Wednesday, January 11, 2006

An historian saves the day

As a bona fide historian, courtesy of my B.A. in History (and in Poli Sci), I love learning about new things that we didn't know about the past. And last night, something was confirmed, by the time-honored tradition of historical research, which has been disputed for decades.

The dispute was ultimately settled by a lawyer and an historian, and a recourse to primary sources in a dusty archive in the capital of North Carolina...

HISTORIC COURTHOUSE SQUARE BELONGS TO ROGERSVILLE, NOT COUNTY

by Jeff Bobo
The Kingsport Times-News
Wednesday, January 11, 2006

ROGERSVILLE -- While some members of Hawkins County government are under the impression that the county owns property on Courthouse Square in Rogersville, City Attorney Bill Phillips presented evidence to the contrary during Tuesday's Rogersville Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting.

Alderman Brian Hartness, who also serves on the Rogersville Historic Preservation Commission (RHPC), had requested that Phillips research ownership of the vacant section of Courthouse Square in the southwest corner of Main Street and Depot Street.

Ownership of that property became an issue after the Hawkins County Commission approved the request of the group Soldier's Homefront for the construction of a monument honoring Hawkins County military veterans, but the RHPC rejected the request.

Members of Soldier's Homefront, which requested the monument, as well as Commissioner Danny Alvis were disappointed with the RHPC decision against the monument. Alvis proclaimed that because the Courthouse Square property in question belongs to the county, Rogersville should pay the county rent for use of it during Heritage Days.

In response to that comment, Hartness said he wanted the question of ownership of that property settled.

Phillips researched the town charter and deeds with the assistance of Rogersville's leading historian, Henry Price. Prior to being chartered in 1789, Rogersville was known as the community of Hawkins Courthouse.

When Rogersville was chartered in 1789, it was still part of North Carolina. The original charter set aside 48 half-acre lots in what is now downtown Rogersville for formation of the town.

The original layout of the town stretched between Kyle Street to the north and Washington Street to the south; and between Church Street to the east and Hasson Street to the west. The town square - known today as Courthouse Square - includes all four corners of the intersection of Main Street and Depot Street.

Phillips said Rogersville's original charter, which was filed in Durham, N.C., clearly states that the town square is set aside for use by the city. Two lots were set aside for use as county buildings, but that was on Washington Street between Depot and Hasson streets where the First Baptist Church now exists.

Phillips noted that in the early 1830s the original courthouse burned down, and in 1836 the county purchased the lot where the existing courthouse - built that same year - currently sits.

"Where the courthouse sits is actually Lot 15 behind the town square," Phillips said. "It's not actually on the town square and never has been on the town square."

Phillips quoted from the lengthy charter for the BMA, highlighting the section which states that a board of trustees was empowered and entrusted to oversee development of the 48 lots set aside for development of the town, with exception of the two lots on Washington Street, which had been designated for the county.

"The town square was always laid off to be the town square for the town of Rogersville," Phillips said. "Mr. Price informed me he'd done extensive research and that all through the years the town of Rogersville has exercised domain and control over the town square. For instance they passed ordinances that said you couldn't have cattle sales there because at one time every Saturday people would bring their cows down there and have a big sale.

"They passed ordinances about what you could and couldn't do, like you couldn't have loud and raucous music, so it's always been under the control of the town."

Hawkins County has maintained the Courthouse Square lots in the past with mowing and landscaping. Mayor Jim Sells said he will send a letter to County Mayor Crockett Lee informing him that the city will be maintaining Courthouse Square from now on.

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FEELING: Proud of my chosen professions, history and the law
LISTENING TO: The soundtrack toLive and Let Die, the James Bond movie currently on TV

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