Judge Cohen started his collection in 1985, when he became a law clerk to Judge Clifford Fulford in what is now known as the Robert S. Vance Federal Building in Birmingham, Ala. The building was named in Judge Vance’s honor in 1990, a year after he was assassinated by a mail bomb sent to his home.
Judge Cohen noticed how many vintage postcards existed showing the Vance Building. Soon, the search was on for a vintage postcard showing every current historic courthouse in use in Alabama. In those pre-Ebay days, he found them in antique shops and at flea markets. In searching for the Alabama cards, he found many cards of historic courthouses in Georgia and Florida, and the search expanded to embrace the entire 11th Circuit. The internet – and particularly the development of Ebay – facilitated the search.
But identifying federal buildings that served the dual purpose of housing courts was a problem. Judge Cohen found cards showing federal buildings, for example, in Talladega and Jasper, Ala., and in Daytona, Fla. He knew that federal cases were held in those cities but were they heard in those federal buildings? A tough question, especially in places where the General Services Administration, caretaker of federal property, had abandoned a federal building and turned it over to a city or county. Finding the answer required some research and calling or writing to agencies that now occupied those buildings.
“After 30 years, I answered most of my questions,” Judge Cohen says in a memo about his collection, “and I am confident that I have identified all of the historic buildings in the 11th Circuit that were used as federal courthouses.”
With one exception: Judge Cohen has not been able to acquire a postcard showing the Macon, Ga. courthouse built in 1889. “But,” he says, “I haven’t given up. I know one exists; I have seen it in a collection. There has to be another one.”
The search continues.