The first Mitchell County Courthouse, built in 1869, served the county well until 1907 with the grand opening of the new Courthouse which was built on the site of the first courthouse. More than just a courtroom where justice was served, the building was a gateway to the lives of Mitchell County people.
It held records of their births, deaths, marriages, divorces, military service, property sales, and mineral rights. Minutes of the County Commissioners were kept there also. It was where young men reluctantly or bravely went to sign up for the draft and where other young men gathered on their way to war.
Over the years, the bell in the familiar cupola called people to court. It also was rung to celebrate many a New Year’s Day as well as the end of the First and Second World Wars. It was used by the Town of Bakersville to call residents to fight fires, including the night in 1922 when much of the town was destroyed and the Courthouse itself was in danger.
Music groups including Arthur Smith, Bill Monroe, and Roy Acuff played and sang for appreciative audiences in the only space in the area that could accommodate the shows. The Methodist Church South congregation used the courtroom in the mid 1920’s while their new church building was constructed following damage to the first church during the May 1901 flood.
After Mitchell County built a new Courthouse in 2003, the faithful building stood proud but neglected. Rains damaged once beautiful tin ceilings and threatened foot-thick walls of brick and plaster. Fortunately, the original builders had completed their work so well that the building withstood the assaults on its structure while waiting patiently for rescue.
With input from the citizens of Mitchell County, the Board of Commissioners leased the building on a long-term basis to the Mitchell County Historic Courthouse Foundation, a non-profit organization which took responsibility for raising the necessary funds to completely renovate the building and make it available for community use.
In Fall 2006, the Foundation formed a 501(c) (3) organization to raise money for renovation and to determine how the building would be used. “Our intention is to create a space that will contribute to the entire County by promoting education, economic development, and appreciation for our heritage,” said George Wilson, Bakersville Alderman and Foundation Board Member. “This building is more than a historical site, it is a place that will continue to contribute to the entire County for many years.”
While maintaining the historical character of the building was important, making sure it was renovated with the most recent environmentally responsible techniques and materials possible was the goal of the Mitchell County Historic Courthouse Foundation. This included a geothermal HVAC system, first in the County in a public building. Also, low VOC paint, water efficient toilets, special floor and wall treatments, and insulated windows and doors to save money plus provide the public with a healthy and energy efficient environment.
In a little over 3 years, the Foundation raised nearly $1,000,000 thru grant and foundation contributions. Less than 1% of the total costs for restoration came from local tax sources. Notable among organizations that believed in the Foundation’s campaign theme, Putting Heritage to Work, were the NC Center for Rural Development, HandMade in America, the Janirve Foundation, the SECU Foundation, and the Samuel Phillips Family Foundation. The Foundation also received funds from Project Broadband USA.
In 2015, the Historic Courthouse was returned to the County; the Department of Elections is housed there, and space is provided for the Mitchell County Historical Society and the Rural Education Partnership. The courtroom continues to be used for a wide variety of public events and gatherings. The goal of the Foundation to keep the building working for the people of Mitchell County continues to be a reality.