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Book showcases county courthouses

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A book of the history of West Virginia courthouses might not be the stuff of best-sellers, but don't sell it short.

"The stories in this book are not quite as dry as in a regular history book. This is not like a textbook," said Melissa Smith, executive director of the West Virginia Courthouse Facilities Improvement Authority.

"Living Monuments: The Courthouses of West Virginia" is a colorful 196-page book, packed with photographs of courthouses in each of the state's 55 counties, that is being released this week.

The West Virginia Association of Counties supported the book, written by Debra and Richard Warmuth. Patricia L. Hamilton, executive director of the West Virginia Association of Counties, hopes the book promotes a renewed interest in the state's history.

Hamilton said her organization plans to present the new book to libraries, eighth grade history classes and historical societies throughout the Mountain State.

"The courthouse is usually the most elaborate and beautiful building in the county," Michael Workman, a West Virginia State University professor, wrote in a chapter about the history of courthouses.

Mountain State courthouses have a "wonderful diversity," Workman said, in part reflecting "the period of construction, the wealth of the county, the knowledge and attitude of those who commissioned the buildings and the imagination and vision of their architects."

Some courthouses are relatively simple, Workman said, but others show a variety of styles, including Georgian, Federal, Greek, Gothic, Romanesque, Italianate, Colonial, Neo-Classical, Beaux Arts, Art Deco and Modern.

"Living Monuments" focuses on the history of each courthouse, citing the years when each one was built and featuring photographs displaying various styles of architecture, outside and inside each building.

Many sections include photographs of previous county courthouses. Chapters also feature photographs of historic items on courthouse grounds today, including statues, stone monuments, large bells, clocks, war memorials and Civil War cannons.

One photograph features a couple taking their wedding vows inside the historic Berkeley County Courthouse, constructed in 1855 and 1856 -- before West Virginia became a state.

The oldest courthouses, Smith said, are in Charles Town in Jefferson County, Lewisburg in Greenbrier County and Wellsburg in Brooke County. They were completed in 1836, 1837 and 1849, respectively.

The Jefferson County Courthouse, "while having major changes, retains the basic structure of its 1836 construction. Originally, the ground floor was the courtroom and the site of the trial of John Brown," according to the new book. Brown led the raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, a pivotal event leading up to the Civil War.

The Kanawha County Courthouse in Charleston, completed in 1892, received major building additions in 1917 and 1924 that nearly tripled its size.

Some courthouses are much newer. The modern tan-and-yellow brick Lincoln County Courthouse in Hamlin and red brick Clay County Courthouse in Clay were finished in 1964 and 1978, respectively.

The Morgan County Courthouse in Berkeley Springs, completed in 2010, is the most recent. That building replaced one destroyed by a fire in 2006.

Among the other information in the book:

* The Calhoun County Courthouse in Grantsville was built by the Works Progress Administration, a New Deal agency under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, between 1940 and 1942 at a cost of $170,000.

* The grounds of the Fayette County Courthouse, completed in 1895, feature a statue of Marquis de Lafayette, the French statesman and "Friend of the American Revolution," after whom the county was named.

* The Hardy County Courthouse, built between 1911 and 1913, was the fourth courthouse built in Moorefield. The first one, built in 1786, was a two-story log structure measuring 26 feet by 20 feet. The nearby county jail was also built from logs.

* The Romanesque McDowell County Courthouse in Welch, completed in 1894, was built as newly completed railroads were sparking an economic boom by making it possible to ship millions of tons of coal. The steps leading up to the historic courthouse were the scene of the murders of Mingo County residents Sid Hatfield and Edward Chambers by coal-company Baldwin-Felts guards during the 1921 Mine Wars. 

Taylor Books will host a program about the new book on Saturday between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. at 226 Capitol St. in downtown Charleston. The book's selling price is $35. Taylor Books will grant its current 20 percent discount on all purchases, bringing the price down to $28.

"Living Monuments" will also be sold on the Capitol grounds during Saturday's Sesquicentennial celebration.

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.

 


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