Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Weakley County Courthouse Burns, CA 1948

Four Units Unable to Save Courthouse--Fire fighters of Dresden, Martin, Greenfield and Gleason, Tenn., battled all Thursday morning without avail, as the Weakley County Courthouse burned. The fire started in or near the cupola atop the roof, burned downward.  Most of the county records were saved.  Photo by Nick Givens, Greenfield

Flames Devour Nine Decades as Weakley Courthouse Burns by Paul flowers, Staff Correspondent

DRESDEN, Tenn., Feb. 19--Fire of undetermined origin early Thursday destroyed the 90 year old courthouse here.

Breaking out soon after dawn, the flames raced downward from cupola to ground floor of the West Tennessee landmark leaving only four crumbling walls on the square where Weakley County official business has been transacted since 1858.

Most of the records were saved, County Judge Cayce Pentecost said.  Some were stored in fireproof vaults and others were carried out by volunteer residents.

By a twist of irony, electric wires leading to the town's fire siren, perched in the cupola atop the neo-classic structure, were believed to have been responsible for the fire, but there was nothing certain Thursday night as the last smoldering embers, having resisted streams of water all day, finally yielded to the misty rain which began falling in late afternoon.

Ancient Hall of History
This was the ancient hall of justice and place of records where Caruthers Ewing,
West Tennessean who achieved international renown as a lawyer, first started practice.  The building which went up in flames Thursday housed the court in 1891 in which Mr. Ewing, then 19, brought his first action in court, a suit against his own father.

Likewise, this was the courthouse about which the legend of the Yankee cavalryman came into, in the late months of the Civil War, a Northern soldier rode his horse into the courthouse, up several flights of stairs to the cupola, and perched there as high as he could go, to sound taunts and defiance against Dresden and Weakley county and the whole Confederacy.

That was the story as passed on by L. P. Moore, former county trustee, as he stood with fellow townsmen in the shadow of the Confederate monument at one corner of the square.  On the stone steps, hewn from stone brought by yoked oxen from quarries along the Tennessee River almost a century ago, still were marks left by the horse's shoes, Mr. Moore said.  

In the second floor courtroom, Caruthers Ewing launched his campaign for attorney general, the time he was defeated by Bill Lewis of Paris.

Martin Man Built It
The Weakley County Courthouse had its beginning in 1858, although the county, first settled by white men in 1819, was organized in 1825.  A contractor from Martin, named Cowardin, erected the central section.  In 1919 the wings were added by L.E. Wingo.

Fire companies from Greenfield, Gleason and Martin were called in, but the fire had gone  beyond control before they could get into action, and the best they could do was prevent its spread.  Flying embers did ignite the roof of the negro Methodist Church, a block away, but damage was only slight there.

County Judge Pentecost said the building loss was partically (sic) covered by insurance, amounting to about $75,000.  Thanks to fireproof vaults, installed in 1913, most of the land records were saved, but at noon county officials were still thumbing through boxes of charred papers on the high sidewalks.

Emergency offices will be set up in buildings around the square as soon as possible.  C.P. Taylor, tax collector, said he would be ready to do business again by Monday morning.

Landmark--This is how the Weakley County Courthouse appeared since 1919, when the two wings were added.  the center section has stood since 1858.  Photo by R.L. Ervin, Dresden, Tenn.

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