Courthouse demolition bittersweet for many in Calhoun County

I don't have the same deep roots in Calhoun County as did my many friends on the Pittsboro Square early Monday morning, but I shared their bittersweet feelings watching demolition begin on unquestionably the most identifiable landmark for the county.

The old, white, barn-like courthouse has never been the most architectually pleasing building to look at, but it's ours. And that's all it takes to make it a special place.
Thirsting for more courthouse history, I called on Tommy Hallum, a long time Calhoun County Journal employee, former chancery clerk and local historian who never fails me.
This time was no exception as he handed me pages of fascinating stories.
The portion I didn't know was about the village of Hartford, modern day Old Town, and how it was the first unofficial county seat.
A letter from Chickasaw County legislator J.A. Orr described the "aspiring little city"  as the "head of navigation on the Loosa Scoona river from which many keel boat bore hundreds of bales of cotton to New Orleans."
Legend has it that a log building at Hartford, near the late Howard and Betty Allen's current home, served as the courthouse.
In 1852, when the Legislature officially created Calhoun from Chickasaw, Lafayette and Yalobusha counties, the Board of Police set the county seat in modern day Pittsboro because of its central location and the 140 acres donated by Ebenezer Gaston. The new county seat was first named Orrsville in honor of the legislator, but was later changed to Pittsboro to honor inaugural board members Lawrence Brasher and Sidney Brantley who were natives of Pittsboro, North Carolina.
The first official courthouse was built later that year. Prior to the current courthouse project, it was the only other original building specifically built by the county for that purpose. The courthouse currently being torn down was a compilation of existing buildings consolidated for courthouse purposes. That was a result of the devastating fire on Dec. 22, 1922 that completely destroyed the 1852 courthouse and virtually all of its records.
The fascinating stories from former chancery Clerk C.D. "Ches" Ellard in a 1977 article in The Journal and memories from Ora B. Ligon Bryant and her sister Gladys Ligon Gaston are too lengthy for me to share in this article.
Briefly, Ellard rushed into the 1 a.m. courthouse fire to try and save as many records as possible and had to leap through a window to escape with his life. The Ligon sisters watched the fire from the window of the Ligon hotel on the southwest corner of the Square.
The courthouse then moved into the former Calhoun Monitor building on the west side of the Square. Then the county took in the J.L. Johnson law office in the First State Bank of Pittsboro building, where the old white courthouse currently sits. Later a mercantile building and the Farmers Bank office in that location were also taken in. All of those structures were converted into the unified courthouse we know today in 1939 by the Works Progress Administration. The large courtroom on the west side of the building was added in 1974.
Watching all of that history reduced to a pile of rubble caused me to reflect on my relatively brief history with the building – coming in the back door of Debbie Dunn's office to visit with her and her staff or get court information, catching up on the supervisors latest activity in Martha Martin's office, hearing the floors creak as I entered Bill Malone's office, and mostly sitting on the benches out front of the board room with the late Howard Morgan talking about most everything.
New stories will evolve in the modern facility. I hope it becomes as memorable as the old one.

You may email Joel McNeece at

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