Chattanooga Woodworking Academy builds replica of Hamilton County's first courthouse

Chattanooga Woodworking Academy builds replica of Hamilton County's first courthouse

March 21st, 2014 by David Cobb in Local Regional News

James Holland, left, stands as Nathan Govig uses a broad ax to chip away the facade while working to replicate the 1830 County Courthouse in Dallas in the parking lot of the Chattanooga Woodworking Academy. Once finished the log building will be on display in a local Hamilton County park.

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

Hamilton County's first county seat was in the home of Hasten Poe.

In 1822, the county court was moved to the farm of Asahel Rawlings, the newly appointed county clerk. The small town of Dallas sprang up around it. Dallas had a school, a church, several stores, a hotel, and a post office. The town died quickly after the county seat moved to Harrison in 1840. When TVA dammed the Tennessee River, the whole area around the former town was flooded.

In 1870, residents voted to move the county seat to Chattanooga.

Source: hamiltoncounty.gov.

With an electric saw humming in the background, Bill Carney points at a rendering of a historical building that his students at the state's only woodworking school are trying to re-create.

There is no way of knowing the precise intricacies of the pre-Civil War courthouse that anchored the now-submerged Hamilton County town of Dallas, but a group of aspiring craftsmen at Chattanooga Woodworking Academy are building a replica anyway.

"We don't know exactly what it looks like because all the records were burned in a fire in 1910," said Carney, dressed in overalls and sporting a sharp grasp of area history. "We're just going on family records, and we think we've got a pretty good picture of what it is."

The Chattanooga Woodworking Academy is a nonprofit, four-year school that opened in December 2012. Though its objective is to train highly skilled carpenters, the means it utilizes to achieve that are perhaps more unusual than its purpose.

Through projects like the Dallas courthouse and a re-creation of the historic Poe's Tavern in Soddy-Daisy, the carpenters are creating a future for themselves and helping others enjoy the past.

When the courthouse replica is close to completion, Carney and his 10 full-time students at the academy will move it from the school's south downtown Market Street location to Chester Frost Park. It will be as close as possible to where the original courthouse stood to give visitors a glimpse at Hamilton County's old county seat.

"It just makes it a lot more interesting and a lot more fun," Carney said of the projects he uses to teach his students the intricacies of the woodworking and carpentry industry.

"In particular in woodworking, you can't get training in Hamilton County," Carney said. "None of the high schools offer shop any more, so you don't get any of that background. It's hard to get good training, so consequently, not that many people go into it."

But Carney hopes the Chattanooga Woodworking Academy can help change that. He said there will always be a need for skilled carpenters and woodworkers. Hobbyist classes also are offered for part-time beginners who want to give it a try.

The 10 full-time students range from 19-40 in age and hail from five different states. They pay $2,500 per semester in tuition, though partial scholarships are available.

From there they'll go on to careers in cabinet and furniture making, become millwork specialists or wind up building log houses.

For Clark Holt, a 20-year-old graduate of Chattanooga Christian School who knew from the time he was young that he wanted to work with his hands, the school is almost to good to be true.

After high school he went to a carpentry school in Charleston, S.C., but decided to check out the Chattanooga Woodworking Academy as it got off the ground.

"It made sense to come down here, and I've learned 20 times as much so far as I did during my time in Charleston," he said. "I've loved it so far."

Contact staff writer David Cobb at dcobb@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731.