By Dennis Seid
STARKVILLE – Unlike many of its contemporaries, Oktibbeha County’s courthouse isn’t a grand, imposing structure dominating the downtown skyline of Starkville, the county seat.
Still, the two-story courthouse with a Greek Revival facade has been a familiar one since 1964, and its location at the corner of Main and Washington streets has been a benchmark for more than a century.
Three other courthouses have stood in the same location.
Sitting in front of the building is a 1,000-pound bell mounted on top of a column from the courthouse that stood on the spot from 1901-1964.
The bell reportedly could be heard from as far as five miles away.
The E.W. Vanduzen Co. of Cincinnati made the bell, which was housed in the tower of the old courthouse, whose pinnacle soared 98 feet, according to Ruth Morgan, whom many consider the county historian.
That courthouse was built for $30,000 at the turn of the 20th century. It featured a heavy paneled ceiling and a slate roof. However, it was deemed too expensive to maintain and was demolished.
The current courthouse is made of brick and concrete, with low ceilings and tile floors. No marble or granite decorate the building, although a decorative black wrought-iron railing leads visitors to the second floor’s two courtrooms.
The courthouse houses offices for the tax assessor, chancery clerk, veterans affairs and mapping and appraisal.
A courthouse annex was built six years ago nearby, where the circuit clerk’s office relocated.
But the 48-year-old courthouse at Main and Washington is getting a makeover of sorts.
Oktibbeha County Administrator Don Posey said a $285,000 grant will be used for much-needed renovations. It will be the first major renovation to the building since the 1980s, when an addition to the east side added a vault and what is now the Board of Supervisors boardroom.
“We’ll be painting and refurbishing the basement area where we keep some of our old records,” he said. “We’ll also be adding new shelves for our records, new tiles, and new flooring.”
It also will be temperature controlled.
The vault holds land and deed records and other information the public can access. Several computers also allow employees and visitors to find information in the vault, which is surrounded by hundreds of bound leather volumes containing information dating back more than 100 years.
A steel safe also sits on the floor of the vault. Filled on July 4, 1976, the time capsule is to be opened on July 4, 2076, when its contents will be revealed.
“I have no idea what’s in it,” Posey said. “But they didn’t want to put it in the ground.”
Oktibbeha County got its name from the creek in the northern part of the county which formed part of the boundary between the Chickasaw and Choctaw Indians. The creek, formerly known as Oktibbeha River, is now called Tibbee Creek.
The county was formally organized on Dec. 23, 1833, and the first court meeting was held in 1834. The following year, the county seat was established in what was then Boardtown. It was renamed Starkville after Revolutionary War Gen. John C. Stark.
A one-room log building served as the community’s first jail and courthouse.
Three major downtown fires in 1975, 1893 and 1927 destroyed a total of 56 buildings and caused thousands of dollars in damage. The 1893 fire destroyed all historical records at the time.
Posey said its important to keep what records remain safe and secure, and the renovation to the basement will do just that.