Former Henry County courthouse now is historical museum

January 17, 2011

By ELIZA WINSTON - Bulletin Staff Writer

Antique toys, a Confederate revolver and information about early American Indians are among items on display at the former Henry County courthouse in uptown Martinsville, now home to the Martinsville-Henry County Historical Society.

The courthouse, the oldest part of which was built in 1824, was restored to its 1929 appearance using $93,000 from The Harvest Foundation and $98,000 from Save America’s Treasures, as well as private contributions, said historical society President Virginia King.

The society will promote local history through its Martinsville-Henry County Heritage Center and Museum, which includes historical displays throughout the former courthouse. The heritage center and museum are open from 1 to 5 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays and from noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays.

According to Virginia and Mervyn King, the Virginia Museum of Natural History loaned the heritage center and museum several large display cases that had been in storage. Those cases stand in the Collector’s Gallery, filled with antique toys from Mervyn King’s private collection.

Also displayed are pieces donated to the society, including several dollhouses. Two of them were created by the late Eleanor Leath and donated by her late husband, Tom Leath, said Mervyn King.

Another dollhouse was donated by Coila DeYoung’s family. The house is large and sits on its own stand so visitors can see the front and the back. All the rooms are decorated in detail, including a room with a miniature Christmas tree, presents and decorations.

Virginia King said the Collector’s Gallery will feature new local collections every four to six months.

“There are a lot of different collections in town,” her husband said.

Mervyn King said the cases are strong and secure so collectors do not have to worry about pieces being damaged. He added that anyone interested in displaying a collection, historic or otherwise, should contact the society.

“Just collecting and having them in the closet is not very exciting,” he added.

The Kings said the courthouse also can be rented out for events. It was used recently for a garden club luncheon and for the Martinsville Uptown Revitalization Association’s (MURA) Christmas party, said Virginia King.

She added that the newly renovated courtroom could be used for speakers, performances, weddings and even movies. The space can be rented by floor, she added.

The back room on the first floor eventually will house a permanent collection of information on the area’s history, from the American Indians on, said Virginia King. Mervyn King added that the permanent display will be mostly around the walls of the room, so tables still could be set up for events.

The room currently holds a display borrowed from VMNH on early American Indians in the area. Nearby is a chest from the Civil War and other Civil War objects from Mervyn King’s collections, including a Confederate LeMat revolver.

The courthouse is freshly painted, cleaned and appears as if it were meant to house antique collections and to host events. However, it has taken quite a lot of work to get it that way, said Virginia King.

After the funding was received, restoration began in 2009. An HVAC system was installed, the attic was insulated, walls and ceilings were repaired, and the interior of the building was painted, she said.

Then the floors were refinished, carpets were installed, the marble floors were refurbished and three restrooms were refurbished, said Virginia King. The original front doors also were reproduced and painted, she said.

Anyone interested in volunteering, renting the space for an event, making a donation or suggesting a collection for display should call the Kings at 638-5464.


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