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Chatham courthouse to rise from ashes

Posted March 25, 2011

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— One year after fire consumed the landmark Chatham County Courthouse, work is proceeding to replace the historic building.

A March 25, 2010, fire gutted the courthouse and caused its iconic clock tower to collapse. Authorities later determined the fire was accidentally started by workers doing exterior renovations to the building and that the blaze quickly spread inside the attic.

Nobody was injured in the fire, but many community members mourned the loss of the courthouse, which was built in 1881.

"I look at it every day, and I go, 'Aw, I hate this,'" said Vicky Oldham, a Pittsboro native and co-owner of S&T Soda Shoppe, which is a block from the courthouse circle. "I just always thought it would be there, and to see that disgraced and in that condition just was horrible."

County leaders were determined to rebuild, so they hired crews to stabilize the brick walls and install a temporary roof to protect what was left of the interior. They said they felt it was important to save what they could and build around it.

"We cleared out the debris – it took us two or three days – and we were shocked actually to see how much was left," Chatham County Public Works Director David Hughes said.

Part of the second floor was intact, and officials want to use that for a courtroom that will hear some cases and can accommodate public events. The building also will house judicial offices, a museum for the Chatham Historical Association and a visitor center.

A sprinkler system will be installed in the building to help fight any future fires inside, officials said.

Interior of Chatham courthouse Chatham courthouse to rise from ashes

"I think everybody is much more optimistic," Hughes said. "We can see at the end of the tunnel that we are going to rebuild this structure. It's going to look very much the same."

Plans for the rebuilt courthouse are being finalized, and construction is expected to be finished by late summer 2012. A cost estimate for the project hasn't been determined, but county officials say insurance should cover most of it.

"It's going to just make me so happy," Oldham said. "It's going to make me so happy because (the courthouse) is Pittsboro. It's our symbol. It's like our little icon, and it just makes me proud to have it there."

Superior Court cases have been heard in an empty auditorium and a former library for the past year. The county plans to build a $21.1 million Judicial Center a few blocks from the courthouse to house most courts and related offices. That building is expected to be complete by the end of next year.


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  • storage Mar 25, 2011

    Hats off again, to Fire Chief Daryl Griffin and the Pittsboro Volunteer Fire Department for an outstanding job! Under the leadership and direction of Chief Daryl and the dedication and support or neighboring fire departments, this tragedy was stopped from be a whole lot worse. With this fire having a minimum of a 30 minute head start, the construction features of the building and being under renovation, very minimum manpower and the “Pittsboro water supply”, I think that a debt of gratitude is owed to the valiant men of the Pittsboro Fire Department. Without their efforts, reconstruction would have been started from a whole lot less!

  • Hans Mar 25, 2011

    'Probably missing that pesky "i" word.' - JustAName

    What's the "i" word? And why is it probably missing?

  • miseem Mar 25, 2011

    I think it's great that they were able to save part of the building, retaining some of the town's history, while improving on what was there to serve the community better now.

  • JustAName Mar 25, 2011

    "Authorities later determined that the fire was accidentally started by workers involved in an exterior renovation..."

    Probably missing that pesky "i" word.