Postcard view of the Franklin County Courthouse, ca. 1915-1930, North Carolina Postcard Collection (P052), North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, Wilson Library, UNC-Chapel Hill
It would cost too much to repair the old courthouse in Louisburg. That was the conclusion of commissioners appointed in December 1848 by the Franklin County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions to determine how best to provide a proper facility for the transaction of the people's business.
Seven men - Jones Cook, Joseph B. Littlejohn, A.H. Davis, A.C. Perry, Nicholas B. Massenburg, Isaac Winston, and Daniel S. Hill - accepted this responsibility.
They met several times before presenting a report to the court at its March 1849 meeting. They recommended that a new brick courthouse be built on the site of the existing one.
The commissioners envisioned a building measuring 36 feet by 44 feet, to be constructed on a stone foundation.
It would include a brick-floored basement and a main floor with four rooms and a 10-foot-wide passage running from front to back.
The second floor would contain a large courtroom, a room for the grand jury, and one for the petit jury. They recommended that heart pine shingles be used to cover the roof. Heat would be provided by fireplaces connected to four chimneys. Walls were to be finished with plaster of Paris.
The court authorized the commissioners to carry out the project. It also gave them the authority to replace the railing and steps that surrounded the courthouse square.
The men wasted little time in fulfilling their responsibility. Their "Notice to Contractors" soon appeared in The Weekly Raleigh Register, and North Carolina Gazette.
It briefly described the building and stated that plans and specifications could be examined in the office of the clerk of the county court.
The advertisement stated that sealed bids would be opened on May 5. Work on the building likely began soon thereafter, because the justices of the June 1849 session of the court asked five of the commissioners, any three of whom could act for the entire group, to locate a suitable room in Louisburg for use as a courtroom until the courthouse was completed.
The old courthouse was sold for $121, which was applied to construction costs.
The county hired Richard O. Britton and Henry A. Taylor to serve as contractors. It is likely that these two men lived in or near Oxford. A Richard O. Britton of Granville County was active in railroad development in North Carolina and served for three months in 1849 as president of the Raleigh and Gaston Railroad.
He moved to Petersburg, Virginia, around the beginning of 1850, where he formed a partnership to engage in a grocery and commission business.
According to the 1850 census, a Henry A. Taylor of Oxford was the grown son of Lewis Taylor, an Episcopal priest.
According to a report that the commissioners submitted to the county court on March 11, 1850, the contractors had agreed to build the courthouse for $3,450.
The commissioners allowed them an extra $608.73 for additions that had not been specified in the original contract.
Part of the contract price had been paid by the time of the report. The commissioners recommended that a portion of the balance be tendered immediately, with the remainder to be settled, with interest, by March 1851.
The courthouse was drastically altered during renovations in 1937 and 1968, but continues to fulfill many of the legal functions it did more than 150 years ago.
Published in The Franklin Times on August 21, 2014.
Maury York is director of the Tar River Center for History and Culture at Louisburg College. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He wishes to thank Mark Pace of the Granville County Library System and Holt Kornegay of the Franklin County Public Library for their assistance.