EDITORIAL: Chatham’s ‘front porch’ recovers from blaze

Apr. 24, 2013 @ 10:54 AM

Not long before those of us in Lee County observed the second anniversary of our devastating tornado, our neighbors just to the north quietly observed the third anniversary of their own memorably tragic event: the March 2010 fire which destroyed much of the historic Chatham County courthouse in Pittsboro.

Courthouses everywhere serve as landmarks in the county seats in which they reside. They’re more than just courtrooms and official offices and places for record-keeping, but there was always something extra special about Pittsboro’s historic facility — owing in part to its stately architecture and the location inside the downtown area’s unique traffic circle. If Pittsboro was along the path of your destination, you encountered the traffic circle and the majestic courthouse — a memorable and notable sight both for first-timers through the area and for those passing through for the hundredth time.

The courthouse was built in 1881 and underwent a number of renovations over the years. The fire three years ago occurred during one of those renovations, a $415,000 project which included the installation of new windows and other repairs. Investigators determined the blaze was caused by a soldering torch which accidentally ignited wood inside the structure. There were no injuries from the blaze, but the scene of black smoke pouring from the courthouse was unforgettable. Nearly a dozen fire departments responded to help control it.

One local official was quoted at the time as calling the courthouse fire “the disaster of disasters.”

Referring to the “march to the sea” late in the Civil War over the winter of 1864, he added: “Even Sherman didn’t do this.”

It took the Chatham County Board of Commissioners less than a week to vote to rebuild, and in 2011 a $4.4 million bid for reconstruction was passed.

When the courthouse was officially re-opened on Saturday, those in attendance greeted with enthusiastic applause the words of Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour, who stood before the crowd and said, simply: "We are back."

We join our neighbors in Chatham County in saluting the re-opening of the courthouse.