Chatham Historic Courthouse reopens

Apr. 21, 2013 @ 05:02 AM

Chatham County's front porch is, once again, open.

Dubbed the focal gathering point of the county, the Chatham County Historic Courthouse was reopened Saturday with tours and a ceremony. A March 2010 fire destroyed a portion of the building, including the second-story courtroom.

During the welcoming reception, Chatham Commissioner Chairman Walter Petty welcomed the group and recognized current and former commissioners, judges, lawyers and volunteers.

According to the program, firefighters spent several hours battling the blaze and used an estimated 1.5 million gallons of water to extinguish the flames. It was in 2011 that the Chatham County Board of Commissioners approved a $4.4 million bid to restore the courthouse. 

U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers, R-District 2, and U.S. Rep. David Price, D-District 4, both spoke during the ceremony and both said they remember hearing the courthouse had been damaged in the fire.

"This represents the best of what our community can show us when everyone comes together for a purpose," Ellmers said. "... I remember when the fire devastated this courthouse. I remember in March 2010, the sense of loss that we felt as a result of that terrible day. And, yet, here we are today coming here to celebrate a rebirth of this beautiful courthouse."

Price presented the proclamation he sponsored after the courthouse was destroyed and presented a flag which had flown over the U.S. Capitol.

The world has continued to change and evolve, he said, and the courthouse has been restored to reflect the history of the past with modern twists for functionality.

Todd Roper, of the Chatham County Bar Association, said he was extremely excited to see the county's historic landmark repaired and open to the public once again.

"This used to house all of your county government," he said. "This was your focal point of your community."

The restored second-floor courtroom, Roper said, was a place of importance.

The Chatham County Bar Association helped fund a video tribute of the courthouse, produced by UNC-TV videographer Mike O'Connell.

Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour stood before the crowd and simply said, "We are back," with the crowd erupting with applause.

"May it continue to be a place of discourse and meeting," he said. "A home for the public. Chatham County's front porch."

During the ceremony, a portrait of the Earl of Chatham was revealed by artist Luana Luconi Winner. The original painting was damaged in the fire and Winner was commissioned to replace it.  

After the grand reopening, a re-dedication of the cornerstone was held.