Monday, September 20, 2010

Judge James L. DeWitt

James Lloyd DeWitt was born on September 20, 1848 in Perkins Township of Erie County, Ohio to Mr. and Mrs. James DeWitt, pioneer settlers of the Firelands. (He was usually known as Lloyd DeWitt.) He attended Oberlin College, and studied law in Sandusky. In April of 1873, J.L. DeWitt was admitted to the bar. Mr. DeWitt practiced law in Sandusky, until he was elected Mayor of Sandusky and served as Mayor from 1883 to 1886. From 1887 until 1890, James L. DeWitt was the Common Pleas Judge for Erie County, Ohio.

On the afternoon of October 11, 1890, Judge J. L. DeWitt was killed while walking along the Lake Shore Railroad tracks just east of Sandusky. Some young boys saw the judge walking, and he stepped aside to avoid a freight train approaching from the west. He did not see the other train which was coming from the east. Judge DeWitt was struck by the east bound train, and died instantly. The judge’s faithful dog did not leave his side. His pocket watch was found to have stopped exactly at eight minutes to four o’clock, the accident having caused it to stop. A front page article about the tragic accident appeared on the front page of the October 12, 1890 issue of the Sandusky Register. The first paragraph read in part, “No man in the city was more generally known or better liked by people of all classes than Judge DeWitt, and the expressions of sorrow on all sides were most sincere and heartfelt.”

On the day of the funeral of Judge DeWitt, several members of the bar formed a procession and marched in a unit from the Erie County Courthouse to the DeWitt residence on Columbus Avenue, where the funeral was held. The courtroom of the Erie County Common Pleas Court was draped in mourning, as an expression of sympathy felt by the members of the bar and officials of the Courthouse. Newspaper accounts stated that funeral services were officiated by Rev. J. F. Brant of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and included several hymns. The red cedar casket was covered with broadcloth, and the plate on the casket bore his name. Burial was at Oakland Cemetery. In the proceedings of the Ohio Bar Association in 1891, E.B. King made these remarks:

Mr. DeWitt was at the time of his death a Common Pleas Judge in the first sub-division of this district, and had been holding that position for four years. He was a young man, in the prime of his life, and in the full vigor of his strength and manhood, and was regarded, both by the bar and a very large circle of acquaintances and friends, both as a citizen and as a judge, as a man of perfect, upright character, conscientious and faithful, to a fault, in the discharge of judicial duties, exceedingly careful in the decision of causes and the rendition of opinions, and popular with all classes of his fellow men. He was elected to the Bench at the age of thirty seven years, and in his forty-first year was accidentally and suddenly killed by a railroad train. No event that has happened in our community for a score of years cast the gloom over society and the public in general that the death of Judge DeWitt did, under the circumstances that it occurred.
Judge J. L. DeWitt was survived by his wife and a son and daughter. Judge DeWitt is the first individual on the left in picture below. This stereographic image of the Erie County Common Pleas Courtroom was created by A.C. Platt in 1874.

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