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History of the Anderson County Courthouse

By Kay Willis Burns

Friday, November 9, 2018, 9:16AM

While the location of the Anderson courthouse has remained the same, the building itself has undergone a number of alterations and renovations. The decision to place the courthouse where it now stands was more or less a compromise between two preferred locations. Several historians provided the story of the Anderson commissioners having diffculty deciding on whether to construct the County Seat at White Hall (which was — according to Frank Dickson in "Journey into the Past: Anderson Region’s Heritage" — the current location of the Pruitt Shopping Center) or to build closer to what is now the area of Orr Mill.

The commissioners grew tired of riding back and forth on horseback between the two sites, and decided to rest in a tavern located near- what is now- the Masonic Temple on Benson Street. The debate over locations continued at the tavern until one of the frustrated commissioners walked a few yards out of the tavern and declared that that would be the site of the southeast corner of the building. The other commissioners agreed, and so the land for the new Anderson County Courthouse was purchased for $4.625 cents per acre.

The courthouse was completed and the first court inside the new building was held on Monday, October 3, 1828. While historian Louise Vandiver claims the first courthouse was built of logs, historian Frank Dickson believed that brick would have been used for at least part of the building materials. A jailhouse was included in the courthouse. It was located where the Woolworth’s building used to be in the 1960’s. The jail was relocated in 1850 to accommodate for more commerce in the downtown area.

Also in 1850, a grand edifice was added and the building’s brick walls were plastered over and painted white. Four large Grecian columns were erected on a portico at each end. Two curving flights of ornamental iron stairs were installed at both entrances and ran from the ground to the second story which housed the only courtroom. Doors beneath the stairs led to offices within the building. On the buildings western end, a belfry tower was added with a large bell that could be rung to signify the time, or to notify citizens of special events such as weddings or funerals or to sound a civil defense alert or fire alarm.

By the 1890’s, the courthouse was deemed to be inadequate for the business of one of the richest and most prosperous counties of the South. So in 1896, a one-mill property tax was authorized for a six-year period to finance a new facility. In April, 1897, after the public approval on a referendum (850-yes; 617- no), the old courthouse was demolished.

In 1898, a mid-Victorian style courthouse was built on the site of the old one at a cost of $26,000. The architect, Frank P. Milburn, had used the same courthouse design to construct the courthouse in Forsyth County, NC the previous year, and purchased the building plans from Winston-Salem for $50. Upon the Anderson County Courthouse’s completion, Milburn again sold the plans to Washington, Georgia whose courthouse construction reflects great similarity to that of Anderson and Forsyth counties.

To save money in the new courthouse, steam heat was omitted from all rooms except the courtroom, and every office had a fireplace. When the courthouse almost caught fire in 1902, the fireplaces were replaced with stoves, which were used until 1920 when a central heating system was installed. The courthouse was again remodeled in 1904 at cost of $100,000.

In 1937, a courthouse building commission proposed erecting a new courthouse and demolishing the current building. But by 1938, the plan changed and the

building was again renovated to include an addition, built on the east side of the building in 1939. The annex and façade renovation occurred in 1940, providing for the appearance that the courthouse has today.

The construction of a new courthouse in 1991 provided the county with opportunity to renovate the almost 100-year-old building, now one of the county’s best-loved symbols. The ‘historic’ courthouse, as it is now known, needed an extended face-lift and in 1992 the building was renovated with $1,000,000 appropriated by the Anderson County Council in bonded indebtedness. Much needed upgrading of the building's electrical and plumbing systems was completed, and parts of the tile roof were replaced while the entire building was repainted and refinished.

Today, the historic courthouse of Anderson County contains administrative offices of Anderson County government, and hosts County Council meetings on the first and third Tuesdays of each month.

Source: Anderson County's historical records.


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