July 14. 2005 4:12PM    http://www.hendersonvillenews.com

Centennial Courthouse Celebration
In the Beginning - Excerpts from Times-News story published July 28, 2003-
 
Joel Burgess
Times-News Staff Writer
joel.burgess@hendersonvillenews.com
 
 

 

The Henderson County Courthouse, built in 1904-05, pictured shortly after its completion. (Baker-Barber Collection)

Historic Courthouse
 
• 1843 (circa) - First permanent courthouse built for $8,000 at Aspen and Chestnut street, which later became First and Second avenues, next to the site of the present courthouse.

• 1903 - Confederate monument dedicated, placed at the intersection of Main Street and First Avenue. Monument later becomes a traffic hazard and is move to the courthouse lawn in April 1925.

• 1904 - Contract for new courthouse awarded to local builder W.F. Edwards; first courthouse torn down.

• July 1905 - Edwards hands over keys for new courthouse to Henderson County Commissioners. Courthouse sits on west side of Main Street between First and Second avenues. It cots $38,000, but the county withheld $500 until the first cold day to test the heating system.

• 1915 - St. John Hotel on Main Street burns down, scorching courthouse woodwork and dome. Edwards repairs the damage.

• July 1925 - Brick jail built behind the courthouse near Church Street for $75,000.

• 1943 - Courthouse condemned, Superior Court moved to City Hall. Repairs estimated at $25,000. Walls out of plumb. Wooden timbers have to be replaced. Repairs completed in 1944 and court returns.

• 1952 - Courthouse expanded. In 1956, commissioners approve courthouse addition for register of deeds, sheriff’s office and Board of Elections

• 1972 - State court system reorganized and addition to courthouse needed at a cost of $40,000. County commissioners move out.

• 1982 - Repairs to shore up floors and inner supports completed.

• November 1991 - A reinforced dome with a gold-colored fiberglass coating is dedicated.

• 1994 - Sheriff’s office moves out of the courthouse.

• 1995- New courthouse built for $7.6 million, old courthouse closed.

A courthouse, American novelist William Faulkner said in his 1951 Requiem for a Nun, is "the center, the focus, the hub; sitting looming in the center of the county's circumference like a single cloud in its ring of horizon, laying its vast shadow to the utmost rim of horizon; musing, brooding, symbolic and ponderable, tall as cloud, solid as rock, dominating all: protector of the weak, judicate and curb of the passions and lusts, repository and guardian of the aspirations and the hopes."

For much of the past century the Henderson County historic courthouse on Main Street has served as protector, judicate, repository and guardian while reflecting the independent spirit and boom-time economics that built the county.

Growing needs

By the early 1900s Hendersonville and other parts of the county were thriving from tourism and the commerce it grew. The three decades between 1880 to 1910 were "a period of progress Hendersonville would not again experience until about the middle of the 20th century," James T. Fain Jr. wrote in A Partial History of Henderson County.

The county seat mushroomed from a small mountain village to a small city and leaders wanted to expand and to present a grander face for the county. The county's first courthouse, built around 1842 at the corner of what were then Aspen and Chestnut streets, was deemed "an unsafe record depository," Fain said.

In 1903, Commissioners P.T. Ward, S.W. Hamilton and J.J. Baldwin set a bond referendum to borrow $30,000 for the design and construction of a two-story building.

Voters rejected two bond issues. But in 1904, residents voted "overwhelmingly" to build a new courthouse, Henderson County Historical Society President George Jones said. The bond was to borrow $38,000, payable at $1,000 a year at a rate of 6 percent. It would take the county until 1940 to pay off the debt.

Builder William Edwards, the father of future Hendersonville Mayor A.V. Edwards, won the contract.

"It was originally for $33,435," Jones said. "But when they bought the safe and other additions that brought it to $38,000."
Leaders sold the old courthouse to Edwards, who razed the building.

Building a courthouse

Richard Sharp Smith, an architect from Asheville, drew the design for the new courthouse. The building was to sit between First and Second avenues facing east on Main Street, directly behind the site of the original courthouse.

The design became a stock plan for Smith, and he used it for the
Jackson and Madison county courthouses.

His take on neoclassical revival style featured six Corinthian columns on the front and four columns for each of the two side porticos. A metal dome made of a tin and zinc mixture to withstand corrosion capped a cupola near the roof's center. Brick made up the walls and columns. A white plaster was applied to the columns to give the appearance each was cut from a single piece of stone.

At the time, what real estate agents call "curb appeal" was more important than interior design. Flat Rock architect Stuart Stepp said such sensibilities meant offices were often shoehorned into outer shells.

