Headline: Courthouse reflects county's rich heritage
By Barbara Harrington
Thursday, April 9, will be a wonderful day for historic preservation in Mississippi and for the citizens of Monroe County.
These are the words of Elbert Hilliard, director emeritus of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH), concerning a dedication ceremony for the renovated courtroom at the Monroe County Courthouse.
"My only wish is that Miss Lucille Peacock, Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Hamilton, and Mrs. Helen Crawford were still with us to attend the dedication," Hilliard said. All three of these women have been instrumental in historic preservation of county landmarks and recording the history of Aberdeen and Monroe County.
"Monroe County has a rich heritage, much of which is intertwined with the Monroe County Courthouse," Hilliard said. "The Monroe County Board of Supervisors and other county officials, along with the interested and concerned citizens of the county, are to be commended for their commitment to restore this landmark building in a manner that preserves its architectural integrity.
"The supervisors are to be commended for engaging Belinda Stewart to serve as the project architect. Belinda has done a magnificent job."
Stewart's firm, Belinda Stewart Architects, P.A. of Eupora, has been working on the project for a good while, about four or five years, studying the existing facility and putting together the work that was to be done, from needs at the courthouse and in keeping with guidelines of MDAH for National Register buildings.
"We knew what we needed to do, but the money was not there," she said. "We also helped the county search for and write grants. We were lucky to get those. Then we were able to proceed with putting together documents for the project. Construction lasted almost a year."
Stewart said it is a very significant courthouse for the state as well as locally, and believes it is the oldest remaining continuous use courthouse in the state. She said there are two others with similar design, one in Jacinto and the other in Carroll County, but neither serve as courthouses any longer.
"They are similar in character," Stewart said, "and are all really great examples of courthouses done in that time, before the Civil War, when counties were in the birthing stages."
Stewart said Holly Hawkins, with her firm, handled the Monroe County project and did a great job.
"It's breathtaking," Stewart said of the renovated courtroom. "I think it's an incredible space, and to see it opened back up with its original character is wonderful. The county has done a great job when they've had to modify it over the years. They have been careful to cut around original fixtures."
She called the new - and old - design simple, but elegant.
"Built in 1857, the courthouse is a veritable catalog of the various elements and influences that are characteristic of the Greek Revival period of American architecture," Hilliard said.