I think it is part of my nature that I tend to root for the underdog. When it comes to things like world peace and hunger and poverty, this is hugely important. When it comes to the 101 Places in Mississippi to See Before You Die, it’s probably not all that significant in the grand scheme of things. But, folks, the Tate County courthouse
…remains as perhaps one of the finest Victorian public buildings of Mississippi…only known architect-designed structure surviving from the 19th century in Tate County…one of the only known pubic buildings of Cook’s known to survive… (John L. Hopkins, 1993, nomination form for the National Register of Historic Places)
and it comes in at #21 out of 26, a lowly 2% of the vote (n=20)….waaaaay after number 2 spot of Sullivan-Stone-Freeman law office in Oxford with 7% (n=65), and even below Taylor Grocery and Phillip’s Grocery. I agree that the SSF law office is a quaint Victorian building, and it has all that Faulkner connection going for it (which in Oxford seems to trump almost anything), and the upping block in the front yard. And Taylor Grocery is kind of cool, but truly is no more unique than any other little community’s downtown businesses where someone has made an icon out of a place that at one time none of us would have ventured inside of, let alone to eat something in there.
The Tate County Courthouse in Senatobia was designed in the Romanesque style by architect James B. Cook in 1873, and constructed in 1875-76 by builder/contractor J. H. Cocke (Hopkins, 1993). (You can see the nomination form for the National Register of Historic Places at this link. The nomination form includes 21 photographs, including of the interior of the building.)
Unlike many, or perhaps even most, courthouses, the Tate County courthouse is not downtown on its own square in the center of the community. This is attributed to Senatobia being established and developed a decade prior to the establishment of Tate County (Hopkins, 1993). Instead, the courthouse is located between the downtown commercial district and a residential neighborhood, a few blocks from the center of commerce.
Hopkins described the building
…structure appears to taper inward from its foundation in something of an optical illusion provided by its battered and engaged buttresses located at each exterior corner…tapering effect increases its tall proportions, which are enhanced further by the steep raking slope of its gable roofs…combination of the effects focuses the eye on the center bell tower, which projects slightly forward of the main block and rises a full story above the main roofs before reaching its stacked spire.
The roof is made of “individual fish-scale pattern stamped metal shingles” (Hopkins, 1993). He speculates that the metal shingles may be part of the circa 1904 remodel, as Cook’s original specifications called for a slate roof. Hopkins further speculates that Cook himself could have been the undocumented architect for the circa 1904 remodel, given that he was still alive and practicing in the area and that the architect
…took great care to continue the lines, proportions and details of Cook’s original 1873 design.
Hopkins documents that Cook drew inspiration from the work of Calvert Vaux (1824-1895), and that the design for the courthouse
…appears to borrow on forms and details published in [Vaux's Villas and Cottages, 1864].
Belinda Stewart was the architect for the 1997-2000 restoration of the courthouse. The building is constructed of locally-produced brick (Mississippi Hills National Heritage Area) and trimmed in Alabama limestone.
In a non-architectural realm, the court room was used for filming the 1996 movie The People vs. Larry Flynt (CityofSenatobia.com).
Now, don’t all of those factors add up to a Mississippi place that is far more “must see” than one more antebellum home?
Tags: Tate County Courthouse