Courthouse back to life

March 6, 2011

When they last were at the courthouse, they were presiding over cases.

Active and retired 21st Judicial Circuit Court judges will join in today’s celebration of the renovations of the courthouse and its revival as a heritage center and a museum.

The grand opening of the restored former Henry County courthouse, heritage center and museum will be held from 3-5 p.m. today. The event is open to the public. Many people who used the courthouse in its previous life as a center of law are expected to attend.

Speakers will include Debra Buchanan, chairman of the Henry County Board of Supervisors; Judge David V. Williams, chief judge of the 21st Judicial Circuit; and Kenneth M. Covington, a retired circuit court judge.

Debbie Hall, the executive director of the Martinsville-Henry County Historical Society, which oversees the courthouse and museum, also is in her second role at the building.

Hall became an attorney in 1986. She often was in the courthouse on legal business before it closed in 1996.

“I sort of feel like I’ve come back home,” she said.

Though the museum has been open to visitors for a couple of months, many new exhibits have been installed. They include Revolutionary War and Civil War items and information in the Timeline Room, which also shows replicas of pages of the 1941 “Industrial Progress Edition” of the Martinsville Daily Bulletin and “The Bassetteer” publication of Bassett Furniture Industries, also from about that time.

A display of items lent by Frances Shackelford Leavitt of King’s Grant tells the story of the Shackelford Hospital, operated by her father and grandfather from 1922 to 1941.

Banners from the three local Lions Clubs (Ridgeway, Collinsville and Martinsville) as well as early club memorabilia also are on display. Those clubs merged recently.

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, according to Bulletin reports.

Admission to the museum is free. It is open from 1-5 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays.

The courthouse and museum also may be rented for events. Within the past few weeks, a wedding, a baby shower, a play and a college faculty meeting have been held there.

“We want it to be a good venue,” Hall said. “The courthouse has been a focal point (of uptown) for so many years,” and now it can be again in a whole new way.

For more information about the museum and heritage center, call Hall at 403-5361 or visit


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