published Friday, November 16th, 2012

Centennial exhibit opens at Hamilton County Courthouse

Pam Hurst, left, and Alan Knowles, right, look at photos surrounding Hamilton County history in an exhibit in the Hamilton County Courthouse rotunda Thursday. The unveiling of the exhibit marked the kick-off of a yearlong celebration of the courthouse's 100th year.
Pam Hurst, left, and Alan Knowles, right, look at photos surrounding Hamilton County history in an exhibit in the Hamilton County Courthouse rotunda Thursday. The unveiling of the exhibit marked the kick-off of a yearlong celebration of the courthouse's 100th year.
Photo by Allison Love.

FAST FACTS

* The Hamilton County seat was first located at Poe's Tavern in Soddy-Daisy in 1819, then moved to Hixson, then to Harrison and finally to Chattanooga after the Civil War.

* The old county courthouse burned after lightning struck the clock tower in 1910.

* The "new" courthouse was designed by architect R.H. Hunt, who also designed Chattanooga's Sailors and Soldiers Auditorium and U.S. Post Office and Courthouse, among other local buildings.

* The total construction cost for the courthouse was $350,000.

IF YOU GO

The Hamilton County Courthouse Centennial Exhibit is on the second floor at the courthouse, at 625 Georgia Ave.

When Hamilton County residents first filed into their new county courthouse in November 1913, they "gazed with admiration at the tiled floors and marble walls," and "opened their mouths in astonishment" when they beheld the glass rotunda in the building's center.

A glowing review of "Hamilton County's Imposing New Marble Temple of Justice" in the Chattanooga News the next day describes residents gushing about the structure, "inwardly complimenting themselves that the county was so comfortably and luxuriously fixed in her new home."

Hamilton County officials are hoping to rekindle admiration for the century-old building during its yearlong celebration of its centennial, which was kicked off Thursday with the unveiling of a new historical exhibit.

The cornerstone for the building was laid in 1912. Next November, the county hopes to have a larger celebration to commemorate its completion.

For months, county public relations director Gina Hatler and a committee have been compiling historical photos and documents to showcase the history of the county seat, past leaders and the various courthouse buildings over the years.

"I learned so many interesting stories about this place," said Hatler, pointing out the foyer window. "The old stone wall out there? It was never finished because the contractor went insane and greatly underbid the job."

Hatler said she had the help from many county employees who have studied the area's history in depth, including longtime County Clerk Bill Knowles, who has the Nov. 22, 1913, edition of the Chattanooga News hanging in his office.

"Five thousand people came to see the courthouse when it was first built," said Knowles. "It's pretty remarkable."

Items from the exhibit range from a photo of World War I soldiers gathered on the courthouse lawn for a concert in 1919 to the history and lore surrounding the statues and fountains on the property.

Mayor Jim Coppinger said that the exhibit was filled with memorabilia he had never seen before.

"Oh, this is quite a shot here," he said grinning as he looked at a photo of the County Commission from the 1970s.

The next event for the centennial celebration will be a Christmas open house in December.

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