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Picturing the Past 68: Courthouse then and now

Posted Tuesday, July 6, 2010, at 4:13 PM

(Photo)
Bedford County Courthouse as it was being constructed in 1872. (Photo by G.W. Jones Jr., submitted by Jerry Cook)
Over the past week I've seen two old photos of Bedford County Courthouse and have read (in the T-G's Bicentennial history book, which is now available) of how its walls were incorporated into the current mid-1930s vintage courthouse built after the 1934 riots.

But I've wondered: How much of the old courthouse is part of today's structure?

Maybe the answer lies in comparing photos from 1872, 1929 and now. I've attempted to shoot current photos from angles of two old photos.

Here's the courthouse as it was being constructed in June 1872, photographed by "resident artist' G.W. Jones Jr. of Shelbyville and contributed today by Jerry Cook. According to a caption under the photo, the courthouse was 100 feet long and 78 feet wide and construction began in December 1869.

Photobucket

And the courthouse today. Note the second-story windows and the tops of the columns today appear similar to the 1872 photo -- and note the similar location of a chimney. Looks like the second story wall, at least on this side, may have remained intact.

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The same courthouse as the first photo, this time from the south side on Sunday morning, December 22, 1929 as Rotary Club members prepared to sell the "Big Brothers" edition of The Tennessean. This continued as late as the 1970s or 1980s and you either left money outside your home or risked being awakened by an early-morning knock on the door. Front row, from left, H.S. Gunn, Tom Turner, C.R. Wood, William Parker, Virgil Hastings, Prentice Cooper. J.O. Davis, S.D. McGrew, W.C. Hale, E.W. Goodwin; second row, Joe Bailey, Amos Brown, Walter Lynch, J.F. Wheatley, B.M. Robinson, C.W. Phillips, Robert Moore, Embry Lynch; back row, Aubrey Jordon, A.F. Brazleton, Bain Stewart, John Cowan, Fred Stong, Ivan Potts. The photo, originally shot by Dickerson Studios, was used in our print edition last week in a story on how the old Rotary Club has been merged recently with the Breakfast Rotary Club.

Notice what appear to be thick wooden doors, and imagine a crowd trying to break them down five years later nearly to the day.

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Today the south end looks almost totally different from the older version of the courthouse. Even the shapes of the windows appear different. Same angle as the 1929 photo, but I'm intentionally showing more of the building.

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UPDATE: A few hours after I originally posted, contributor marnold1118 emailed this great photo of the courthouse's remains after the fire. It looks like those bottom columns were replaced.

Regardless of how much remains, the courthouse still serves its purpose, and business is still conducted in the same location where those who built this city and county operated.

Picturing the Past is featured each Tuesday in the blog. Reader submissions are welcome.


Comments
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The court house in Grundy County was burned twice. The first time was in 1853 which distroyed my family history on the Cherokee nation side. The second was in 1990.

The Bedford County Court House was distroyed by tornado in 1830 and by fire in 1863.

-- Posted by bear on Tue, Jul 6, 2010, at 5:31 PM

David, that is a great pictorial of the faces of the Courthouse through the years. I have always thought that the main distinguishing feature of the different buildings was the length of the columns both upper and lower.

I sure am glad that I was able to obtain one of the limited edition lighted figurines of the courthouse that was put out a few years ago by Our Town.

My Daddy was a Mason and I can remember that he always participated in the Big Brother Paper Sale back in the late 50s and early 60s. I do not know if they were working in conjunction with the Rotarians or if it had changed hands to the Shriners at that time or not.

-- Posted by leeiii on Tue, Jul 6, 2010, at 7:51 PM

Nice job David.......

-- Posted by Bjaj1 on Tue, Jul 6, 2010, at 9:33 PM

My couriosity gets me as to why they would have replaced the lower columns and not the upper columns also. I can't tell, but it looks like they lowered the porch at the south end also?

-- Posted by Sharon22 on Wed, Jul 7, 2010, at 8:51 AM

This is an interesting discussion. I've never read anything about how much of the old building was salvaged and used in the current courthouse (has anyone else?). If you look closely at the burned-out building, you can see some fairly significant damage to the upper walls on the right side of the photo. Notice the pile of brick on the ground. I would tend to think that the extreme heat of the fire would affect the stability of the mortar and the integrity of the walls. However, I've never seen a photo of construction of the new courthouse except for one like David used in this blog, where the building is nearly complete. I do know there were news articles telling about the building when the contract was let back in the 30's. We need to reread those to see if there is a clue.

-- Posted by marnold1118 on Wed, Jul 7, 2010, at 9:47 AM

I enjoyed seeing the pictures. Especially, the pic with the local men. Sure brings back memories of most of them. I remember when boys would play a game where they would craw walk up between two columns that were close each other. The contest was to see how high one could climb.

