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Chatham County rallies around damaged courthouse

Posted April 3, 2010
Updated April 4, 2010

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— Pittsboro and Chatham County residents held a street fair Saturday evening to rally the community after a March 25 fire severely damaged the courthouse.

Chatham County courthouse artifacts displayed during street fair Courthouse artifacts displayed during street fair

People of all ages took part in the  "Courthouse Tribute" celebration held near the traffic circle in downtown Pittsboro where the courthouse stands.

Participants shared stories, memories, photos and artifacts of the courthouse.

“It’s a celebration of our county coming together and being emotionally attached to this courthouse. It’s also a tribute,” Pittsboro resident Jeffrey Starkweather said.

Several bands performed, and local businesses and restaurants opened.

“I feel bad the courthouse burned down, but it's fun listening to the music and playing around,” 9-year-old Destiny Dibenedetto said.

The Chatham County Historical Association organized a make-shift museum to showcase some of the artifacts saved from the courthouse fire.

“We thought there might be some comfort in their coming here and seeing things that survived the fire,” said Barbara Pugh, president of the Chatham County Historical Association.

On Wednesday, county commissioners voted to rebuild the courthouse. Its inside was gutted and clock tower collapsed after the fire, but its exterior walls and foundation appear to be stable.

“It’s those great walls," Starkweather said. "They built things strong back in 1881 because those wall are two feet thick. They’re structurally sound."

Fire investigators have ruled that the blaze was accidentally started by a contractor using a soldering torch. Crews were working on a $415,000 exterior renovation.

Pittsboro Mayor Randolph Voller said he had been in touch Gov. Bev Perdue, U.S. senators and representatives and state leaders about the reconstruction. He noted that the 129-year-old landmark had been the county's fourth courthouse. Construction for a new justice center is already planned for the fall.

"The citizens of Chatham County have persevered. We have always rebuilt," Voller wrote in a news release.

Pittsboro will throw its regular First Sunday arts celebration this weekend as well.

"Now is Chatham County's hour to shine. Now is our day to pull together as a countywide community and address the tragedy head-on," Voller wrote. "Our future depends on our wisdom, our action and investment."

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