"In those days, the outside was really more important," Stepp said.
A statue of the goddess Justice stood on top of the dome.

Craftsmen molded the same roofing metal to make the 5-foot figure. She holds a sword in her right hand and scales in her left.
Raised letters on the front of the building read "County Court House." This later would change to "Henderson County Courthouse." Commissioners also authorized $700 for a clock for the dome, Fain said, but no such timepiece was installed.

One main timber, running vertically through the center of the cupola's drum, supported the dome. Heavy timbers radiated from the central support like the spokes of a wheel.

"It came together in one of the most intricate joints I have ever seen," said Hendersonville attorney Ken Youngblood, 72, who spent most of his years practicing law in the courthouse.

Youngblood said he is fascinated by the melding of influences such as mountain woodworking and an urban style of architecture.

"The metaphor for me is that you may bring a British architect over and import a foreign form of architecture, but it took these rough mountain carpenters to support it," Youngblood said.

A man, recorded only as "Mr. Jones," furnished the woodwork for the courtroom for $29.47, records show.

The county paid Edwards' fee, minus $500. The final sum would have to wait until the "new-fangled" steam heat proved itself during a zero-degree day, Fain said, noting that old weather records show the temperature did not dip that low until after Jan. 1, 1906.

 

Picture
 

Historic Courthouse

All that and more

On July 15, 1905, Edwards handed the keys to the courthouse to the three commissioners who pushed for its construction. The court system, the county government and the Sheriff's Department occupied the courthouse.

The building would also become a community meeting place.
One of the largest crowds of the day, 400 people, gathered Jan. 30, 1912. Dr. William R. Kirk showed "a crying and desperate need for a hospital," Frank FitzSimons Sr. wrote in From the Banks of the Oklawaha Vol. II

The meeting raised money and motivated residents and leaders to create Patton Memorial Hospital, named after Annie Patton and built at what is now Highland Avenue.

Six years later, on Nov. 11, 1918, residents gathered in a larger group outside the courthouse to celebrate the end of World War I. Congress made Armistice Day a national holiday in 1938. In 1954 President Dwight Eisenhower signed a bill changing the holiday to Veterans Day. Residents still turn out on the courthouse lawn yearly to honor those from the county who served in the nation's wars.

In the late 1920s Methodists, who were building a new church, turned the courthouse into a place of worship. They worshiped there on Sundays while their old wooden church was being replaced with a brick building that would become the First United Methodist Church at Church Street and Sixth Avenue.

Lucille Case Lyda, 88, called the venture a "a leap of faith."
On Christmas Eve 1927, Lyda, then 12, stood with her sister, Evelyn, 9, in the courtroom along with other children waiting to be baptized. "The church held their Christmas program and Christmas tree along with baptismal services of a group of children there." said Lyda, 88. "It was a night to remember."

In 1951 the courthouse took on yet another role.

A sign, SRO, or "standing room only," began to appear nightly outside the building, said Dave Cooley of Flat Rock. The Hendersonville Community Theater was producing a play by Ayn Rand, The Night of January 16th, which was set in a courtroom.
"We really chose that play to save money because we didn't have to build a set," Cooley said.

Writer Ernie Frankel had helped form the community theater as a way to provide a winter job for Flat Rock Playhouse founder Robroy Farquhar.

Frankel went on to write the novels Band of Brothers about Marines in the Korean War and Tongue of Fire about Sen. Joseph McCarthy. He also wrote the 1970s TV series "Moving On," which shot four episodes in Hendersonville in 1975.

Cooley went on to run chambers of commerce in Memphis, Tenn., Dallas, Texas, and the American Chamber of Commerce Executives in Washington.

The courthouse's role as a community gathering place continued throughout the years as other, more prominent folks began to show up on its steps.

On Sept. 5, 1992, about 10,000 people stood in the rain "under a block-sized canopy of multi-colored umbrellas," a Sept. 6, 1992 article in the Times-News reported, to hear President George H.W. Bush speak outside the courthouse.

Bush chose the N.C. Apple Festival as a campaign stop during his bid for re-election.

"Even the rain can't ruin a great festival like this," Bush was reported to say.

 
Picture
 

South side wire work

Years take a toll

In 1915, the 10-year-old courthouse was scarred by a fire. The fire lit up most of downtown and destroyed the Saint John Hotel. It also scorched the courthouse dome and woodwork.

Ten years later, in 1925, the Confederate memorial was still poking up at the sky from the middle of Main Street and First Avenue. But as more automobiles scooted around downtown the monument became a road hazard. It was moved to the northeast corner of the courthouse lawn, where it stands today.

