The first Grayson County Courthouse was located in Greenville (now know as Old Town), east of the present-day county seat of Independence. This was when Grayson County consisted of present-day Grayson County and Carroll County to the east. That first brick courthouse is still standing in Old Town and is a private residence.
In 1850, Grayson County was split and Carroll County was formed from the eastern portion. A debate arose concerning the location of the county seat. Greenville is too far east in the county, some argued…the county seat should be in Elk Creek. Others said it was fine where it was. A third group of independents favored a more central location. This third group prevailed and the new town was named Independence for the group that proposed it.
A new courthouse was built in 1863 in the new county seat. It stood until 1906 when, in disrepair, it was torn down to make way for a new courthouse, completed in 1908. A key feature of the new courthouse was the vault. The state had mandated that all county courthouse have a fire-proof vault for storing important documents such as birth, marriage, property, and death records.
Frank P. Milburn was chosen by the Grayson County Board of Supervisors as the architect for the new courthouse. Milburn had designed other courthouses in the region including Wise County, VA and Forsyth County, NC, as well as the Southern Railway Station in Knoxville, TN
THE 1908 COURTHOUSE
The 1863 courthouse was torn down and construction was begun on the new building (some of the brick from the 1863 courthouse was saved and used as fill inside the walls of the 1908 courthouse). County records were stored in the Baptist Church while the building was constructed. Brick from Maysville, Ky. was shipped by rail to Fries and delivered by ox drawn wagon to Independence. Office furniture was purchased from a Richmond company in 1909. For the building, grading and terracing, a stone wall, and an iron fence (added sometime later), total cost is estimated at $30,000.
The 1908 Courthouse is an example of the Richardsonian style of architecture common to public buildings built between 1865 and 1915. This building has many of the characteristics of this style: the imposing size of the structure; the massiveness that stamps it as a government building; its round Flemish arches repeated with square-sectioned openings, and its stone and brick construction.
The Confederate Monument, “Parade Rest”, that stands in front of the courthouse was added later and dedicated in 1911. It is made of carrara marble from Italy and is resting on granite quarried from just north of Richmond and is similar to other county monuments throughout the south.
Frank P. Milburn was chosen to design the new courthouse in 1906. Milburn was known throughout the southeast in the period from 1880 to 1920 as a prolific architect. His designs for public buildings, including courthouses, state houses, train stations, and others were built in Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, as well as Virginia.
Milburn had a prolific architectural business, primarily in the southeastern US from the 1880s to the 1920s. He was noted for using very modern business practices, especially for the time. He reused designs (or portions of designs) as much as possible, reducing the cost. There were several other public buildings in the region that bear a striking resemblance, however, the Historic 1908 Courthouse is only one a few that survive.
A publication that Milburn used to promote his business can be seen here.
An extensive article about Milburn was published in the Winterthur Portfolio in the Spring 2005 issue. You can access this article here.
SAVING THE COURTHOUSE
After the Grayson County Government moved to the new courthouse in the late 1970’s a controversy erupted around what to do with the 1908 Courthouse. The county could not afford to repair the building which had fallen into dis-repair. The rear porch was in danger of falling down and the roof leaked badly.
Many business people in the Independence thought the building was an eyesore and should be torn down to make room for more parking in town.
Others thought it would be a travesty to tear it down. They saw it as an asset to the community and, with some work, could be restored to being a beautiful landmark. Several organizations including the Grayson County Historical Society and a new grass-roots group called People and the Courthouse (PATCH) conducted fundraising campaigns to save the building.
In the end, it was due largely to one local business man, Dan Baldwin, the CEO of Nautilus Fitness Equipment, that the building was saved. He purchased the building from the county for around $100,000 and then put another $80,000 of his own money into restoring the building.
On July 4th, 1986, Dan Baldwin donated the 1908 Courthouse to the people of Grayson County and formed the Historic 1908 Courthouse Foundation to ensure that there would be an organization to maintain and preserve the building for future generations.
Mr. Baldwin’s generosity will long be remembered in Grayson County. He once said “… sometimes things have more value than money.” He showed that he believed that through his actions.