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Scott County Historical Society

Scott County, Virginia


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Spacious New Front Has Failed To
Erase Contour of Original Walls Built in 1828; Addition Was Made In 1890; Old Records Were Found.

The remodeling work, which recently changed the entire appearance of the Scott County court house, failed to erase from sight the walls of the structure which were constructed in the year of 1828, 100 years "ago. A spacious new front now stands at the entrance of this building, but that new front cannot hide those red brick walls that have stood the pressure of time since the early history of our country.


Above is a front view of the Scott County court house as it appears today, the structure, one of the most venerable in this section of the country, having been recently remodeled. The remodeling process, without altering the original building or changing the walls from their original location, has modernized the building until it compares favorably with any structure of its kind, in Southwest Virginia.

The portion of the building, constructed in 1826, according to the records found in the old file of papers that were moved when the remodeling work started, fronts Main Street. The walls of this portion of the antique structure are of red brick, said to have been burned on the lot where the court house stands. The mortar is of the old lime type, but it has held the wall for 100 years, and is still strong.

The walls are 18 inches thick and were well constructed, according to the contractors. The brick were burned by a Mr. Toncray. The mortar was of old lime type, but it has held unusually well as the walls are still standing.

Walls Standing

These same walls are standing today, apparently as good as the day they were constructed. The wood work is also good. The nails used in this work were the old square type nail. This type nail had a blunt point, but the head was wider and larger. It is thought that these nails were so made as to reduce the chance of splitting the wood.

The court house as constructed in 1828 stood intact until 1890 when an addition was added. The addition was used for a court room and was unusually large for the time. The old portion of the building was then divided up into offices and the new addition served as a trial room. The fire places in this old structure were formerly about five feet wide and three feet high, but in the remodeling process of 1890 were reduced to a smaller size. These are now very small. The latest remodeling work made the old structure modern but the old walls that have stood for a century remained untouched and the majority of the old equipment has been preserved. From these same walls have echoed the voices of some of the south's greatest sons. Men who were noted for their patriotism back in the early history of America, have no doubt visited the court house on numerous occasions. According to the records the Scott County vicinity was unusually patriotic and residents of that fair section always rallied to the cause in time of strife. This same section sent forth many soldiers to fight in the war of 1812 and also the Mexican war.

According to the records an old log building occupied site where the Scott County court house now stands. A record of same was found in the structure and this record showed that an old log building had formerly occupied the site.

First Court

The first court ever to be conducted in Scott County was held at the home of Benjamin T. Holland at Moccasin Gap in February 1815. A monument now marks the spot of the old Holland home. However, several of the old timers disagree with the exact location of the home, all agree that the marker is close enough to the spot where the historic event occurred.

This marked the beginning of law in Scott County, Virginia. James Davidson's home served as the court room for the second court to ever be held in Scott County. This house is located on the Kingsport-Gate City highway and is one of the oldest structures in Gate City. The property is now owned by Miss Josie King.

The first two courts courts conducted were the old English magistrates court. They also had a superior court with a judge to distinguish it from the magistrates court but no record could be found where the judge held court in Scott County.

Sullivan County at present has this type of court with a magistrate from each district serving. This court is known, as the Sullivan County court. However, Scott County has only a circuit court at present, the magistrate court being disbanded several years ago.

Judge Benjamin Estill held the first court in the Scott County court house building. Judge Estill was an old Revolutionary war hero and Gate City was known as Estillville for a number of years, bearing the name of the old judge. The exact date of this court is not known, but it thought to have been conducted about 1830.

Unique Findings

Many unique things were found in the Scott County court house, included which were ballots, records, marriage certificates, Virginia assembly records and many other things too numerous to mention.

Several cabinets and tables, that were probably installed in the old structure nearly one hundred years ago are still a part of the furnishing. One table has a solid leather top and a close survey revealed a very interesting fact, not one nail was found, pegs had served the purpose of nails. The knobs on the table drawer were of wood and were fastened on with wooden screws. The cabinets were of the finest lumber, being of popular boards several inches wide. Not a single knot was to be found in the boards, which were as smooth as marble.

Several rolls of ballots were found, all of which were brought into the county seat from the precincts. One of these rolls was so old that it had petrified. However, a few letters were plain enough to be read, but not enough were readable to tell in which election the ballots were cast. A ballot cast in the presidential race of 1840, in which William Henry Harrison was elected to the presidency, was found in the ballots. This ballot was very small and had only the names of the candidates on it. This probably is one of the oldest ballots in the United States and is the oldest in this section of the country.

Record of 1801

A record of the acts of the Virginia Assembly in 1801 were found in the old papers. Several acts on religious freedom were recorded. The assembly acts were printed by Merriweather Jones, printer to the Commonwealth of Virginia. The other assembly record was dated 1806 and had several acts pertaining to slaves in it. One act specified that owners of slaves might take them from one state to another and return with them, but that the slaves could not be returned without the owner.

These records were printed on good paper and were neatly bound. However their s resembled and f, making it very difficult to tell the difference between the letters. When a word was capitalized or in the possessive case, the regular s of today was used.

Numerous other old records were found among the old papers. Several deeds, and marriage certificates were found, but only a few of these were very old. A large pile, of old papers are still untouched, and concealed in this pile may be some records of great interest, records that are even older than the ones already found. This pile of papers has been transferred into the new vault and someone may look through them some day.

These are only a few things that were found in this ancient structure, the walls of which have probably heard many of the country's greatest men.

IF Walls Talked

If these same walls could relate the many things that have sounded forth, they no doubt could relate a history of facts on this section that have never been known. These walls have no doubt heard many crimes tried, the traces of which have long, since been forgotten. They have no doubt heard the voices of many of Southwest Virginia and East Tennessee's greatest sons.

Scott County Virginia is rich in historical tradition and the deeds of its sons in time of war are recorded in history, but many of these deeds have long ago been forgotten, and only the walls of this structure remain to record the truth, a record that will never be made.

The Gate City court house, as it was constructed in 1828, is no more, but those same walls what were built then still stand. Time alone will tell just how long these walls will endure the strain of years, but in all probability another generation will pass before the court house is reconstructed. The addition of today will be ancient in the future, but today a portion of the Scott County court house is one of the oldest in this entire section.

Kingsport Times-News; Feb. 24, 1929

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