By EMILY TUBB
ABERDEEN – Built in 1857, the Monroe County Courthouse is the oldest remaining continuous use courthouse in the state, notwithstanding some adjustment periods along the way.
It also has the second oldest active balcony in the state.
“I started here in 1978. The biggest change has been the conversion to electronic methods,” said Monroe County Circuit Clerk Judy Butler. “Everything used to be all paper and now almost nothing is. The courthouse has been renovated and updated, but it’s still basically the same.”
The cornerstone of the “great Temple of Justice” had many memorials of the day and time deposited into it, and was laid by Columbus Sykes Esq., on behalf of the Masonic Order. In 1938, the cornerstone was removed for the reconstruction of the east wall. The contents inside, examined by Dr. W.A. Evans and Aberdeen Examiner editor H.B. Sanders, consisted of moldy records, tarnished coins, medals and other items.
Later, the board of supervisors wanted a clock added to the structure and agreed with the city of Aberdeen to pay two-thirds of the cost, with the city paying the rest. At $800, the bell weighed more than 1,000 pounds and was considered one of the largest in the state. People claimed it could be heard for five miles on a calm day. That original bell was replaced in 1895.
The courthouse originally had columns supporting the roof of a wide portico, but they eventually deteriorated to such a point that the area had to be removed.
In 1978, the Mississippi Department of Archives and History nominated the courthouse an outstanding example of a Greek Revival public building. The interior of the structure reflects elements of Egyptian architecture by using pylon architraves. The foundation, originally set on brick piers, is now concrete.
The courthouse originally followed a four-room, center hall plan with three crossing halls. Throughout the years, though, various interior alterations have been made to meet increased space requirements. Only one of the original four stairways located in the front and rear crossing halls remains today. The others have been replaced with bathrooms, storage rooms and an elevator.
During the years, many changes have been made to this building known by some as “The Court House Palace.”
In 1901, a one-story brick wing was added to the north side of the main block and in 1941, a two-story stucco wing was added to the south side. In 1906, the steps leading into the courthouse were removed. In 1971, the front lawn of the courthouse was converted into a large paved parking lot.
Due to sound and lighting problems, the courthouse was renovated again in 2009. Most of the project involved reworking the entire courtroom.
An acoustical treatment was done on the top six feet of wall space to help with the sound problems. The floors were carpeted, the pews padded and drapes put on the windows also helped. A new audio/video system was added as well.
“The acoustics are much better. We can use the heat and air and still hear now,” Butler said.
New, energy-efficient lighting was added to the original ceiling casework, and four of the original fireplaces are now used for return air. The original clock and tower were reworked and the clock is now keeping time.
The overall effect is a return to the building’s original character and architectural integrity.