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The Rutherford County Courthouse and the PWA: 1937-1938

The Rutherford County Courthouse

The Rutherford County Courthouse. Shacklett's Historic Photographs Collection at the Rutherford County Archives. Circa 1900-1920.

In 1938, the Grand Jury of Rutherford County made a report to T. L. Coleman, circuit court judge for Rutherford County on the state of the Courthouse and its facilities. The jury noted that the Courthouse was in terrible shape. "Upon examing the jury room . . . we find it in a most deplorable condition, the plastering on the ceiling is in such condition that we deem it dangerous to occupy the room . . . ." The jury further noted that "The hallways downstairs and upstairs and the sheriff's office should be papered, the paper being badly torn and falling off of the walls." [1]

In 1936, two years before the grand jury report, options about what to do with the Courthouse were being explored. One suggestion was to update the Courthouse with half of the project being funded by the Public Works Administration. Another idea was to completely demolish the Courthouse and build a new one. A new courthouse was projected to cost the county $250,000  with 45% of the cost being paid by the federal government. At first, it was decided that a new courthouse would be built. However, within a 24 hour period, the decision was reversed and it was decided that the present courthouse would remain. The county voted $5,000 for renovations. The Public Works Administration never became involved with the Rutherford County Courthouse. [2]

During the 1930s, the nation was mired in the Great Depression. One of the agencies created to put people to work was the Public Works Administration (PWA). Created 1933 and subsumed by the Federal Works Agency in 1939, in the PWA was designed to employ people to build roads, water and sewer systems, and public buildings. Some of the public buildings created by the PWA were courthouses.[3]

[1] Rutherford County Circuit Court Minutes, October 21, 1938.

[2] Nick Taylor, American-Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA: When FDR Put the Nation to Work (New York: Bantam Books, 2008), 174. See also the PWA's America Builds: The Record of the PWA (Washington D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1939).

[3] Greg Tucker, "County Agrees on Courthouse Demolition" Rutherford County Historical Society, http://rutherfordtnhistory.org/PeoplePlacesandStories/GregTuckerStories/20110530CourthouseDemolition/20110530CourthouseDemolition.htm (accessed April 3, 2013).