A new jail was added onto the back of the courthouse in 1925.

The red brick structure cost $75,000. In 1927, a grand jury praised the new jail as a "modern building well constructed and something for Henderson County and Hendersonville to be proud of." It was used until 2001, when the county opened a new jail on Grove Street.

World War II brought many demands on government, and courthouse upkeep may have suffered as a result. By 1943, the courthouse was in need of repair. The roof over the courtroom was leaking. Decades of supporting the dome had taken its toll on the timbers, and the top of the building appeared in danger of collapsing, Fain said in his history.

On Oct. 7, 1943, architect E.G. Stillwell reported that structural joints of trusses were failing and that some ends had slipped 5 inches, pushing supporting walls as much as 12 inches out of plumb.

"Use of the courtroom was immediately discontinued, although the offices of the board of education, on the north side of the second floor continued in use," Fain said.

Contractor E.J. Anders was paid $25,000 to remove a large part of the roof and replace the wooden supports with four steel trusses.

In 1956, the building was expanded in the back to make room for the register of deeds, the sheriff's office and the Board of Elections at the cost of $50,000. In 1972, the state court system reorganized and required more room. The county built the brick annex on the south side of the building for $40,000.

Nine years later, in 1981, maintenance supervisor Ed Capps spotted a .50-caliber ammunition box sitting on a floor joist in the basement.

"I wondered what it was doing there," Capps said, "and I stuck my hand on it and it knocked me back to the floor."

Someone had used the empty container and a few others like it as junction boxes for the electrical system, he said. Capps persuaded the county to spend $12,000 for a new wiring system.

A year later, floors began to sag, said County Manager David Nicholson.

"They shored up the floor with jacks and reinforced the archways," he said. "That cost $200,000."

One of the most extensive repairs happened in 1988. People began to notice a disturbing sound in the courtroom when the wind blew, Flat Rock architect Stuart Stepp said.

"The dome was vibrating so badly that the judge called down to Bill Drake, the chairman of the county commissioners, and told him to fix it," Stepp said.

A tension ring around the dome had not been tightened in years and windstorms would cause the roof to shake. Concerned residents organized a "save the dome campaign," and WHKP-AM 1450 President Art Cooley spearheaded the effort that raised $1,400 and stirred public interest in the historic structure.

"It was more of a campaign to improve public awareness of the courthouse, rather than an attempt to raise money," Cooley said.

By then a coat of white covered the original silvery roof that Cooley remembered seeing from his home on West Allen Street.

Two years later, in 1990, the county made the structural repairs to the dome.

Hendersonville contractor Dennis Dunlap said he hired a crew of American Indian workers from Virginia to erect the scaffolding in one day, all while court was in session.

After the structural repairs, which cost $200,000, the county resurfaced the dome with fiberglass and added a gold-colored gel that gave the top of the cupola its newest hue. The county rededicated the dome Nov. 1, 1991, and a fireworks display exploded around the courthouse's newly repaired cap.

Road to restoration

By the mid-1990s, the courthouse's utility for everyday functions of government was fading. But county commissioners refused to spend money on it or the jail, which had also fallen into disrepair.
Then-state Sen. Bo Thomas of Hendersonville wrote a bill forcing the county to deal with the two facilities.

"He required Henderson County to put away money over 10 years," Nicholson said, noting the county socked away $200,000 to $800,000 annually.

In 1994, the sheriff's office moved out of the courthouse, and by April 1995, the county built the new courthouse on Grove Street for $7.6 million, leaving the historic building vacant. Almost immediately plans were made to reuse the building.

In 1996, Grier-Fripp Architects estimated it would cost $5 million to rehabilitate the courthouse for use as county offices. The county shelved that plan to take on an extensive school rebuilding program.

In 1999, commissioners appointed a committee to look at reusing the courthouse. The committee suggested four options, including adding a parking garage and demolishing the old jail, which would be replaced with a new one in 2001. The cost was estimated at $7.5 million.

In 2001, commissioners voted to move forward with renovations of the courthouse, including demolition of the jail, but loss of state money and other budget shortfalls scuttled the plans by 2002.

That year, a professional climber who had maintained the lights on the dome said he would not go up anymore. The dome color had dulled and mottled in areas, a problem Dunlap said could be solved with a washing.

"The gel coat on the outside is an integral part of it. It's made from a polyester material," he said. "It lasts forever, but it will fade and chalk up if it is not repaired."

Before Christmas, Dunlap built a curved ladder to follow the contour of the dome and he fixed the lights.

In February 2003, the county commissioners appointed a 21-member committee to recommend a use for the historic structure and how to pay for its restoration.

