HINTON W.Va. (Hinton News) – It is time for another edition of A Peek into Summers County’s Past. Every week, local history collector William Jones discusses pieces of his collection and the historical significance the items hold. So far, Jones has talked about town names, popular businesses, famous items and much more. In this edition, he is discussing the beautiful, historic, County Courthouse.
To begin, Jones said, “This week’s story is about the most iconic structure concerning Summers County. The Summers County Courthouse in Hinton is a brick Romanesque Revival or late Victorian structure. Originally, it was of a simple square architectural design that lacked ornamentation and was constructed in 1875 and completed in 1876.
Jones noted, “The county saw a great influx of business and sprang to life during the 1880s and 90s. So much so that a remodel and expansion were decided by county officials. From 1893 to 1898 architect Frank Pierce Milburn of Charlotte was hired to redesign and expand the already existing structure.”
“Milburn decided on a very ornate design for $6,000. That would be over $200,000 in today’s prices. As quoted from a Manufacturer’s Report, Frank P. Milburn of Charlotte was attempting to remodel the Summers County courthouse in Hinton to make a ‘silk purse out of a sow’s ear.'”
Diving into the story, Jones stated, “I think that is a very fitting analogy to use to describe what he was about to do. To have taken such a simple commercial building and added these great octangular towers to all four corners. There is a reason why the one on the far left of the front of the building looks a bit different. It is the one closest to the center of town and is reportedly taller than the other three towers.”
“There was nothing like this in the county at the time, much less in Hinton. It had arches above the second-story windows in the towers. Very impressive corbeled brick cornices at the bottom of the roof line on each tower that resembled medieval machicolation,” Jones described. “Topped off with a pyramid slate roof. These were the exterior elements of the remodel, while three of the towers housed additional office space.”
Jones went on to say, “In the mid-1920s, 1925 to 1926 to be exact, an addition was added to the rear of the courthouse to make for additional office space. In keeping with Milburn’s 1890s design two more towers were constructed on each corner of the addition, making for a total of 6 towers. This expansion more than doubled the office space in the courthouse. Lastly, the period from 1940-41 saw a third expansion. This time was for a vault and again for additional office space. It is a simple square addition with a flat roof. This was during WWll, therefore there was a lack of labor workers, and supplies. So there would have been no way to make for another two towers, thus creating eight towers in total.”
“The tallest tower of the 1890s remodels holds a very stately cast iron staircase, which is still in use today that leads to the courtroom. You may recall my pieces about the store that was in it and the town map for Riverside Rest, West Virginia, and me mentioning my good friend John Clay. ‘Chubby’ as we all knew him was a well-known antique furniture restorer in his day. He is one of the people who turned me into a collector, or a ‘hoarder’ as my father calls it (haha) and had one section of the original oak benches from out of the courthouse.”
Jones continued, “I didn’t buy it, even though he tried to talk me into it for years. In a way I wish I would have since it was originally out of the courthouse from 1875. Many people do not know this, but Griffiths Creek Baptist Church ended up with the original oak benches out of the courtroom. Again, I should have bought it since it had not only one but two strong connections to Summers County history. But they are half-round benches which makes them awkward to have just sitting around.”
“The courthouse was placed on the national register in 1981. Extensive historic restoration efforts occurred in the early 2010s. First, the slate on the original turrets was either replaced or repaired, and a new roof was installed. The building had been painted barn red basically forever. This was typical of brick structures that were built in the 1870s. People thought that painting the brick would protect them and the mortar joints when in actuality it helped to destroy them. To the best of my recollection, the paint was removed from the bricks, which was a painstaking process in 2014. They were repainted in 2015.”
To conclude, Jones said, “The courthouse in Summers County was held in high regard across the state at the time for its magnificent architecture. It was for that reason items like this souvenir spoon with an etched image of the courthouse were produced and sold so the public could have a keepsake of various places and buildings. This spoon was manufactured between 1900 and 1905. It is also etched in with the image ‘Courthouse Hinton, WV.’ I found this piece on eBay about 10 years ago. In all of my years of collecting, other local historians and antique dealers that I know have never seen another. It has no hallmark or any identifying feature from its maker.”
This concludes another edition of A Peek into Summers County’s Past. Did you know the history of the Summers County Courthouse?
To submit a story from the area’s history, send an email to email@example.com.
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