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County courthouse a rare part of history

Posted on Thursday, December 22, 2016 at 2:22 pm

The Metro Moore County Courthouse was completed in its current location in 1885 and has since gone through a number of additions, upgrades and repairs. Listed on the Historic Register, the courthouse is again in need of repairs, including the replacement of its 13 windows. (MCN Photo by Robert Holman)

The Metro Moore County Courthouse was completed in its current location in 1885 and has since gone through a number of additions, upgrades and repairs. Listed on the Historic Register, the courthouse is again in need of repairs, including the replacement of its 13 windows. (MCN Photo by Robert Holman)

LYNCHBURG, Tenn. — The 131-year old Moore County Courthouse is a county and national treasure. After Moore County’s creation in 1871, business and judicial issues were temporarily conducted at Tolley and Eaton Hall, known as “The Old Red Hall,” located between the former Welcome Center and the post office.

In 1875, the county purchased the Christian Church on the corner of Mechanic and Main Streets, which was to become the permanent courthouse. However, this building was destroyed by fire in 1883 and county business was once again in a temporary location — the community school on Mechanic Street.

In July, 1884, the county court secured land where the current public square and courthouse are located. A building committee was appointed and the contract was awarded to S.L.P. Garrett. The courthouse was reported complete on April 6, 1885 for a total cost of $6,875.

“We regard the work as well done and congratulate the county upon having the neatest, most convenient and with all, the cheapest courthouse in the state,” stated the committee report upon completion of the new building.

The new courthouse was a two-story brick structure, with county offices on the first floor and a courtroom on the second. Bricks for the courthouse were made locally and were mortared with sand and lime.

In 1931, the town of Lynchburg and the county government shared the cost to build a public toilet in the courthouse. In 1968, Frank Hice, a Lynchburg contractor, enlarged the building by adding a 38×18 foot addition to each side, using matching brick found in Shelbyville and foundation rock from Fayetteville.

According to Sheila Moore, the Metro Mayor’s secretary, when Peggy Gattis became mayor in 2002, one of her goals was the refurbishing and maintenance of the courthouse that she loved. She even organized bake sales to help raise money for needed projects.

Between 2005 and 2009, the building received a new roof and new floors and a handicap access bathroom. The Jack Daniel’s Distillery landscaped the courthouse grounds in 2009. Thanks to the efforts of business owner Samantha Fly and the donations of other local businesses and individuals, a chiming clock was added to the cupola in 2010.

Needing repair

Currently the courthouse windows are showing their age. The glass is thinning, but even more alarming, the wood frames around the glass are rotting and the window panes are in danger of falling out. Mayor Sloan Stewart approached Rebecca Gold-Johnson to find a grant that would target this problem.

As Moore County’s purchasing agent, grant writing and administration is one of Rebecca’s main responsibilities. This is a relatively new position which was funded in the 2015-16 budget. Gold-Johnson has been in the position since July 2015 and she has already assisted several county departments in obtaining grant money.

The United States Secretary of the Interior has the authority to allot federal money to assist states in the preservation of historic buildings. These funds are administered as grants by the Tennessee Historic Commission and the National Park Service.

Grant money available

The Moore County Courthouse is on the Historic Registry, which makes it eligible for historic preservation grants. Gold-Johnson contacted Teresa Prober, Historic Preservation Planner for the South Central Tennessee Development District. Prober supports historic preservation activities in the 13 counties in her district. She provided Gold-Johnson with information and an application for a preservation grant that would be appropriate for Moore County’s need.

Gold-Johnson explained that this is a matching grant. It can pay up to 60 percent of the total cost of the project, with the county paying the remaining 40 percent. Because there are 13 windows to be replaced, she will be requesting the maximum $70,000, with a $50,000 grant and $20,000 county split.

The grant application must be submitted no later than Jan. 31, 2017 and Gold-Johnson expects to learn the results in March or April. Upon notification that the funds for Moore County’s request will be awarded, the next step will be to put the project out to contractors for competitive bids.

Upholding tradition

Based on a plan drawn by a historic architect in 2005, Gold-Johnson knows that the replacement windows will include wood frames and glazed glass which will be as close to the original as possible. In order to keep the courthouse on the Historic Registry and in order to spend the grant money, she emphasized that any work done has to abide by guidelines established by the Secretary of the Interior.

“Our courthouse is very special,” said Gold-Johnson, pointing out that there are only a few remaining centralized courthouse squares and the fact that Moore County’s still functions as a courthouse is even rarer. “Part of keeping it as a working building is recognizing that it needs repairs and updates, while at the same time preserving the historic integrity of the building.”

The Moore County Historic Zoning Commission is in full support of this project. Gold-Johnson mentioned that the Commission has been working hard this year to meet certain guidelines that will allow them to become certified.

“If they receive the certification before this courthouse grant application deadline, it will give us extra points on our application,” she added.

There is competition among Tennessee’s 95 counties for grant money. Gold-Johnson says that an important part of the grant application is including letters of support from the community showing that Moore County residents are vested in preserving the courthouse. Priority is given to properties that have public use and public support.

Get involved

You can help by writing a short letter expressing your support for keeping the courthouse historic and in good condition. Letters can be mailed to: Rebecca Gold-Johnson, P.O. Box 206, Lynchburg, TN 37352 or taken to her office in the County Building.

They can also be taken to Mayor Sloan Stewart’s office in the courthouse. Please be sure Gold-Johnson has your letter by Jan. 18.

—Editor’s note: Additional thanks to Betty Robertson and George Stone for articles about the courthouse in The Heritage of Moore County, Tennessee, 1871-2004. Additional information from Joe Casey’s June 24, 2010 article in the Moore County News.

—By JUNE PUGH, MCN Contributor (jjpugh@bellsouth.net)

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---MCN Photo by Robert Holman

—MCN Photo by Robert Holman