History of Art in Mississippi: County Court Houses

Let’s finish off this week with a shorter excerpt from The History of Art in Mississippi, still from the chapter on “Architecture in Public Buildings.” The authors examine three courthouses in particular, all from the 19th century. What do you think of their choices? I was surprised they left out the Warren County Courthouse in Vicksburg, especially since they spent some time discussing the builders of both the Raymond and the Vicksburg courthouses, the Weldon Brothers.

In case you’ve missed the first few excerpts of the same chapter:

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County Court Houses

Many towns boast fine old County Court Houses built in the years around 1855 and these beautiful oldtime structures are still solid and usable as well as artistic.

The old Madison Court House at Canton, built in 1855, was remodeled in 1925 and equipped with up-to-date furniture at a cost of $50,000. Its inside structure is strictly modern in all respects, but the outside architecture has been preserved entirely in its former Grecian adaptation. The building is surmounted by a large dome, twenty feet in diameter and about thirty feet high. There are four entrances and the approaches on the east and west are each supported by four large columns. This structure is beautiful in its simplicity and the people of Madison county are justly proud of their court house. It fittingly occupies the center of the square around which the town is built.

The Court House at Oxford is a well proportioned, rectangular building of modified Renaissance style. It was built since the Civil War, the original one having been burned when the Northern army devastated the town in 1864. The clock in the tower can be seen for miles from the roads leading into the town, the face being illuminated by electric light at night.

Hinds County Courthouse, Raymond

The first court house built in Raymond, was placed in the heart of the town and, as was then the custom, in a public square. When, in the early fifties, this court house was outgrown and replaced with a new one, a location was chosen slightly west of the square. The selection of the lot, as well as the beautiful hedges and trees, make a most suitable setting for the exquisitely proportioned building. Facing south, the front is ornamented with a portico supported by six Roman Doric columns. This portico is duplicated on the north, and smaller columns of similar design with four columns each, grace the ends.

The architects were the Weldon Brothers and interesting stories are told of the extreme care with which they did the work. They are reputed to have used their own slaves, seventy-five in number, who were trained artisans, and so valued their services, that they were not fed upon regular fare of slaves, but with the very best of food.



Categories: Architectural Research, Canton, Courthouses, Oxford, Raymond

2 replies

  1. Really nice view of the courthouse in Oxford. I knew how much it damaged the proportions to add the wings onto it (Wm. Faulkner was horrified and made a public statement about it), and the painting of the brick was also a bad decision. I knew those things, but was unaware of the impact of the chimneys.

    I can’t tell clearly– is there no fence around the courthouse in this picture? There doesn’t seem to be.

    The same builder constructed courthouses on the same plans for Holly Springs and Bolivar, TN– they are in a line up the old Miss. Valley Ry line that went from Grenada to Jackson TN, now most closely followed by Highway 7 in Mississippi (which obviously gets another number in TN, which I don’t recall. It goes past Grand Junction en route to Bolivar). You can see the different approaches to updating in all three place,s. People who grew up in Oxford and haven’t driven that way before are usually startled by the one in Bolivar.

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  2. I’d love to see that public statement by Faulkner! Was it a letter to the editor? I assume people at the time figured he was meddling in things that he should stay out of?

    If you click on the photo in the post, you get a larger image, and in that one you can see the outline of the iron fence.

    The builder/architect, as you note, was Spires Bolling (or Bowling), one of those mysterious historical figures who shows up, builds enduring landmarks and passes off the scene with hardly any other trace. He’s mentioned in Jack Baum’s 1978 thesis “Holly Springs, the Architecture of a Small Town” and otherwise I don’t know much about him.

    The Holly Springs courthouse had the benefit of being added on to in the 1920s, when architects still understood and appreciated classicism, and the architect was N.W. Overstreet, so I think it came out the better of the two Mississippi examples.

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