Avery County Courthouse
The Survey and Planning Branch of the Division of Archives and history conducted a historical and architectural survey of North Carolina’s county courthouses during the winter of 1976-1977. These buildings, ranging in date from 1767 to 1976, form one of the most important groups of structures in the state, as they illustrate two centuries of architectural evolution and the formation and development of North Carolina’s county seats.
North Carolina’s first courthouses were small frame or log structures that literally housed the court. These temporary buildings, none of which survives, were erected in the designated site of the county seat and were often the only structure of the newly created town.
The establishment of counties as units of government in North Carolina and the erection of a courthouse resulted in the county seat becoming the political, social, and economic center of the county The courthouse was a magnet that attracted people and business. When court was in session, the courthouse and surrounding area were a hubbub of activity. The courthouse square was the common ground on which town and county met, and the area around the courthouse naturally developed and was oriented towards it.
Avery County was established in 1911 from Caldwell, Mitchell, and Watauga counties. In April of that year, the county commissioners “agreed to have the courts held at Elk Park, N.C., until the Court House shall have been erected at a place to be chosen by a vote of the citizens of Avery County.” In February of the following year, the commissioners dispatched two representatives to Lenoir in Caldwell County to “inspect their Court House and obtain the name of the company that furnished their drawings, etc.” Architects Wheeler and Runge of Charlotte, well-known designers of public buildings in North Carolina, planned the new building. The Avery County Commissioners elected to locate the courthouse in Newland, and R. C. Campbell of Caldwell, North Carolina, was the contractor for the structure which cost $25,800 and was completed in May 1913.
Set on a well-maintained site at one end of the town park, the Avery County Courthouse is a Newland landmark. Begun in 1912, the courthouse is a two-story brick Neo-Classical Revival structure in the Beaux Arts manner by Charlotte architects Wheeler and Runge. It is one of six surviving courthouses designed by Wheeler and his associates and is distinguished by an unusual crowning cupola. The other buildings are in Ashe, Iredell, Randolph, Stokes, and Wilkes counties.
The courthouse’s main façade is a five-part composition with a three-story hipped roof central core. This section is crowned by an oblong mansard cupola and fronted by a tetrastyle Ionic portico. Two-story flat roof wings project from the core. Recent two-story contemporary additions which blend well with the design and scale of the original block have been added to the sides and rear of the building.
Less ornate than the Iredell and Randolph buildings, the Avery County Courthouse shares several decorative features with the less flamboyant Wheeler designs. The tympanum of the portico is tilled with foliate scrolls and a shield bearing the construction date. Pilasters with egg and dart masonry caps define the building’s corners. The base of the cupola is pierced with bullseye windows.
The main entrance is contained in a round arch opening, and a vestibule running parallel to the main façade has the original stairs at each end. A wide center hall flanked by offices runs the length of the building. It was remodeled when the rear additions were made in 1974. The courtroom on the second floor has been renovated, but all of the original furnishings remain and have been beautifully refinished.
Nearby, an old two-story jailer’s quarters and jail have been adapted to serve as a county museum and offices A substantial turn-of-the-century building, the jail with the 1912 courthouse forms a vital and functioning county complex that represents Avery County’s past as well as its future.