September 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

I’ve posted before here and here about the renovation of the upstairs court room in the Clarke County Court House in Quitman. The photo to the right shows the court room when the renovation had just begun. You can see the plywood panelling that sheathed the room, as well as the placement of the jury box at that time. Glory be for the renovation!

The court room was encased in plywood panelling in the 1970’s. Before then, there was a large, pot-bellied stove in front of what you see in this photo as the witness stand. The stove provided heat for the entire court room. In cold weather, lawyers would stand by the stove and warm their hands during trials as they questioned witnesses (who sat on the judge’s left-hand side in those pre-panelling days) or addressed the jury. When the panelling was added, the ceiling was lowered and central air and heating were installed in the balcony. The lowered ceiling concealed the machinery, pipes and conduits. The panelling also concealed all of the windows, so that the court room was a fluorescent-lit, windowless chamber.

In the court room today, you can observe two doors, one in the jury box and one in the rear of the court room, that open out onto the balcony. Until those doors were concealed behind the panelling, it was the practice when court was called into session for the bailiff to go out on the balcony and announce loudly to the bystanders in the streets below that court was in session, and inviting all who may have any business to come forward and be heard.

By the 1990’s, before the addition to the east side of the building, with its new court room, the court house had fallen into a sad state of disrepair. Some of the windows behind the panelling were broken, letting in rain and inviting birds to nest in the walls. It was not uncommon to hear cooing pigeons throughout a trial. Eighteen-wheelers lumbering in low gear along Archusa Avenue in front of the building made the windows rattle and shake to such an extent that it was often necessary to pause in questioning a witness until they passed. The disrepair was not limited to the windows. In one case I tried, my client and I had to move our table several feet when a sudden thunderstorm sent a stream of water from the ceiling right onto my case file.

It’s all better now, thanks to forward-looking Clarke County leadership.


Thanks to George Warner, former DA and Chancellor, for some of these recollections.

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Ivey


September 26, 2010 § 1 Comment

The renovated “old courtroom” upstairs in the Clarke County Courthouse was dedicated today in a program attended by Clarke Countians and elected officials.

This is what the official program said about the renovation:

“Clarke County’s present Court  House was constructed in the heart of the county seat in 1912.  Nearly 60 years later, in 1969, the courtroom was remodeled, closing in the full-length windows on the east and west walls, and covering the balcony by the addition of a suspended Celotex ceiling.  This provided a location for the large boiler system to heat and cool the building, since the third floor offices were no longer in use, except for use as storage space.

“By the year 2000, county officials discovered the availability of federal and state grants to be used for improvements to government buildings.  Through grants provided by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History and the Historic Preservation Division of the “Save America’s Treasures” Act, work was begun to restore our historic 1912-era courtroom to its original grandeur.

“In 2008, Supervisor Tony Fleming organized the demolition process, using county employees and inmates from the Clarke County jail, to gut the area so that accurate blueprints could be produced.  By January of 2009, local architect David Henderson of AEDD Plus and contractor BP Roofing and Construction of Laurel, Mississippi, had begin work.

“Since all historic structures are required to adhere as closely as practicable to the original design, every effort was made to replicate the original handiwork.  Most of the flooring is original to the building, as are the large ceiling beams.  The metal ceiling panels are exact duplicates of those used in the original construction.

“Today we proudly present our newly-restored courtroom to the people of Clarke County.  Let us remember to be grateful for the foresight of our county officials in providing a stately and securebuilding in which to conduct our county’s business.” 

My previous post about the renovation is here.

Photos from the program:

The crowd gathers for the program

Board of Supervisors President Arthur Nelson chairs the program

Circuit Clerk Beth Doggett recognizes the judges and elected officials

L to R, Chancellor Primeaux, Circuit Judge Bailey, retired Ciruit Judge Williamson, Circuit Judge Williamson, retired Chancellor Warner

L to R, Dist. 4 Supervisor Paul Mosley, Sheriff Todd Kemp, Dist. 2 Supervisor Cleveland Peebles, Dist. 3 Supervisor Willie Roberson, Dist 5 Supervisor Tony Fleming, and Dist 1 Supervisor and Board President Arthur Nelson

Chancery Clerk Angie Chisholm hosts the reception refreshments downstairs

Father and son: Circuit Judge Lester F. WIlliamson, Jr. on the left and retired Circuit Judge Lester F. Williamson, Sr. on the right


September 20, 2010 § Leave a comment

Reminder that the dedication of the renovated “old court room” at the Clarke County Court House in Quitman will be this coming Sunday, September 26, from 2 pm to 4 pm.  There will be an open house and reception.

