Sections of iron fencing from the circa-1901 Macon County Courthouse have just been reinstalled at the courthouse on Lafayette square. The courthouse is the focal point of square, and sits on a piece of property that carries years of county history. It has recently undergone multiple improvements, in a campaign to invest in the appearance of Macon County and honor local history.
This project was spearheaded by Macon County historian Randy East. He located the fencing, which had been passed around between private owners for the last century, and asked inheritors to donate it to the county so that it could be returned to its original home. He also pushed the idea through local government and organized the project through to its completion.
Next time you are on the square, stop by and take a long look.
The Courthouse Fence…
It Has Risen Again
By Randy East, Macon County Historian
Macon County has had four official courthouses. The first one was built in 1844 and was a 40 foot square two story brick building (probably of local brick). It was used for 16 years before it burned on March 10, 1860. No known photographs or relics from this building exist.
The second courthouse was started in 1861 and due to the Civil War was not finished until 1866. It was a two story brick structure (locally made brick by Robert Allen) and was 40 x 52 feet in size. Charles Carter was the carpenter for this project. There was a span between these two courthouses of 35 years and 1 day until it burned on 11 March 1901. There are only a few partial images of this building and no surviving relics.
The next courthouse was a beautiful two story brick building size 50 x 50 feet square enhanced by a cupola with a four sided clock, which would have been a great attraction and much needed time keeper for the square—except the works were never installed. It has been stated the cost would have been $400 but this need was never met. Later pictures show the clock face had been removed.
The brick was made locally by Tom Speakman, whose kiln was located at 508 Cedar Street in Lafayette. This building stood until it too burned on 4 July 1932. It had been 31 years since the last courthouse was destroyed. There are several photographs of this building and a few slate roof tiles still in existence.
There is, however, another surviving piece of history from this 1901 courthouse—this is the piece that is getting a rebirth this year. The 1901 courthouse was enclosed by a beautiful iron fence, and sections of it are being reinstalled to their old location after 111 years in storage.
It had been thought that the fence was taken down after the burning of the courthouse in 1932 but after examination of photos made prior to the fire, it is obvious that the fence had already been removed. It was most probably taken down when the courtyard perimeter curb was added. A search of County Clerk minutes will need to be made to exactly determine when this action was taken as it should be recorded there.
The history of the fence after it was taken down is vague. It was referenced that Ed Casady who owned Casady Furniture Company at 111 Main Street may have owned it at one time, and may be the one who sold it to the Roy W. Walton who operated Walton Cash Grocery at 202 Public Square. Walton is said to have possessed all of the fence at one time.
Burford H. Tooley may have bought the fence from Mr. Walton. This fence stayed behind Tooleys Insurance and Real Estate business at 117 Main Street at least from 1958 until 1966. As a young child playing around town, I recall seeing this fence there in a shed. The fence was then sold to J. E. and Jean Blankenship, who ran the Purina Feed Store, which at that time was at 111 Main Street. They were the fortunate buyers of the fence—as Frank and Reba Bellar who operated Bellar Veterinarian Clinic at 119 Main Street were also interested in it. All these people had businesses on Main Street and were aware of the fence for many years prior to the sale of this historic relic.
The Blankenships had recently moved into their new home at 1000 King Road in Lafayette and they decided that the fence would be installed there. It was a focal point for their home, placed along the edge of the front sidewalk and at the front drive entrance. It was a constant source of pride for the Blankenships, that they had been able to salvage this piece of our past.
Being interested in our county’s history, I had always heard there was part of the courthouse fence located here but never really thought that it would ever be placed again at the courthouse. Jean died in 2011 and I approached Reba Bellar, executor and close friend of Jean, and I asked her if the heirs would like to donate it back to the county. She relayed the message and they were all pleased to do this, in honor of their beloved uncle and aunt.
I went before the Macon County Commissioners, and they were eager to see this fence returned to the courthouse courtyard. They gave their consent. The Macon County Jail was contacted, and inmates removed the fence, which was embedded in concrete. This was a tremendous job to remove but they showed great enthusiasm during the entire process of removal and completion of this project.
Elon Wilkerson of Artistic Visions created missing post for the fence sections and also painted the fence. Cale Copas of Copas and Son’s Construction did the concrete work and skillfully erected the fence. The finished result is a striking and enhancing work of beauty which has added a very traditional look to the courthouse. Each segment of the octagon perimeter has fence sections, with each sidewalk being flanked by two.
The courthouse has lately experienced renovation, thus giving it much appreciated and needed attention. It was pressure washed, giving it a clean, fresh look. The other step from the Woodmore Hotel has been donated to the county by the great granddaughters of proprietors Moses and Bettie Woodmore. It is resting with its mate under the famous old oak tree, home of the local whittlers. New light poles and lights have been placed and all the above ground wire, light pole, and guide wires have been removed from around the courthouse.
The courthouse is the focal point of the square and this renovation will inspire others to make changes to their properties. If we all can make any changes no matter how small for the positive, then it will be noticed and will have an effect upon the attraction and appeal of not only the square, but the entire county. This will be a definite appeal to any business or people wishing to relocate here. Remember every positive is not a negative, so please let’s all try to make our Macon County the best it can be. It is our home and our lives, our heritage and our future.