Cabell County Courthouse
Backstory and Context
Cabell County was formed in 1809 from the western portion of Kanawha County and named after Virginia Governor William H. Cabell. The very first meeting of the Cabell County court was held in the home of William Merritt around Barboursville; afterwards the town of Guyandotte was made the official county seat. In 1814 the seat was moved to Barboursville. It briefly relocated to Guyandotte again in 1863 due to the threat of Confederate forces in Barboursville, but the seat was returned there in 1865 at the end of the Civil War. The growing new city of Huntington was designated the Cabell County seat in 1887 after voters’ approval in a referendum.
The Cabell County Court at first shared space with Huntington City Hall at the 400 block of Ninth Street while plans were made for the creation of a formal courthouse. In 1892 the county commission purchased a tract of land between Fourth and Fifth Avenue and Seventh and Eighth Street, known as Block 90, for around $24,000. The decision initially proved controversial; critics complained that the plot of land was too large and too far away from the central business district. Actual construction of a courthouse was delayed when the Panic of 1893 harmed the community’s finances. In 1895 the county commission accepted a design proposal from the Kansas City architectural firm of Gunn and Curtiss; the Moses Construction Company of Chicago was contracted to build the structure. Local architect James B. Stewart was commissioned to oversee the project. The sandstone foundation of the building was soon built but more financial problems delayed further work on the courthouse for several years.
Construction officially resumed with a cornerstone-laying and time capsule ceremony on November 11, 1899. Cabell County spent around $95,000 building the courthouse, along with an additional $83,000 in interest in bonds that had been sold to raise money. The Beaux Art Classical style building was one of the grandest courthouses ever built in West Virginia. The two-story stone structure contained facilities for the circuit court, the county court, the county clerk, and a jail. It was topped with a large dome containing a clock and bell tower. The jail reportedly made national news in 1932 when eighteen prisoners escaped by sawing their way out and overpowering two guards. The continued growth of Huntington and increased demand for court services to be expanded twice, with a west wing built in 1923 and an east wing in 1940.
Neglect and inadequate maintenance throughout the twentieth century caused concerns about the building’s appearance and structural integrity by the 1990s. A series of renovations were undergone between 1997 and 2000 that included the restoration of the courthouse dome; the repairing of loose masonry and water damage; and new paint. The dome was also covered in golf leafing thanks to a donation from local attorney John Hankins. In 2014 the original bell was removed and placed on display on the courthouse grounds after the bell tower was found to be in an extreme state of deterioration.
Along with the bell, there are a number of monuments scattered throughout the courthouse grounds dedicated to various subjects. A stone commemorating the James River and Kanawha Turnpike was placed in 1939. In 1941 a monument to Revolutionary War veterans buried in Cabell County was installed. In 1953 a monument was placed honoring Cabell County soldiers from the War of 1812. In 1959 a tablet was installed commemorating the 150th anniversary of the creation of Cabell County. The most recent monument was placed in 1987 to note the bicentennial of U.S. Constitution.
“Cabell County Courthouse Monuments.” Cabell County Doors to the Past. Accessed May 28, 2019. http://cabellcountydoorstothepast.com/history/courthouse%20monuments.htm.
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Ismaug. “Walking Clocks – The Cabell County Courthouse” (video). Posted May 1, 2011. Accessed May 28, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U4N2Oq_Zm7w.
Johnson, Curtis. “Bell tower renovations reveal significant damage.” Herald-Dispatch. July 25, 2014. Accessed May 28, 2019. https://www.herald-dispatch.com/news/bell-tower-renovations-reveal-significant-damage/article_859b0b83-1582-56f1-aee2-ff3585581b34.html.
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Sonis, Larry. “Cabell County.” e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. May 31, 2013. Accessed May 28, 2019. https://www.wvencyclopedia.org/articles/792.
West Virginia Association of Counties. “Cabell Count Courthouse – Huntington, WV” (video). Posted February 16, 2017. Accessed May 28, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qUX4BzcH4jo.