Judge Ross Wilkins

As the first district judge for the District of Michigan, Ross Wilkins served from 1837 to his retirement in 1870. Some of Judge Wilkins’ notable cases were the Crosswhite case involving enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act; James Jesse Strang case, the “King of Beaver Island,” and the Bishop case, a capital murder
case at Fort Gratiot.

One of the stories about Judge Wilkins concerned the cold, drafty courtroom at the federal building located at the northwest corner of Griswold and Larned Streets. Even though there were fireplaces, the lack of central heating often left the courtroom very cold in the winter. Judge Wilkins solved the problem by bringing
in his huge Newfoundland dog and letting the dog curl up on his feet to keep them
warm during long court proceedings.

During Judge Wilkins’ tenure Congress passed a law in 1863 dividing the District
of Michigan into two parts: the Eastern District and Western Districts with Detroit
and Grand Rapids respectively as their places of holding court.