Laurie and I like riding our Gold Wing motorcycle. But it is easy to get into a rut and just ride the same roads. So to force ourselves to ride to places we would not normally visit we have a goal to visit and photograph all 100 North Carolina courthouses within 1 year. This blog is about one of those visits.
Click here to see a photo and map of all the courthouses we have visited on a single page.
Many NC courthouses were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. The nomination form has some interesting facts about the various courthouse styles over the years.
Port City Daily has a very neat article about the courthouse. I hate to copy their article here but links have a way of getting broken and I don't want this information to get lost. Please click the link above to read their original article:
When “Matlock” filmed in Wilmington in the early-1990s, the murder-mystery courtroom drama showed Thalian Hall—the white columned building that houses City Hall—as the courthouse where Andy Griffith’s character practiced.
With Wilmington’s latest locally filmed show—Fox’s “Sleepy Hollow”—the television spotlight has shifted next door, pointed squarely on what was at one time an actual courthouse: the New Hanover County Historic Courthouse building.
The 19th-century, brick-and-stone building that towers above Wilmington’s Third Street corridor has a starring role in the hit fall series, serving as the town’s finely appointed police station. Its red-and-gray exterior appears in nearly every episode, setting the scene for police-room banter that is shot at EUE/Screen Gems Studios.
While the courthouse has seen its fair share of filming, with productions shooting inside over the years, the building’s exterior has never been shown on screen as much as it is in “Sleepy Hollow,” said Johnny Griffin, director of the Wilmington Regional Film Commission.
“I don’t know of any that featured the courthouse this prominently,” Griffin said. “I know there’ve been several that filmed at the courthouse and featured interiors.”
Such productions include “Dawson’s Creek,” “One Tree Hill” and last year’s “Revolution,” as well as feature films including “Domestic Disturbance,” “Hornet’s Nest” and last year’s “Mary and Martha.”
Mark Boyer, of New Hanover County’s NHCTV, agreed “Sleepy Hollow” is the building’s calling card. The county’s media production coordinator, Boyer has been the go-to guy for filming on county property for 15 years.
“Just about every episode you’ll see the historic courthouse. They don’t do much inside,” Boyer said, noting the only interior action is typically film crews walking in and out of the building.
A similar scenario was the case for “Matlock,” which showed Thalian Hall as its courthouse building but shot its interior courtroom scenes in the federal building at the foot of Market Street.
Boyer noted the historic courthouse has played a police station before, for interior shots in “One Tree Hill.” Other roles over the years have included a train station in “Dawson’s Creek,” and—fittingly—a courthouse in several productions.
Its roles in reality have been just as varied, serving as a courthouse initially, then housing county offices and the convention and visitors bureau, to its current use as sheriff’s department offices and the formal meeting place for the county board of commissioners. The register of deeds and board of elections have been located there, as well.
“So it has served a lot of different uses,” Boyer said.
Built in the early 1890s, the Romanesque Revival-style courthouse was designed by Alfred Eichberg, a Savannah, Ga., architect described as possibly the first Jewish architect to practice in the South.
A biographical dictionary called “Architects & Builders,” on file with N.C. State University Libraries, states Eichberg was commissioned to design the courthouse, which is said to be “one of the few of its type still standing in the state.”
Constructed for $58,000, the building was completed and opened to the public in 1893, according to the dictionary, which cites a report from the Wilmington Messenger newspaper that described the building as “universally admired” as “not only the most handsome but the best arranged building of the kind” in the state.
The building was restored in 1988, at a cost of $2.1 million, and renovations were done in 1999 to the courtroom, which Boyer said was originally two separate rooms—one for superior and one for district court. The rooms were combined to create the commissioners’ chambers—a renovation that cost approximately $550,000.
“The courthouse for generations has been a key architectural feature of the downtown Wilmington skyline,” Boyer said. “In renovating the former courtroom, which sits directly beneath the building’s five-story landmark clock tower, special consideration was given to restoring the original features of the room.”
Boyer said the building, which was once almost condemned, is the most requested county-owned property sought for film productions. Other locations Boyer has coordinated include Airlie Gardens, Hugh McRae Park and Smith Creek Park, among others.
Asked why “Sleepy Hollow” wanted to use the historic courthouse, Boyer said simply: “Looks.”
“I had one movie come in here and say: ‘Whoa, this is way too nice,’” Boyer said.
Tony Morin, a locations manager for “Sleepy Hollow,” said the courthouse stood out to the show’s production designer and director, who ultimately decide such things as locations.
“It had a ‘Sleepy Hollow’ feel to it. The inside still had an older feel to it— not necessarily Victorian, but colonial in a way,” Morin said, noting the town in upstate New York that dates back to the 18th century. While the building serves as a modern-day police station, Morin said the historic look helps set the show’s tone.
“One of the things that attracted the production designer to it was the steeple and the clock tower, how that kind of came out. That was definitely one of the big selling points of the actual building,” Morin said. “We were thinking maybe a stunt or something from there at some point, which ended up being a little bit too much for the episodes and timing.”
While the building is presented in the show as-is, some subtle changes were made here and there, including to the signage on the building’s doors. The New Hanover County logo that typically adorns the Princess Street entrance was replaced with signage that appeared similar—incorporating the clock tower image in the logo—but read instead: “Sleepy Hollow City Hall, Established 1640.”
Morin said the county was gracious in allowing the sign to be posted over the past several months. The sign was taken down late last week and replaced with the county’s as production moves on.
