Category Archives: Preservation

A Courthouse for All Ages

The Historic 1909 Randolph County Courthouse

The Historic Randolph County Courthouse at 145 Worth Street in Asheboro formally reopened for business on 19 July 2011 with a private reception and a public open house, 102 years to the day after the very first session was held within its walls.

According to a history of the courthouse written by local attorney and historian Lowell McKay “Mac” Whatley, the courthouse design mixes “nineteenth-century Victorianism with the motifs of American Beaux-Arts classicism. The brick facades of the building rise from a roughly-hewn granite base. Round arched windows on each side define the courtroom on the second floor level; the windows of the southern (Worth Street) façade feature elaborate molded terra lintels in a variety of shapes and sizes. The complex textures of materials such as tile, rough granite, sandstone, brick, wood and metal are combined with bold ornamental shapes to create the active, highly plastic surface of the building.”

Glenola Brick Works supplied around one million bricks for the project, most of which are not visible. The yellow hydraulic-pressed “Washington” exterior face bricks, all 700,000 of them, were shipped from Ohio at a cost of $70 per thousand.

The courthouse was originally completed in 1909 for only $34,000. It was the seventh county courthouse, but the first at that location. Three previous courthouses had been at the corner of Salisbury and Main streets, but that area ceased to be the focal point of Asheboro with the coming of the railroad in 1889.

The decision to build a new courthouse was made in 1907 by Commissioners J.W. Cox, H.G. Lassiter and Chairman Arch N. Bulla of Randleman. At the time, they were meeting in the 6th Randolph County Courthouse built in 1839 at the intersection of Salisbury and Main Streets in Asheboro. That brick structure had been built by construction superintendent and future N.C. Governor Jonathan Worth; it was expanded in 1876. Rather than hire an architect to design and build a completely new courthouse, the commissioners paid $300 to the Charlotte firm of Wheeler, Runge and Dickey for copies of the plans and specifications of their Iredell County Courthouse design. Oliver D. Wheeler and his various partners would ultimately go on to build another eight courthouses that were similar or identical to Randolph’s. Of those, six remain in existence today.

The first two courthouses were located somewhere in the vicinity of what is today New Market, north of Randleman. The third courthouse, and the first in Asheboro, was on two acres of land along Abram’s Creek. The eighth and current courthouse is located next door.

Over the past few years the 1909 courthouse undergone extensive renovation, restoration and rehabilitation. Most of the work was done by Randolph County building inspectors, many of whom are master craftsmen, which kept costs low and allowed the inspectors to continue working even after county construction levels fell to record lows during the Great Recession, said County Manager Richard Wells.

Historic courtrrom, restored

The focal point of the restoration was the second floor courtroom and gallery, now the location of County Commissioners’ meetings. An overhaul of the courtroom in the early 1960s resulted in a Scandinavian Modern style, complete with wood paneling and benches, that was not at all in keeping with the original design. Also at that time, the ceiling was dropped to allow for the installation of an air conditioning system. During the more recent restoration, workers unbricked windows, recreated paneled doors and restored as much as the original pressed tin ceiling as possible, including the ceiling over the gallery that overlooks the courtroom; what tin could not be restored was ordered from a company that specializes in tin tiles, and may actually be the company from which the original ceiling tiles were ordered. Even the desk for the County Commissioners was constructed, not ordered.

Because the room was once a courtroom, the state seal was placed at a spot on the wall above the raised platform where the presiding judge was seated. During the renovations, workers discovered it could not be easily removed from the wall above. Wanting to incorporate something of the county into the room, Asheboro-based artist Susan Harrell was commissioned to create a special county seal just for the historic courthouse. It was placed on the wall directly opposite the state seal and is visible when sitting at the commissioners desk on the platform.

The courthouse was the first historic landmark recommended by the Randolph County Historic Landmark Preservation Commission, formed in 2008, and its ground floor is currently home to the Randolph County Economic Development Corporation and Heart of N.C. Visitors Bureau.

The second floor historic courtroom can be used for public meetings.

Information based on histories of the courthouse written and compiled by Mac Whatley.

the best of times, the worst of times

The Franklinsville Manufacturing Company burns.

Dickens got it right, didn’t he?

Things get better, then they get worse; we take one step forward and two steps back.  Or is that two steps forward and one step back?  Either way, it’s an ongoing battle and looking away, even for a moment, is dangerous.

Historic preservation is like that.  Every time I think we’re doing well, that things are moving forward and the public at large is beginning to understand why we do what we do, something comes up and throws me into a tailspin.  This time it was two somethings.

The first came on 2 September (2010) when the Franklinsville Manufacturing Company burned.  It was originally built in 1838, is listed on the National Register and was designated a Randolph County historic landmark in 2009.  Franklinville Fire Chief Kyle Dixon said at the time it was believed to be arson because there was no power to the structure.  Thankfully the Picker House, Picker House Annex and Opening Room were saved; they’re part of Phase I of the restoration plan.

Still, it’s a loss — to the Randolph Heritage Conservancy, which owns the mill and has been raising money to restore it, to the family of the people who once worked there (the mill ceased manufacturing in the 1970s) and to the people of Randolph County.  A part of our heritage was lost that morning to someone else’s carelessness.

The second came from partway across the country, from Waukesha, Wisconsin.  The local Landmarks Commission and local YMCA are battling over the fate of 1929 Tudor Revival gas station.  Yes, you read that part correctly; once upon a time, gas stations were often built to mimic the residences in the neighborhood (a practice that, in my opinion, should never have gone out of style).  While certainly less tragic, it hit me hard — not because I have any connections to the place or champion early 20th century gas stations, but because I thought we as a society had come further than that.  I thought we were learning to compromise.

Obviously not.