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Prepared by Patsy Bradford, Director, Sevier County Heritage Museum, in 1997.
Sources unidentified.

Sevier County Courthouse

The Sevier County Courthouse has been a landmark in East Tennessee since its completion in 1896, the centennial of the State of Tennessee.

In 1892, members of the County Court decided to build a new courthouse to replace the courthouse built in 1856, which was considered unsafe.  On 30 January 1892, R. B. McMahan and his wife, Sarah, deeded the site of the present courthouse to Sevier County.  The Court wanted a site away from other buildings in case of fire to keep the courthouse as safe as possible.  (A major fire destroyed the courthouse and its valuable historic records in 1856.)

This magnificent structure was designed by noted architect Kenneth McDonald of Louisville, Kentucky.  McDonald was known for his Beaux-Arts Classicism design.  The building was constructed by C. W. Brown of Lenoir City, at a cost of $21,000.00.  From its beginning, the new courthouse has been a symbol of civic pride.

The courthouse is a three-story structure, measuring 85 feet by 70 feet.  The foundation is made of limestone blocks, 24 to 30 inches thick.  The exterior walls up to the main floor are of hand-shaped limestone.  They were obtained from a local quarry and hauled to the courthouse site by horse drawn wagons.  From the main floor up, the exterior walls are brick, made at local brick yards.

The tower is the dominating feature of the Courthouse rising 75 feet above the building.  It rises 130 feet from the ground and is made of wood columns 10 inches by 10 inches rising from wood trusses.  Midway up the tower is a large Seth Thomas clock which cost $1,353.45.  For years, the clock was wound manually but today it's electric and strikes at the top of every hour.  The metal dome on top of the tower was made by George G. M. Nichols, Sevierville's "Tinner."

In the 1960's, concern was expressed over courthouse overcrowding and its age.  Some wanted to tear down the building and construct a modern, contemporary building.  Thanks to the efforts of county historian Joe Sharp, the courthouse was preserved by a vote of 13 to 11.

Remodeling efforts began in August of 1971.  The work to be done included complete demolition of the interior of the existing building and completely replacing it with new construction; reworking of the clock tower; an elevator to serve three floors; cleaning and patching the exterior walls; a complete new plumbing and electrical system.  All of the above were done in such a way so as to retain the exterior character for historic reasons, but, at the same time, providing the necessary modern facilities inside the building so that the county could function in today's world.  A two-story addition was added at the rear of the existing building connected to the old courthouse by a 40-foot-wide linking lobby.  The newly refurbished building was officially dedicated in April, 1975, at a cost of $1,375.000.00.

In 1976, the Sevier County Courthouse was the first courthouse in Tennessee to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1990, the commission voted to expand the courthouse by adding an annex at a cost of $1,400,000.00. The annex was completed in 1993.  The domes and clock tower were restored in the fall of 1993.

The courthouse houses many of the elected officials of Sevier County.  On its 100th birthday, the county officials were:  County Executive: Larry Waters; County Court Clerk, Joe Keener; Property Assessor, Johnny King; Register of Deeds, Sherry Robertson; Trustee, Jettie Clabo; Circuit Court Clerk, Janette Layman-Ballard; Attorney-General, Al Schmutzer, Sheriff, Bruce Montgomery; School Superintendent, Jack A. Parton; and Clerk and Master, [blank].

Events recognized in the history of the Courthouse at the Centennial Celebration:

1890-1900   White Caps hanging and John H. Reagan return bluegrass


1910-1920   W. W. I

1920-1930   Preachers -- religious music

1930-1940   Depressions era

1940-1950   W. W. II

1950-1960   Korea beginning of Music & Arts Festivals

1960-1970   Vietnam -- Also time of celebration of 1965 basketball team

1970-1980   Remodeling -- Marsha Brown returns home victorious

1980-1990   Dolly?

1990-present   Desert Storm -- elected officials

Welcome to a celebration in honor of the 100th year of the Sevier County Courthouse.  During the next couple of hours, we hope you learn a little of the heritage of the courthouse along with some music of that period.  We are entitling our program, "100 Years of the Courthouse in Story and Song."

On Nov. 10, 1896, Kenneth McDonald presented the courthouse to the County Court as complete. McDonald was the architect of this marvelous building.  He was quite well known in Louisville, Kentucky, for his designs of courthouses.  As you look at our courthouse you see a building with a foundation of limestone, some 32 inches thick.  As you look at the brick work, the brick was made by local African-American families, the McMahon and Burdens.  The tower is 130 feet tall and has a clock, which announced the hour and half-hour.

Since the courthouse was completed so late in the year, the first music around the courthouse was Christmas music, presented to us today by the cast of Scrooge, from Juggler Theatrical Productions.

On Aug. 22, 1900, the citizens of Sevier County welcomed home a local hero, John Reagan.  Reagan was born in Gatlinburg and moved to Texas to earn money for college.  He became involved in politics and was elected Representative from Texas.  Then Texas joined the Confederate States of America, and Reagan was chosen Postmaster General.  For a short time, he was Secretary of the Treasury of the Confederacy, and his office was the only one on either side to make money during the war.  After the war, Reagan was elected to the U. S. Senate from Texas and was instrumental in creating the Interstate Commerce Commission.  When he came back to Sevier County, a huge crowd gathered at the courthouse to hear him speak.

In April, 1918, local citizens gathered at the courthouse to show support for the men from the county fighting in World War I.  There was a flag raising ceremony at the Courthouse when 5 to 8 thousand people came to show their support.  A huge flag was raised with the names of 357 servicemen listed on it.  One of the songs sung at the ceremony was My County 'tis of Thee.

One of the worst decades for flooding in downtown Sevierville around the courthouse was the 1920's.  On ______ the flood was above floodstage ____ feet, and on ______ the flood was above floodstage ____.  The streets were only beginning to be paved, so most were incredibly muddy.  Getting to the courthouse was a real struggle through the layers of mud.  When the roads dried, young men from Harrison-Chilhowee would walk to Sevierville, yes, walk all the way from Seymour to Sevierville.  When they arrived in town, they would come to the steps of the courthouse and preach.  For many that did not have churches to preach in, this was their preaching point.  Often times, those listening would begin to sing hymns such as those Donnie Howell is going to bring to us now.

During the 1940's, times were sad for a lot of Sevier County citizens.  Many said goodbye to their loved ones going off to war.  The courthouse was the scene for a welcome home party for Geneva and Ressa Jenkins, from World War II.  Geneva had been captured in the Philippines by the Japanese Imperial Army and was a prisoner of the war for the duration of the war.  The reception at the courthouse was attended by hundreds of well-wishers.  Annette Carpenter is going to share some of the music heard at that time.

Oct. 11, 1951, began a time of celebration at the courthouse.  Sevierville celebrated 50 years of incorporation. In 1965, the Sevier County High School Bearettes came in second in the state, and, upon their arrival back to Sevierville, the town turned out at the courthouse to welcome and congratulate them.

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