Asheville's courthouse, completed in 1928, is one of the most extravagent courthouses in North Carolina. In 1792, after its founding, Buncombe County built its first courthouse in what was then known as Morristown, renamed Asheville in 1797. Several log and brick courthouses were constructed during the 19th century including substantial buildings of 1877 and 1903. By 1923, with the rapid growth of the county and Asheville, county court officials proclaimed that a new courthouse was "imperative and essential."
City planning authority John Nolen recommended the development of a "civic center" as an extension of Pack Square in his 1922 plan for Asheville. City and county officials endorsed the idea of a uniform civic center with paired buildings, but when the city began advancing a scheme designed by architect Douglas Ellington, a rift arose between the two commissions. Whether because of stylistic conservatism or Ellington's lack of experience, the County Commissioners, led by chairman Edgar M. Lyda, selected the Washington, D.C. firm of Milburn, Heister & Company to design the new courthouse in December 1926. The firm enjoyed a national reputation for quality work in public buildings across the southeast. Although founder Frank Pierce Milburn died in September 1926, his son, Thomas Y. Milburn, succeeded him as president with little effect on the firm's operations.
The Courthouse is Milburn's most opulently finished public building. The building's complex setbacks, window groupings and overlay of Neo-Classical Revival ornamentation result in a distinctive building from this period, when courthouses were characterized by simple massing and conservative classical elements. The interior lobby contains a sweeping marble staircase, bronze and glass screens, a coffered ceiling with ornate plasterwork and a mosaic tile floor that echoes the ceiling's tones. The lobby is one of the best-preserved and most elegant Neo-Classical interiors in the state.
Initially estimated at $1,000,000, the final cost ran closer to $1,750,000, and the removal of the old courthouse required another $65,000. The Angle-Blackford Company of Greensboro, North Carolina, served as the general contractors. Upon completion in 1928, the 17-story building was the tallest local government building in North Carolina.
The Buncombe County Courthouse is located at 60 Court Sq. It is open weekdays 8:00am to 6:00pm. For further information, please visit the Buncombe County Commissioners Office website or call 828-250-4001.
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