-- Posted by Grits on Wed, Jul 7, 2010, at 8:15 PM

Thanks David for publishing my 1872 Courthouse photo. This is an original photo and the only one that I know exists. The Bedford County Times for Feb. 14, 1935 published an article, taken from the Nashville Banner, which has the architect's drawing for the new 1935 courthouse, after it burned in Dec. 1934. The article gives this information which I quote in parts. "The new Bedford County Courthouse at Shelbyville will have very much the same appearance as the old structure--said to have been a modified plan of the State Capitol--except that the new building, after the plans of Marr and Holman, Nashville architects, will have three stories instead of two as formerly." "Work on the new building will begin shortly after April 1, (1935), at which time bids will be received by the architects, and will require six months to complete".... "The old walls will be retained and the damaged portions replaced. The stone piers and the Corinthian columns of the old structure will be retained, and the tower and clock will be rebuilt. The new building will be fireproof throughout, even to the windows and doors, and the interior will be modernized. The addition of a third story will be accomplished without raising the walls, as the ceilings in the old building were unusually high." It may be noted here by Highway64--the limestone columns on the lower floor were removed and replaced. You can still see these massive stones all around Shelbville and there are even some stones from these Courthouse columns in the entrance gate of Willow Mount Cemetery. This research, however, still does not answer if the original 1872 bricks were actually removed, all the way, and then replaced back into position with new mortar---I don't have an answer for that.

-- Posted by Highway64 on Wed, Jul 7, 2010, at 11:13 PM

Grits, since you mentioned the columns that were close together it reminded me that rumor has it that back in the late 40s or early 50s there were some knuckleheads that suspended a big roll (300 to 500) of firecrackers between those columns which were close together and set them off in plain view of the Police Station which was across the street.

Highway64, that is some good information. Good job, and thanks for the picture.

-- Posted by leeiii on Thu, Jul 8, 2010, at 6:06 AM

I was going to ask if anyone knew when the rock columns were replaced on the lower level of the courthouse but then I read Highway64's comment. I thought maybe I had remembered seeing the original columns before they replaced but I guess not because I wasnt born until mid 1960's. Maybe it was the columns at Willow Mount that I am thinking of and just didnt realize they came from the courthouse photos that I may have seen from the past. Anyone know where any other stones are around Shebyville as Highway64 says there is?

-- Posted by AmericanWoman on Thu, Jul 8, 2010, at 9:43 AM

Wasn't the old jail constructed out of limestone rock from a quarry on Highway 64?

-- Posted by Tim Lokey on Thu, Jul 8, 2010, at 1:06 PM

The 1872 limestone columns on the first floor level of the Bedford County Courthouse were removed at the time the new 1935 structure was built. The first floor columns on the present Courthouse, that we see today, are shown in the architect drawing that was published in the Bedford County Times for Feb. 14, 1935. These 1872 columns were not a single tall unit, instead they were made up of sections stacked on top of each other until they made the columns. When they were dismantled and removed in 1935 they came down in sections. Many of these units can still be seen around Shelbyville. Two of the monuments standing on the lawn of the Courthouse were made from these columns. One is the American Legion monument on the southeast corner of the courthouse lawn, erected here in memory of the men who served in the World War of 1914-1918. This was erected here on Nov. 11, 1935, the same year the new courthouse was built. The second monument is on the southwest corner of the courthouse lawn and is dedicated to the Shelbyville Rebels, Co. F. of the 41st Tenn. Reg.of the Civil War. Both of these monuments are made from the stones of the 1872 Courthouse columns, with the exception of the caps. As I stated in my previous blog, four of the Courthouse stone units are in the entrance of Willow Mount Cemetery. These act as a base for the different materials constructed on top of them, forming the columns of the entrance. In July 1941 the Shelbyville Garden Club ran an article in the Bedford County Times requesting these stones: "Stones from the courthouse columns, which were discarded when the stucture was remodeled, are being sought by the Shelbyville Garden Club to complete the entrance to Willow Mount Cemetery....The Garden Club has asked that anyone who can supply the stones necessary to complete the undertaking, or who knows where they may be procured".... The Garden Club only received four sections for the cemetery. A pair of the Courthouse columns are also at the entrance drive of the American Legion Building on Kingree Rd. They are very impressive. Two pair of the Courthouse columns are at the entrance of a private drive about two miles west of Shelbyville on the Warner's Bridge Road, near where the Southern Render Company use to be located. There are four units of stones at the entrance of Fritzsche Mobile Home Park on East Lane St. There is also a pair of courthouse columns at South Brittain and Audubon Rd, acting as the entrance to Audubon Rd. Here is also several of the units used to line the road into Audubon Rd. These are on the ground, lined side by side, and appears to have been halfed, but not sure about this. I am not real sure about the columns at the Prentice Cooper house on East Lane St. and on the adjacent property once known as the Whitthorne place. I would almost have to say, but am not sure, they are from the 1872 courthouse columns. There may be other stones that I am not aware of. After thinking about my statement yesterday about the removal of the bricks from the burned out building for the new 1935 structure, I feel sure they were all removed and cleaned and reused on the new facade. The design of the building almost dictates their removal for reuse. I can prove only the stones used in the Willow Mount Cemetery entrance are from the Courthouse columns, but the rest, I can only prove from an educated observation and examination.

