1859 - 1873

1859 Courthouse Improvements

In September 1859 the courthouse underwent some improvements “determined by the County Court.” The front and rear doors were removed leaving only one entrance to the building, the one facing the “law offices” in the court yard. The Rockingham Register commented that the changes “might add to the comfort of persons in the building, but they will by no means improve the outside appearance of the court house.”

The Telegraph Office

The court yard was the site of numerous small buildings over the years. Some of these were commercial in nature and not part of county government. One of these buildings was the Western Union telegraph office on the southeast corner of the square. This small, brick building was originally intended to be the office of a county official, but it was soon converted for use as a telegraph office when Harrisonburg was connected to the outside world by telegraph lines. George Ribble, Frank Robinson, and Allan Thompson were the telegraphers.

A Town Clock

In 1868 the editor of the Register lamented the fact that there was no town clock in all of Harrisonburg. He called for one to be installed in the steeple of the courthouse, stating that one there would be both “useful and ornamental. . . . The money could be raised easily.”

The much-needed clock was soon installed in the courthouse tower. Twenty years later, in January 1888, the courthouse clock was the villainous character in an event that could easily have turned tragic. Weights, which powered the clock and were described by The State Republican as “huge,” loosened from their chains and fell under the inevitable pull of gravity toward mother earth. The massive weights crashed through every floor of the courthouse and ended up lodged in the earth under the ground floor. Fortunately, no one was injured. The newspaper commented tersely, “Such death traps should be abolished.”

One may have noticed that several of the writers quoted thought of the courthouse yard as a park, a meeting place for leisurely congregating and passing the time. State laws had been passed requiring court yards to be convenient places for gathering.

After leaving office, county surveyor and former Superintendent of Schools Jasper Hawse spent considerable time and effort resurveying the original courthouse square and its metes and bounds.

*Excerpt from Dale MacAllister’s Courthouse Square in Early Harrisonburg and Activities Connected with Court Days.