Warren County notables watch balloons soar into the sky during the celebration Oct. 18 of the 50th anniversary of the Warren County Municipal Center. Launching the balloons were county Board of Supervisors Chairman Kevin Geraghty (left) and Marjorie Swan, former Town of Chester councilwoman. Observing was Queensbury town supervisor John Strough, re-enacting General Joseph Warren, a Revolutionary War hero — the county’s namesake.
Warren County leaders and citizens gathered Friday Oct. 18 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Warren County Municipal Center, recognized nationally for its suburban-style campus ambiance when it was built in 1963.
Festive balloons were launched, tours of the complex were conducted, and people gathered to share not only a birthday cake but memories — including those who were active in local government a half-century ago.
Treated as a guest of honor was former state Assemblyman, judge and attorney Richard Bartlett, now 87, who had been one of the luminaries presiding over the dedication ceremonies for the Municipal Center 50 years ago.
In the era the county Municipal Center was built, Bartlett was chosen to serve as the state’s first Chief Administrative Judge. Despite his duties around the state, Bartlett kept his chambers in the county Municipal Center, he said soon after cutting the celebratory cake Friday with county Board of Supervisors Chairman Kevin Geraghty, longtime Chestertown notable Marjorie Swan and Queensbury councilman John Strough.
In 1963, the new Municipal Center was not just a showplace, it was very functional, Bartlett said. “The county departments and agencies had been scattered all over the place, but after the center was built, they were now in one place.”
Before 1963, the county courts and jail were in Lake George, the family court was in Glens Falls, and the welfare offices were in Warrensburg, he recalled. “The center was visually pleasing, and it brought a sense of unity to county government.”
The idea to build the center had its detractors, Bartlett recalled, including opposition spokesman, Fred Bascom, a prominent Glens Falls lawyer.
“It was strongly contested at the time as an unnecessary expenditure,” Bartlett said. According to vintage news reports, county leaders had proposed to tear down the old county courthouse in Lake George and build a larger, taller structure on the site — but doing so would have cost $500,000 more than constructing a new county center on its undeveloped exurban site.
“Looking back, we made the right decision to build this new center,” Bartlett said.
During the ceremonies, former Warren County Clerk Caryl Clark also recalled how she and her mother Jeanne McNeary had fought to save the old county courthouse from destruction. The structure, now on the national and state registers of historic places, is now a celebrated landmark in Lake George Village. Clark’s daughter, Stephanie Merrill, recalled how she, too, had attended the municipal center dedication ceremonies — at age six.
“The building was impressive, overwhelming, she said, recalling how in the 1963 event her eyes fixed on the large emblem on the front of the building depicting Revolutionary War hero Joseph Warren, the county’s namesake.
Bartlett recalled how he had presided over one of the first cases held in the new county courthouse. It was a suit over patent rights involving a local catheter company — the longest trial at that time in the county’s history.
Twice on Friday, county District Attorney Kate Hogan conducted tours of the county courts.
In the main county courtroom, she introduced Bartlett and three of the county’s other judges, County Judge John Hall, Family Court Judge Timothy Breen, and Supreme Court Justice David Krogmann.
Krogmann recalled the lengthy and influential career of Bartlett, who received a standing ovation. Hogan noted it was Bartlett who urged her to become a prosecutor because it would fulfill her career goal of helping people in distressing circumstances. Krogmann told the audience that if he ever had doubts when making legal decisions on the bench, he would look at Bartlett’s portrait on the courtroom wall and think, “What would Dick Bartlett do?”
During this courtroom visit, Queensbury seventh-grader Piper Orr re-enacted Flora Sexton, a historic figure from Hague.
At 10 a.m. Friday, a quartet of singers from Queensbury High School opened the monthly county Board of Supervisors meeting by singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” as a salute to the anniversary.
Also, county Sheriff Bud York conducted tours of the Public Safety Building — north of the main Municipal Center, where other county residents had taken self-guided tours, watching county employees accomplish their work.
Early afternoon Friday, two large containers of helium-filled balloons bearing an anniversary logo were uncapped in front of the county court. Releasing the balloons were former Town of Chester board member Marge Swan and Kevin Geraghty — and the red globes soared up into the sky to the applause of several dozen people gathered.
Kevin Geraghty offered his thoughts.
“The county’s municipal center has withstood the test of time,” he said, noting 2013 was also the year of the county’s bicentennial. “I’m proud to be serving the county during this historic year.”
Marge Swan — whose husband Howard Swan served on the county Board of Supervisors when the municipal center was dedicated — smiled as she exchanged memories with others.
“I thank God I’m here to participate in this,” she said. “It’s just wonderful.”