“We were lucky that the county was able to work with us for so long,” Morin said. “There’s some things that we have to ask, and it’s like: Can we leave this up and mis-allude people for four months that this is a Sleepy Hollow courthouse entrance?
“It kind of surprised me that they said yes to leaving it up there for so long, but they were super cool about it,” he said.
With the show’s recent announcement that it will return to Wilmington to film season two, Morin said it looks like those signs will adorn those doors again soon.
“I’m pretty positive and pretty sure it’s coming back to Wilmington. We haven’t really had a show in the past bit, aside from ‘Eastbound [and Down],’ that’s kind of proclaimed they’re coming back at the end of the season,” he said. “So it’s kind of nice to have them say they’re coming back already.”
The North Carolina History Project lists the following information for this county:
Although one of the smallest counties in North Carolina, New Hanover County, located in the southeastern section of the state, serves as an important tourist attraction, trading center, and cultural trademark. Annexed from Craven County in 1729 and named after King George I of the Hanover House, New Hanover’s county seat was once called New Carthage. However, after its official establishment, the town became known as Wilmington. The namesake is the Earl of Wilmington, Spencer Compton. The ninth-largest municipality in North Carolina, Wilmington is not the only community within New Hanover; Seabreeze and Castle Hayne are the two other townships within the county.
The towns of Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, and Wrightsville Beach, located on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, and the city of Wilmington, located on the Cape Fear River, are top tourist attractions for New Hanover County. Several producers have used the backdrop of the New Hanover coast as a setting for numerous television show series and movies since the 1980s. A major movie business built a large 32-acre studio in Wilmington in 1984, and the increase in tourism and film activity led many media enthusiasts to refer to Wilmington as the “Hollywood of the East.”
Historic sites, cultural attractions, and important events abound in New Hanover County. The Fort Fisher State Historic Site, once a vital Civil War Fort, and the North Carolina Aquarium are located at the most southern edge of New Hanover, at the meeting point of the Atlantic Ocean and the Cape Fear River. Additionally, the U.S.S. North Carolina is located in Wilmington and a commemoration for the ship remains a popular tourist attraction. The Cape Fear Museum, Thalian Hall, Cape Fear Shakespeare, the Wilmington Children’s Museum, and the Wrightsville Beach Museum of History are several of New Hanover’s cultural establishments. Important festivals and events include the Cape Fear Marlin Tournament at Wrightsville Beach, Old Wilmington by Candlelight, and Countdown on Cape Fear.
The North Carolina Azalea Festival, an annual festival held every April, celebrates the beauty of the azaleas in Wilmington. In 1948, the first Azalea Festival was held at Wilmington’s Greenfield Lake and Park, and nearly 60,000 people turned out for the event. Today, the festival brings over 300,000 people from across the nation, and Wilmington earns nearly $5 million from the event.
New Hanover has been the birthplace to some vital historic figures for the state of North Carolina. Cornelius Harnett (1723-1781), although born in Chowan County, entered politics when elected Wilmington’s town commissioner. A Sons of Liberty chairman, Harnett advocated for the creation of separate North Carolina state, and his name is attributed to Harnett County (1855). William Hooper, another prominent leader in North Carolina’s independence from Great Britain, resided in Wilmington during his political tenure.
Thomas F. Price (1860-1919), born in Wilmington, was a priest who helped co-found a foreign missionary society known as the “Maryknoll Fathers.” Edwin A. Alderman (1861-1931) was once president of three renowned universities: UNC-Chapel Hill, Tulane, and the University of Virginia; his birthplace was in Wilmington and many historians believe that during his tenure, Alderman was the most vital educator of the South. In addition to these prominent natives, several naval captains and military commanders were born in Wilmington including: William W. Loring, John A. Winslow, and Edwin A. Anderson.
Another famous Wilmingtonian is John Burgwin (1731-1803), who moved to Wilmington from his native land of England in the 1770s. Although he was never a prominent politician, Burgwin built one of North Carolina’s finest homes, the Burgwin-Wright House (1771), and his descendants made lasting contributions to the nation’s history. John Henry King Burgwin, his grandson, was a hero of the Mexican War; his great grandson,W.H.S. Burgwyn, was a prominent banker; and Henry King Burgwyn, the famed “Boy Colonel,” was also his great grandson.
This is a beautiful building. The contrast of red brick with gray stone combined with the architecture begs you to look at this building and admire it.
We saw our first Statue of Liberty placed by the Boy Scouts of America. Wikipedia has the following to say about these statues:
The Boy Scouts of America celebrated their fortieth anniversary in 1950 with the theme of Strengthen the Arm of Liberty. The campaign was inaugurated in February with a dramatic ceremony held at the base of the Statue of Liberty.
Between 1949 and 1952, approximately two hundred 100-inch (2.5 m) replicas of the statue, made of stamped copper, were purchased by Boy Scout troops and donated in 39 states in the U.S. and several of its possessions and territories. The project was the brainchild of Kansas City businessman, J.P. Whitaker, who was then Scout Commissioner of the Kansas City Area Council.
The copper statues were manufactured by Friedley-Voshardt Co. (Chicago, Illinois) and purchased through the Kansas City Boy Scout office by those wanting one. The statues are approximately 81⁄2 feet tall without the base, constructed of sheet copper, weigh 290 pounds, and originally cost $350 plus freight. The mass-produced statues are not meticulously accurate: a conservator notes that "her face isn't as mature as the real Liberty. It's rounder and more like a little girl's."
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You may be interested in the next article, Northampton County Courthouse in Jackson, North Carolina.
The previous article is Nash County Courthouse in Nashville, North Carolina.
© Bobby Daniel