile cases, probate, divorce and law suits were also heard in Worcester.
The probation officer sat on the judge’s right side. When a police officer or defendant testified they stood on the judges left side and at his level. Most of the cases presented by the police were without the benefit of an assistant district attorney. The judge for the most part was a “police judge”
The judge’s chambers were located where the town manager’s office is today while the clerk of courts office was adjacent to the judge’s chambers. The court office was located adjacent to the clerk’s office where a large walk-in safe was situated. The probation office was located across the hall from the clerk’s office. Benches lined the hallway for visitors.
To accommodate the district court a large cell room was fitted into the basement beneath the one room police department. The lock-up area consisted of six cells with steel walls and barred doors, a toilet with a steel slab for a bed. There was also a utility room with a lavatory for employees and a large walk-in safe. Before the police manned the station on a 24/7 schedule most overnight guests were unmonitored.
If there were an overnight guest in the lock–up the court officer would leave the courtroom, go through the police station to the cell room and bring the in-custody person before the judge for arraignment. In a no-bail situation or a non-jurisdiction case the prisoner was returned to the cell room. The sheriff’s office would then transport the prisoner to the Worcester Court or the jail on Summer Street, Worcester.
Westborough District Court
The new facility has three court rooms, two for adult and civil cases and a third on the lower level for juvenile cases. The cell room consisted of five cells of concrete with steel doors a conference area and the court officer’s office. A rear door off the cell area offered easy access when delivering prisoners. The new courthouse was located on land formerly belonging to the Lyman School on Oak Street.
Until the court was moved to its present location in 1972 the selectmen held their regular meetings in Memorial Hall on the second floor of Town Hall. After the move the town offices were able to expand. The new selectmen’s meeting room was sub-divided by an eight-foot- high wall to create additional office space for employees while a door was installed to allow direct access to the rear parking lot. The police department was given two additional rooms while minor remodeling of the existing space created officers for the remainder of the town offices.
As I see it:
As the Westborough District Court celebrates its 140th year of existence, its immediate future remains a question. The rumored closing of the facility will create a hardship and have a detrimental impact on everyone that has criminal or civil business with the court in the five communities and state agencies it serves.
Today the court staffing has been dramatically reduced while jury trials have been transferred back to Worcester and the archaic jury selection system has been reinstituted there. The scheduling of cases and hearings has been significantly delayed due to the reduced work force; even phone calls to the court office go to an answering machine. A quick and speedy hearing or trial is a thing of the past.
If the court is closed the case load and the employees will be reassigned (or laid off) to the Worcester Courthouse. Victims and witnesses of crimes will be further traumatized by the relocated court proceedings. The public will become disenfranchised with a facility that is 10 miles away and will become less likely to report and prosecute domestic violence or other violent crimes. The police department budgets and court scheduling will also be adversely impacted.
Parking is free at Westborough but not in Worcester. Transportation from the Westborough area will become difficult as there is no public transportation here. Finally, struggling through the maze of defendants, victims, witnesses, police and court personnel will further victimize the innocent, who are searching for justice and a possible closure to an ongoing problem. Nothing good can came from this closing for the residents of this court district only continued hardship.
And what will happen to the courthouse if it’s vacated? The state does not have a good history of dealing with surplus property. One only needs to look at the remaining Lyman School buildings that have been vacant since 1972. Will the courthouse go the way the state has dealt with other vacant surplus buildings? Will it go vacant, be sold at auction or will it be turned over to the community where it will become a useful site? In Westborough’s case it would make an excellent public safety facility. Only time will tell.
Glenn Parker is a former member of the Westborough Historical Commission and the author of “A Cornfield Meet - A history of the trolleys of Westborough.” He is also the former Westborough Chief of Police, retiring from active duty in 2012 after 42 years with the department.
Parker and his wife Mary Ellen have four children and six grandchildren.
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