If you practice in Clarke County, it would be a gracious gesture to attend and make it a point to tell the members of the Clarke County Board of Supervisors how much you appreciate their leadership and vision.


September 1, 2010 § 2 Comments

A dedication, open house and reception will be held in the newly renovated “old” courtroom upstairs in the Clarke County Courthouse on Sunday, September 26, 2010, from 2-4 pm.  Lawyers, judges and the public are invited to participate in the dedication and to view the restoration of the upstairs courtroom to its former glory in advance of its being put into operation.

I would hope that there would be a good turnout of Lauderdale County lawyers for the event, considering the numbers who practice in our neighboring county to the south.

An earlier post about the renovation work is here.


June 28, 2010 § 3 Comments

I ran across these two old post cards depicting the Clarke County Court House that preceded today’s building.  You can click on the pictures to see a larger version with more detail.  My guess is that the pictures were taken in the 1890’s to early 1900’s, judging from the buggies parked around the building.  The current court house does not have a cornerstone that I could find in a very brief saunter around the outside last week, but it does have the names of the Board of Supervisors 1912-1916, which would indicate to me that the building was built during their term. 

I showed these to Gilford Dabbs, and he told me that he had heard that the old court house was located on what is now  a vacant lot next to First Baptist Church in Quitman.  By the way, Gilford is old, but he’s not old enough to remember this old building himself.  

Does anyone know why this court house was replaced?  Was there a fire like there had been in Meridian that precipitated the building of the new version?  Does anyone have any other pics of it, inside or out?  Does anyone know what happened to the eagle?

That object dangling in front of the building in the bottom picture is a street light suspended on wires.

These photos, along with around 4,600 others showing scenes from all around Mississippi during the period from 1892 to the 1940’s, are available at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History’s website here.


June 21, 2010 § 7 Comments

Court time in Clarke County is always enjoyable thanks to the friendly staff in the court house who go out of their way to be helpful and hospitable.  As good as it is, though, that favorable atmosphere is about to improve. 

The new court room upstairs in the main building is near completion.  The supervisors and the contractor are in the final phases, going over punch lists.  When the work is finally accepted by the supervisors, Clarke County will have a shining jewel that every citizen can be proud of.

The new court room is airy and modern

It wasn’t too many years ago that the Clarke County Court House was shabby and inadequate.  Cheap plywood panelling covered the walls and the windows in the court room — someone’s ineffective notion about how to keep out the roar of the big trucks passing on Hy 45 in front of the building.   The balcony and vintage pressed-tin ceiling were concealed by a suspended celotex ceiling.  The building had a shabby sense of decay that was heightened by its dusty, dirty state. 

I tried many cases in that old court room.  It was common to hear the cooing of pigeons nesting between the panelling while a witness droned on.  Before the bypass took the heavy trucks out of town, one could hear the big windows shaking behind the panelling as they rumbled through the stoplight.  I remember during one trial a thunderstorm raged outside and a water leak flooded counsel’s table.  Sad to say, but the court house back then reflected what many people thought of Quitman and Clarke County:  A community in decline, its better days in the past.

Looking from behind the bench toward the audience and balcony

All that changed in the late 90’s, when the Board of Supervisors took an interest in upgrading the court house.  They added the new building with its new, modern court room and offices.  The new building provided plenty of space for the courts, with meeting space for the Grand Jury and a D.A.’s office, as well as a library.  With the new building came a renewed sense of pride, and the dust, dirt and grime were banished in both the new and old buildings.  Floors were polished and windows cleaned.  The court house staff was energized. 

A treasure concealed for many years

Meanwhile, the lights were turned off in the old court room, which was left to languish.  Before long, however, some Clarke Countians interested in preserving the best of the past were nosing around the old court room to see whether it could be restored to its pre-plywood-panelling days.  They found the old, pressed-tin ceiling, an Edwardian architectural detail that can not be duplicated today.  They also found behind the celotex a labyrinth of ventialtion ducts and utilities.  Conventional wisdom would have dictated that it was simply too big a job for little Clarke County, with its shrunken tax base and many other priorities.  It seemed too much to hope for that the court room could actually be restored.

To their credit, the supervisors stepped up and committed to the work.  It has taken around 5 years, but the work is nearly completed now, and when the court room is furnished it will be ready for business.

Clarke County deserves praise for recognizing that a clean, orderly, businesslike court house with attractive court facilities is not only a service to its citizens, but also is a reflection on the community as a whole.  Where Clarke County’s Court House used to send the message of a tired, dying community in decline, the new facilities speak loudly of a progressive community alive with potential and ready to roll up its sleeves and go to work.

Clarke County:  Give yourselves a pat on the back.

Something to be proud of in Quitman

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