 

July 16. 2005 3:57PM

Centennial Courthouse Celebration
Historic Courthouse turns 100
 
By Deneesha Edwards
Times-News Staff Writer
 
 
Picture
 

People listen to speakers July 15 during the 100th birthday of the Henderson County Historic Courthouse on Main Street. (PATRICK SULLIVAN/TIMES-NEWS)

Renovation Information
 
• Work scheduled to start in October 2005

• Total cost: around $8.5 million

• Old jail will be demolished

• 6,000-square-foot annex with elevator, fire case stairwell and restrooms will be added

• Dome will be repainted

• Will include specific exhibits on the culture and history of Henderson County

• Work expected to be completed by October 2006

Honorable and beautiful were some of the words used Friday morning to describe the Historic Henderson County Courthouse on Main Street.

Hundreds of people gathered in front of the courthouse for a 100th birthday party and celebration of this symbol of the county's heritage. The birthday celebration was the second centennial celebration program in a series of events that will continue until December.

"Let the celebration begin," yelled Tom Orr, chairman of the Historic Courthouse Centennial Celebration Committee, as the program began on the courthouse lawn.

Plans for the courthouse were developed in 1904. On July 15, 1905, builder William F. Edwards handed the keys to the courthouse to county commissioners P.T. Ward, S.W. Hamilton and J.J Baldwin, who had lobbied for its construction.

Over the years, the building became a community meeting place but in 1995 the doors were closed and the county built a new courthouse on Grove Street.

After generations of use, the empty courthouse still remains the centerpiece of Main Street after 100 years.

"You can see the courthouse from everywhere, it is the center of town," said Barbara Ladner from Grimesdale. "It's just breathtaking."

 

Picture
 

Courthouse Horse

A stage

Francis M. Coiner was a Hendersonville attorney who fought against the demolition of the courthouse and championed its restoration.

Coiner would no doubt have enjoyed the centennial celebration, but his words still rang loud in an emotional speech by his widow, Lillian."In my husband's own words, the courthouse 'will always remain as it was, a stage upon which was played a great segment of the life of Henderson County, a backdrop of high drama, tragedy and comedy, a microcosm of an American life ... evidence of a perfect yesterday,'" she said.

The centennial celebration's theme "Evidence of Yesterday" came from a quote from her late husband, she said.

In addition to such seriousness, there was also laughter and fun during the program.

A highlight came when Ernest Mills, the great-grandson of William F. Edwards and grandson of the longest serving mayor of Hendersonville, A.V. Edwards, was joined by his sister Marcia Mills-Kelso for a re-enactment of their ancestor giving the keys to the courthouse to commissioners.

"Just being a part of my family has reconnected me through my roots," Mills said. "It has helped me to appreciate."

Wearing an outfit resembling one which could have been worn by a local resident 100 years ago, Mills told the story of how a snowstorm in the 1870s stranded his great-grandparents in Hendersonville on their honeymoon.

Due to the hospitality of the town, William F. Edwards and his wife chose to move here.

Edwards later became the owner of a hardware store on Main Street and was chosen as the building contractor for the courthouse in 1904.

"This courthouse stands as a monument," Mills said. "It is with great pride that I hand over the plans for the new courthouse to Bill Moyer, who will fulfill the dream of our wonderful courthouse."

Moyer, chairman of the Henderson County Board of Commissioners, was pleased to accept the plans.

"This is more than a landmark. It should be the people's house like it was in 1905," he said. "It's a place where people can learn about the history of the county."

 
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Nicholson

A future
With a white hard hat on his head, County Manager David Nicholson talked of the renovation plans for the courthouse.

Those improvements include fixing up the interior and exterior, demolition of the old jail in the back, adding a 6,000-square-foot service annex in place of the jail and repainting the dome.

Nicholson said the latest cost estimate for the renovations totaled $8.5 million. Work will begin in October and will roughly be finished in a year.

"In 2006 we will celebrate the grand opening of the courthouse," Nicholson said.

The Hendersonville City Council also added to the festivities.

"We proclaim 2005 as the Year of the Historic Courthouse," Mayor Fred Niehoff said before signing an official proclamation and leading the crowd in a rendition of Happy Birthday.

 
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Courthouse Cake

An edible rendition of the courthouse in the form of a cake was then brought out for all to enjoy in addition to several red, white and blue cakes.

"I'm glad the building is being restored and not tore down," said Roger Ambrose of Hendersonville.

Mary Jane Morgan worked at the courthouse for 15 years.

"I'm tickled pink to see it be remodeled again," Morgan said.

 

 

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