-- Posted by Highway64 on Thu, Jul 8, 2010, at 10:41 PM

Highway64, thanks for that information. I have observed every one of those stones in their present location, but I never knew where they came from.

-- Posted by leeiii on Fri, Jul 9, 2010, at 6:39 AM

Please excuse me for changing the subject. I received my copy of the book "Shelbyville 200 Years of Memories 1810-2010" in the mail yesterday and I have now finished going through it. Kudos to everyone who had a hand in birthing this great book. It is a welcome addition to my library of all things Shelbyville and Bedford County.

-- Posted by leeiii on Fri, Jul 9, 2010, at 8:15 AM

Thank You Highway64 for telling us where you think the other courthouse stones are. I have seen them all except for maybe the ones you mentioned that are at a private drive.

-- Posted by AmericanWoman on Fri, Jul 9, 2010, at 9:19 AM

Thanks, Highway 64. I never imagined that the bricks from those columns can still be seen around Shelbyville today.

-- Posted by David Melson on Fri, Jul 9, 2010, at 10:31 AM

This is an interesting thread, but I don't have anything to add... except that my mom and dad were married in Dec. 1934, right after the courthouse burned, and neither one had a birth certificate. They had to get affidavits of who they were (and how old) from older people in town, who had known them from birth -- like Dr. Avery and W.J. McGill. From what I've heard, their own parents weren't supposed to testify on the matter.

In regard to "Shelbyville 200 Years of Memories 1810-2010," there has been no mention of it in the online version of the T-G since about April. If y'all would post some ordering information, some of us who are never actually there would order it.

-- Posted by razyn on Fri, Jul 9, 2010, at 4:17 PM

razyn, that is interesting. My Mom and Dad were married on December 23, 1934. They obtained their marriage license just the week before the courthouse burned. By the way, I enjoyed the write-up that you did for your family.

As for the book. The T-G ran a pre-order form for several days before the books came out. Most usually it was found deep in the paper, and you had to go through the whole paper to find it. That information was $35.00 for the book and $7.50 for shipping and handling by check or Credit Card. The ordering address was Shelbyville Times-Gazette, Shelbyville Bicentennial Book, PO Box 380, Shelbyville, TN 37162

-- Posted by leeiii on Fri, Jul 9, 2010, at 5:35 PM

I got my copy of the Bicentennial book -- thanks for posting the ordering info. I was surprised to see that the editor did a good bit of rewriting of what I submitted -- don't see how she found the time, given the quick turnaround from the "call for papers," as it were, to the finished product. I only knew about this project around the first of April, and the book was out by the end of June.

I was sorry to see, in a photo caption, my dad accused of marrying Miss Sarah Thomas -- since about fifty years of Shelbyville Central HS attendees know she was never married. And my late mom's brother Ed Huffman, among many others yet living, knows better.

On the other hand, I was pleasantly surprised to see that almost all of the photos I sent were actually printed -- and the color ones are still in color. I've sometimes been (justly) accused of hanging on to too much old junk. Seeing some of my miscellaneous mementos (mainly, those of the Shelbyville Harness Company) preserved in this way is a treat. Now, EVERYBODY gets to hang on to my old junk. Bwah hah hah...

-- Posted by razyn on Wed, Jul 21, 2010, at 4:35 AM

razyn, Yes, the news of Miss Thomas being married also jumped out at me.

Just keep on hanging on to your junk. Maybe one day both you and I along with several others might be considered for the show "Hoarding". I have already told my family that if we ever build another house, I am going to build one with more corners so I will have a place to put more "junk".

-- Posted by leeiii on Wed, Jul 21, 2010, at 8:22 AM

My father, Hugh Ell Finney said he helped set the globe on the top of the court house after it was built. He owned and operated the Grill on main street around 1940, 41, and 1942. It was located about where O'rileys Auto Parts is. leeiii, I worked at Renagars Drugs on Madison in 1949 and I think you did too. Was Don Renegar our boss

-- Posted by ifitis on Mon, Jul 26, 2010, at 11:49 PM

ifitis, No, I was there from about 1957 to 1959. Morton Renegar was the owner and my boss.

-- Posted by leeiii on Tue, Jul 27, 2010, at 6:33 AM


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David Melson is a copy editor and staff writer for the Times-Gazette.