Old county court house has rich history

Published 2:20 pm Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Old Shelby County Courthouse, located at the end of North Main Street in Columbiana, is home to the Shelby County Historical Society Museum and Archives.

The building houses an opulent collection Shelby County history.

Shelby County’s first courthouse, built of logs at a cost of $53, was located in Shelbyville in what is now Pelham, and served as the county seat until 1826, when it was moved to a poorly-constructed school building in Columbia.

Centrally located in the county, Columbiana became the official county seat in 1853. Its name was changed from Columbia by an act of the Alabama Legislature. The courthouse was built in 1854.

The original building consisted of only three rooms: Two rooms on the first floor, with the courtroom upstairs. Front and back additions were added in 1881.

The courthouse escaped the raid of General Wilson and Union soldiers that destroyed the ironworks at Shelby in 1865.

When work began on the new stone courthouse in 1906, the old courthouse was sold to the highest bidder. The winner was J.W. Blackerby, who paid approximately $2,500. He opened a hotel and boarding house until 1934.

Many people remember the building being used as a funeral home and suggest embalming was done in the back room, but evidence of this has yet to be discovered. It did serve as a doctor’s office and public library after the boarding house closed.

The Harrison Room, which houses the museum’s library, was named for Karl Harrison, who was born in the room. When the city council wanted to tear down the old courthouse in 1960, the decrepit building was saved by one vote.

The Shelby County Historical Society began restoration efforts in 1972 and in 1982, the building became the home of the Shelby County Historical Society Museum and Archives.

A historic courthouse would not be complete without a ghostly inhabitant. Upstairs in the Johnson Room, blinds are mysteriously raised every so often, and in the Christian-Davis Room downstairs, pictures are often found hanging crooked. One theory suggests the ghostly presence is that of a prisoner who hanged himself in the front room of the second floor.

With a variety of data, the museum houses Shelby County’s largest genealogical archives and is an excellent starting place for anyone researching their family history in the county.

Catherine Cousins can be reached by e–mail at info@catherinecousins.com.