Courthouse History
Disaster Strikes the
Courthouses of Martin County, NC
To date, this small and predominantly rural county of eastern North Carolina has had four court facilities.
Court on Stilts
Local legend describes the first courthouse in the county as a high court, literally. The wooden structure was built on stilts in 1775, probably because of its proximity to the flood-prone Roanoke River. The stories tell of court patrons entering the courtroom from boats by way of ladders, which were pulled up when the court was in session. No one left until the judge declared court dismissed. Eventually, this first courthouse became so dilapidated that it could no longer be used. (Read more about this period in the history of eastern North Carolina, including some fanciful stories about exciting court days at this very courthouse in The Life and Times of Elder Ruben Ross by his son James Ross with an introduction by J.M. Pendleton. Read the book online at East Carolina University's North Carolina History and Fiction Digital Library at the following link: http://digital.lib.ecu.edu/historyfiction/document/rol/ . Use the "jump to" page option to reach the section referring to the courthouse in Williamston which starts at the last paragraph on page 85.)
From Water to Flames
A second courthouse was constructed in 1835. It, too, was built of wood. After almost 50 years, fire destroyed the building in 1884. Until another could be built, court sessions were held on the second floor of the S.R. Biggs’ drug store on Williamston’s Main Street.
Advancing to Brick
In July of 1885, “fifty thousand bricks for building the Court House had been delivered” to Williamston and the first brick courthouse structure was begun soon after. This third courthouse was completed in 1887 at a cost of $17,500 and was one of only a dozen built in North Carolina between 1860 and 1900. For nearly a century, the sturdy structure served the county as a courthouse, a repository of public documents and even, on occasion, a meeting place. In 1983, county officials dealt a death knell to the third Martin County courthouse. They decided to build a center to house several courtrooms as well as multiple government services. The “old” courthouse would be demolished to create parking space for the new governmental center.

With the county’s first courthouse falling into disrepair; the second being lost to flames, and the third about to meet the wrecking ball, you might think that the people of Martin County, NC have not cared much for their judicial heritage. That perception would be wrong.

Read the story of how and why the third Martin County Courthouse was saved and discover how you can take part of this exciting project.
Friends of the Old Martin County Courthouse
P.O. Box 502  |  East Main Street  |  Williamston, NC 27892  |  252-792-5243
 

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