July 14. 2005 4:12PM
Centennial Courthouse Celebration
In the Beginning
- Excerpts from Times-News story published July 28,
The Henderson County Courthouse, built in
1904-05, pictured shortly after its completion. (Baker-Barber
| 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
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
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
1952 - Courthouse expanded. In 1956, commissioners approve
courthouse addition for register of deeds, sheriffs office and
Board of Elections
1972 - State court system reorganized and addition to
courthouse needed at a cost of $40,000. County commissioners
1982 - Repairs to shore up floors and inner supports
November 1991 - A reinforced dome with a gold-colored
fiberglass coating is dedicated.
1994 - Sheriffs office moves out of the courthouse.
1995- New courthouse built for $7.6 million, old courthouse
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
"We really chose that play to save money because we didn't have to build a set,"
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
"Even the rain can't ruin a great festival like this," Bush was reported to say.
Years take a toll
South side wire work
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,"
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
"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
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
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
People listen to speakers July 15 during
the 100th birthday of the Henderson County Historic Courthouse on Main
Street. (PATRICK SULLIVAN/TIMES-NEWS)
| Work scheduled to start in
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
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."
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
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
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
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.
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
"I'm glad the building is being restored and not tore down," said Roger Ambrose
Mary Jane Morgan worked at the courthouse for 15 years.
"I'm tickled pink to see it be remodeled again," Morgan said.
to: Historic Hendersonville
to: Hendersonville, NC -- Upcoming
Hendersonville Genealogical Historic
Greetings from Hendersonville, NC
Hendersonville - A Slip Back in Time
during renovations, cherished quilt back
in City Hall, Hendersonville, NC
Click Photo for Story