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The determination and placement of roads, “bridleways,” “posts of directions,” bridges and the appointment of road surveyors was one of the most important functions of the courts in colonial times.
Each road was opened and maintained by an Overseer (or Surveyor) of the Highways appointed yearly by the Gentlemen Justices. For these purposes, the Justices usually assigned all the able-bodied men (the "Labouring Male Tithables") living on or near the road. These individuals then furnished their own tools, wagons, and teams and were required to work on the roads for six days a year.
In the early 1800’s the Town of Louisa was on the main route or post road which went from Fredericksburg to Spotsylvania Courthouse to Louisa and finally to Columbia, a prominent port town along the James River. This route (roughly Route 208) connected the Rappahannock River and the James River. The Rappahannock and the James Rivers, tributaries to the Chesapeake Bay, were the major routes for transport of produce.
Louisa has been the center of the county business and commerce from its inception. Modes of transportation have been foot, stage, horseback, wagon, car and train. Being an interior county with no navigable streams, land transportation has been vital to the town and county’s growth.
With the coming of the railroad in 1838 the population of Louisa increased and the town and county developed economically. Louisa was an important stop on the railroad. Goods and services were made more readily available in this central location. The railroad was a major employer for the citizens. The Louisa Railroad was one of the first eastern railroads to strike west to the Alleghany Mountains.
The County of Louisa was formed from Hanover County in 1742 and named for Princess Louisa, daughter of English King George II and Queen Caroline.
What is now the town of Louisa began as a courthouse village circa 1757 and grew from its association with the courthouse. The first courthouse was built on the lands of Matthew Jouett. Later, Thomas Johnson owned the land and had a tavern there. In 1787 a petition to change the location of the courthouse was issued. Thomas Johnson used the courthouse as a storage house and the jail as a stable, which made the citizens unhappy. The Assembly decided in Johnson’s favor because he was the county’s Chief Justice. If they moved the courthouse he could not attend meetings because he was too obese to get on his horse.
In 1816 Henry Lawrence owned the courthouse tract. He restricted the sale of every piece of land on the tract. No one who bought the land was allowed to have a tavern, boarding house, stable, or to sell spirits. His tavern was the only one allowed this business. These restrictions remained on the land until 1904. The majority of the town was not out of the hands of a single owner until after 1865.
In addition to the courthouse, which was rebuilt in 1818 by Samuel Ragland, and the jail, by 1835 the town also had a church, four stores, a silversmith, a blacksmith, two carriage makers, two tailors, a shoe maker, a cabinetmaker, a saddler, two taverns, a milliner, two lawyers’ offices, and a physician.
After the Town was incorporated by the Virginia General Assembly in 1873, a Town Council of seven trustees was chosen and elected annually by qualified Town voters. A Town Sergeant was also elected who was charged to maintain the peace and arrest all offenders within a mile of town limits and to collect taxes.
In 1888 a fire broke out and destroyed nearly all the business section of town. The buildings which burned were made of wood and were located on the north side of Main Street. The buildings were rebuilt, mostly of brick, in the followings years.
From the 1890s to the 1920s, Louisa was a summer resort with the boarders from Richmond and the Peninsula who came to get away from the summer heat and humidity in the cities. The Louisa Hotel (the Cooke building) and several private homes took in visitors for the summer months.
Louisa Government Today
Louisa is governed by a seven-person Board of Supervisors, who serve four-year terms. The Board of Supervisors is responsible for managing taxes, balancing the county budget, and allocating revenue. It also appoints citizens to serve on multiple committees, or commissions.
Elected Constitutional officials include the Clerk of the Circuit Court, Commonwealth Attorney, Commissioner of the Revenue, Treasurer, and Sheriff.
There are three different types of courts: the Circuit Court, General District Court, and Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court. The Circuit Court has the broadest powers of all the courts, with jurisdiction over criminal felony cases and all civil claims over $25,000. The General District Court handles criminal misdemeanors and civil claims under $25,000. Finally, the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court handles all cases concerning minors, domestic abuse, custody, support, and visitation.