Polk receives award of merit for courthouse work

Published 1:46 pm Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Polk County officials received recognition for their vision and determination in renovating the 1859 courthouse for continued use by the county&squo;s judicial system.

Each year, Preservation North Carolina presents the Gertrude S. Carraway Awards of Merit to individuals and organizations that have demonstrated an outstanding commitment to promoting historic preservation. The awards have been given since 1975 and are named for the late Dr. Gertrude Carraway of New Bern, a leader in the successful effort to reconstruct the state&squo;s colonial capitol, Tryon Palace, in New Bern.

The Polk County Courthouse was built in 1859 and is still in use today by the county&squo;s judicial system. This historic structure, reflecting Greek Revival and Italianate design, is listed on the National Register and is the oldest courthouse in western North Carolina. The courthouse retains most of its original design, including square columns on the front facade, original brick chimneys, six-over-six windows, and Greek Revival entrance with transom and sidelights. The large second-floor courtroom, with its original judge&squo;s bench, is reached by a pair of curving staircases.

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For many years the fate of the building seemed uncertain. By 2005, the effects of aging, deferred maintenance, and failed rehabilitation attempts had left the courthouse in shabby condition, with uneven floors and a deteriorated exterior. Luckily, the appointed and elected officials in Polk County were able to see that their historic courthouse was worth saving. They retained Harris Architects of Brevard and Sutton-Kennedy Engineers to undertake a two-phase restoration project.

The first phase of work began with the bell wheel and cupola, which were restored using historic photographs for reference. Copper roofing and a new copper spire were also added during the first phase, which was completed in 2007. The second phase began with structural repairs, including removal of the wood-frame floor system and installation of new piers, framing and heart-pine floors. Workers repaired the original windows, added interior storm windows, restored the window panels, and repainted the interior of the courthouse. The chimneys were restored and repairs made to the exterior wood trim, windows, doors and masonry.

Polk County officials demonstrated an unusual degree of commitment to their community&squo;s history by restoring their historic courthouse and continuing its original function.

Preservation North Carolina applauds Polk County for having the vision and determination to protect the historic resources that make its county unique. We are pleased to present the county with a 2008 Gertrude S. Carraway Award of Merit. Accepting the award was commissioner Warren Watson.