Robertson County Courthouse
By Yolanda Reid, Robertson County Historian
Robertson County was established in 1796, with Springfield named as the County Seat. By 1798 fifty acres had been obtained and were surveyed into town lots with this center location shown clear for a future Courthouse. The 1st session of the count court of Robertson Co. was held July 18, 1796 in the house of Jacob McCarty. In Oct. 1796 court was held at the house of Benjamin McIntosh located somewhere between 7th & 10th Street. Next meetings were held at the house of George Bell - last meeting at this location was the morning of July 1, 1799 where they adjourned for an hour & then met in the log courthouse which had just been completed as the first Courthouse.
There is no description of this building until February 1805 when it was contracted for the "building of a frame addition to the west end of the Court House 12 feet in length to be as high as the House with a partition through it of planks to make two jury rooms with a window on each side of the addition, with a chimney of brick or stone with a fire place in each jury room to terminate in one funnel, the whole is to be done in as workman a like manner as the present court house and of as good materials." This structure was dismantled and sold for the second courthouse built in 1819.
The 1819 Courthouse is described as a two story square brick building with walls 44 feet long placed on a stone foundation. The walls of the lower story were 21 inches thick and the upper story walls were 17 inches thick. The lower story had no partition walls and was used as the court room. This brick building was used through 1878. Engineers examined the building and reported that it was "rapidly getting weaker and more unsafe. It is manifestly unsafe and dangerous to the lives of those who may be from time to time within said building. It is liable to fall at any time from hard wind and heavy rain." January 1879 a building committee was appointed to "procure plans, specifications and estimates of cost relative to building a new Court House."
The architectural design of this third Courthouse was based on the Victorian eclectic style known as the Second Empire. The ceiling in the main courtroom on the upper floor was a series of vaulted bays with a decorative paint scheme and a metal cornice. The metal window caps and cornice are still in use today.
Four small rooms were included to be used as "water closets" but these rooms were not supplied with plumbing because of the lack of sewer. It was not until 1906 that these rest rooms were completed and people no longer had to go outside to an outhouse. With the completion of this building each of the 18 Civil Districts brought a tree and planted it on the lawn.
By 1928 a committee was appointed to study the needs of the Courthouse. They reported that the building was a good building in need of repairs, but too small for the needs of the courts. The committee visited several other counties, then hired the architectural firm of Dougherty and Gardner from Nashville. This was a well-known award-winning firm. Some of their work still exists including the War Memorial Building, Belle Meade Country Club, Percy Warner Gateway and Woodmont Baptist Church in Nashville. The design included additions to both the north and south ends plus a tower and clock. This changed the architectural style to Italian Renaissance Revival. At this time those eighteen trees planted on the lawn were nearly fifty vears old and nearly obliterated any view of the building, so many of them were cut down to make room for the additions which increased the size of the Courthouse by 50 percent. This 1929 construction made the Courthouse 123 feet long, 56 feet wide, and 105 feet tall with a tower which weighed 135 tons. Sand colored brick was added to the entire structure, but the old red brick on the center section of 1879 is still visible inside the attic. From the year 1929 until 1973 minor repairs were made to the building, then discussions began to renovate and make additions to the courthouse. There was even some discussion about tearing down this beautiful historic building.
In 1977 the courthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Then in 1982 a major restoration on the interior was done including rewiring, period paint, refinishing of the woodwork and installation of an elevator for handicapped accessibility. By 1990 it was clearly evident that the tower needed work. The cast concrete had absorbed moisture through the years, was cracking and breaking. A study was done and the structural integrity of the tower was not good, but the $600,000 price to repair was not approved. By 2004 the situation was dire in that the courthouse lawn was littered with concrete falling from the tower. A campaign was begun for support for a proper, complete structural re-build of the tower. The building was emptied in 2005 and a two year restoration completed at a cost of 3.5 million. The last of the 1879 trees was cut down in 2012 due to disease and storm damage.