St. Clair County Courthouse

The St. Clair County Courthouse in Ashville is one of the oldest operating courthouses in the state. It is one of two courthouses in St. Clair County; Ashville serves the northern part of the county and Pell City serves the southern part. The original building is still in use today and is notable for its 16 windows, portico and column entrance, and clock.

St. Clair Courthouse St. Clair County was established at the Second Alabama Territorial Session held at St. Stephens (present-day Washington County) in November 1818. The county was named in honor of Gen. Arthur St. Clair, an officer from Pennsylvania who served in the American Revolution. The town was originally called St. Clairsville but when incorporated in 1822, it was renamed Ashville in honor of John Ash, who was one of the original town commissioners. The area’s first court sessions were held at the site of Alexander Brown’s home and trading post four miles outside Ashville. The first case recorded was Joel Chandler v. Alexander Brown in which Chandler claimed Brown had damaged property while trespassing. The site was near the Creek Indian town Littefatchee, which at the time was used as a Creek outpost for making arrowheads and projectile points. Trials were held at that location until 1822.

Local investor Philip Coleman, who was in charge of the land patent for the town, then plotted a 30-acre plan that included a courthouse square, with the intention of adding a grand courthouse at a later date. The initial courthouse, however, was a log cabin built in 1823 after Coleman sold Ashville for $10,000 to a group of town commissioners. Intended as a temporary structure, this courthouse was constructed across the street from the square and not in the location designated for the permanent courthouse. Coleman’s original plan was contingent on a large courthouse eventually being constructed in the square’s space, and thus the square remained vacant. It was used for socializing, games, and a local market until construction began on the permanent courthouse.

A legislative act passed on December 26, 1843, called for the construction of a larger courthouse in the county. A group of men appointed commissioners to manage and oversee the project, and they selected local architect Littleton Yarbrough, whose father Manoah was one of the first settlers in the area, to design the structure. Yarbrough had already built several homes in the county and was commissioned to build the town’s first jail. He would later go onto to construct courthouses in Texas and Louisiana as well as a Baptist sanctuary in Ashville.

Construction began on October 23, 1844, with a crew of 10 men who contributed both supplies and labor. Littleton’s personal ledger describes the details of the construction process. Bricks were handmade on the courthouse square, with a total of 155,640 bricks used in the project. Campbell Jefferson, a local mason and bricklayer, was paid $350.75 for laying the brick, and a Mr. Stanley was paid $19 for plastering the building. (Jefferson also built the John W. Inzer Home, just south of the courthouse, in 1852 for Moses Dean, a county commissioner. It operates today as a house museum.) Although it is not documented, Yarbrough likely used lumber from his own plantation to construct the courthouse. During the construction of the Baptist sanctuary in 1859, Yarbrough cut timber from his plantation, shaped it himself, and then hauled it to the jobsite.

The courthouse was completed on June 4, 1845. The building originally consisted of two stories housing four offices, a downstairs hallway, two large chimneys, and a fa├žade with roof over a stoop. Additions made to the building in 1886 included a two-story wing of two rooms each at either end. Subsequent and significant changes were made to the courthouse in 1911, including the addition of a portico and four two-story columns. Renovations in the 1930s were carried out with federal funding through the New Deal, and additional renovations were made in 1964. The courthouse lawn bears a statue of a Confederate soldier facing south that was erected on April 26, 1923, through the sponsorship of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The courthouse remained one of the central locations of the town throughout the nineteenth and into the twentieth centuries. It served as St. Clair County’s only courthouse until 1902, when Pell City was established as a second county seat and a courthouse completed there the following year.

The courthouse is a central landmark of the Ashville Historic District as well, which was officially recognized by the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) in 2005. The courthouse square played a significant role during the NRHP assessment process to establish the district. Tracing the history of the other buildings there added to the understanding of how instrumental the courthouse was to the development of Ashville. During the nineteenth century, commercial buildings, including the Fulghum Hotel (now a realtor’s office), developed around the square, and residential homes sprang up nearby. The current historic district includes 13 of those structures. Then in the twentieth century, four large fieldstone office buildings were constructed around the courthouse as well as other offices and commercial structures.

The courthouse is located at 100 6th Ave. and continues to operate as a judicial center.

Further Reading

  • Crow, Mattie Lou Teague. History of St. Clair County (Alabama). Huntsville, Ala: Strode Publishers, 1973.
  • Franklin, George W. History of St. Clair County. Ph.D. dissertation. Auburn, Ala.: Auburn Polytechnic Institution, 1939.
  • Hughes, Delos. Historic Alabama Courthouses: A Century of the Their Images and Stories. Montgomery, Ala.: NewSouth Books, 2017.

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