Suzassippi’s Mississippi: Pontotoc County Courthouse

Pontotoc County’s Neoclassical courthouse–a joint venture between Mahan & Broadwell of Memphis and a young N. W. Overstreet–was constructed in 1915, facing the old courthouse which stood on the town square (Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Historic Resources Inventory).  After completion of the new structure in 1915, the former courthouse was destroyed and the space is now known as Confederate Park or Town Square (Sanders & Cawthon, 1993, National Register nomination for Pontotoc’s historic district).  The Chancery Clerk’s History of Pontotoc states the original courthouse was destroyed by fire in 1900.  A 1908 photograph shows its replacement.  The current courthouse restoration was completed in 2006 by Belinda Stewart Architects.  According to Stewart,

…the terracotta detailing…and roofing had deteriorated…courtroom windows had been covered with vinyl siding…many original interior elements had been covered…

You can see interior photos of the stunning courtroom, and more detail about the restoration at the Belinda Stewart website.  The city was awarded a 2002 Community Heritage Preservation Grant of $200,000 and “Save America’s Treasures” grant for $298,000 in 2003 (MDAH/HRI).

The brick, tripartite building has three stories in the center section, and two on each of the end sections, both over a basement (Sanders & Cawthon, 1993).   They describe:

…red tile deck-on-hip roof fronted by a colonade of four Tuscan columns flanked by two piers which are linked by a low wall…these elements are composed of blocks of glazed terra cotta…

A glazed terra cotta bust of Blind Justice is over each door…

…and the third floor (attic floor) is divided into openings by piers, and each end has a clock face.  Sanders and Cawthon add,

…modillioned entablature separates colonade from attic story…modillioned cornice tops all three sections of the building…

The courtroom is at the rear of the east side of the building.  Imagine those beautiful arched windows covered in vinyl siding [shudder!], the ceiling hidden by drop-down tile, and walls covered in veneer panels.  Then, look at the photographs of those restored windows, plaster ceiling and walls, and the woodwork.  Whatever someone was thinking in the “modernizing” phase, at least they had the good sense to un-do it!

By the way, something else new that I learned on this road trip is that Pontotoc is a Chickasaw word that means “land of the hanging grapes.”  I did not notice any grapes hanging, but then, it’s probably past the season.

Categories: Courthouses, Historic Preservation, MS Dept. of Archives and History, Pontotoc

15 replies

  1. Great photos and reporting! Thank you for link to Belinda Stewart’s website and link to 1908 photo of the courthouse with the cupola on top.


  2. great info and great to see something being saved!


  3. I don’t know much about the “hanging grapes” that the word Pontotoc means but we used to have what we called “possum grapes” that grew wild along the road to the Tombigbee State Park near Tupelo in Lee County next to Pontotoc County. The grapes would ripen in mid-late September. The only other place I’ve actually seen those kind of grapes was on the grounds of College Hill Presbyterian Church near Oxford in Lafayette County (on the other side of Pontotoc County). Small little dark blue/black grapes. VERY GOOD TASTING!


  4. I used to get my spectacles at Dr. Shannon’s office there on the north side of the square!


  5. That terra cotta is great! And your pictures bring out the interesting details!


  6. N.W. Overstreet was just at the beginning of his career in 1915, and it would make an interesting study to look at his associations with other, more experienced architects in these early years. It seems to me he was using those associations as tutorials in “how to do a courthouse” and later on the Lamar Life Building, “how to build a skyscraper.” He seems to have been a fast learner!


  7. We are very proud of our courthouse here in Pontotoc. It houses our Circuit Clerk, Tax Assessor/Collector, and Veterans’ Offices plus the Courtroom for the Circuit Clerk. The building has a wonderful history as she stands as a grand lady in our county. B Stewart did a fantastic job restoring her to her beauty. Come see us in Pontotoc:where family comes first and we love every second.


  8. this year’s Christmas Ornament depicts the courthouse in 3-d. They are made by the Charleston Mint in Brevard, NC. They have a nice pocket cover and mailing instructions also. Contact the Chamber/Main Street for details.


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