NEWBERRY — The Old Court House, one of the historic buildings at the heart of downtown Newberry, was the fourth and final structure to stand on that piece of land.
Local historian Ernest Shealy said the three buildings that preceded it were a log cabin, a wooden barn-like structure and a structure designed by Robert Mills.
“The granite blocks that form a terrace behind the Old Court House came from the jail that was there during the Robert Mills Court House,” Shealy said. “This was a separate building behind the Old Court House, which was further up at the time. When they tore down the Mills Court House, they moved the jail to Harrington Street.”
The Old Court House was given a historic marker in 1970 by the Newberry Civic League. The text states:
Designed by Jacob Graves and built by John Damron, Newberry County’s fourth courthouse was erected in 1852. It replaced an earlier building on this site which was probably designed by Robert Mills. The Old Court House is now used as a community hall. The bas-relief, added by Osborne Wells, is said to depict the prostrate state held by the federal eagle, the gamecock defiantly representing the spirit of South Carolina.
The current structure, now home to the Newberry County Chamber of Commerce, was built in 1852. Shealy says the structure is an example of Greek Revival. The inside of the building was simple with the courtroom upstairs and offices downstairs.
The structure stood for many years before being damaged by fire.
“In 1879 a fire on Caldwell Street, where the Old Court House sits, destroyed the hotel and what is now Figaro’s. The heat from that fire damaged the front of the Court House so they did some remodeling,” Shealy said.
Architect Osborne Wells, hired to remodel the courthouse, added what Shealy called an interesting take on justice: A relief that depicts an eagle uprooting a Palmetto tree with a gamecock on one end.
“This was a statement of political unrest in South Carolina at that time,” Shealy said.
The eagle is a representation of the United States and the Palmetto tree represented South Carolina. The gamecock was a representation of a South Carolina Revolutionary War emblem, something that showed our defiant spirit.
Eventually the county outgrew the building and a new one was built in the early 20th century. The building was not just left abandoned though. The American Legion used it as a meeting room and the library was downstairs for many years.
“Mary Ann Butler Evans was instrumental to get public restrooms in the Court House, so ladies had more than an outhouse to use,” Shealy said.
Today the building is Community Hall and Welcome Center. Ted Smith, executive director of the Newberry County Chamber of Commerce, is pleased to call the building home.
“My job is a pleasure in this old building. It is almost like you can hear people talking that were here 100 years ago,” Smith said. “When people first enter the door they say what a gorgeous little town and I am pleased to be a part of that, part of the history of this building.”
Reach Andrew Wigger at 803-276-0625 ext. 1867 or on Twitter @TheNBOnews.