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City Beautiful and the Rutherford County Courthouse: The Courthouse and its First Renovation, 1907-1908

The Rutherford County Courthouse

The Rutherford County Courthouse. Circa 1900-1930. The Jim Laughlin Collection at the Rutherford County Archives.

After the third Rutherford County Courthouse was built in 1859, and survived the Civil War, it needed updating. Despite the beautiful appearance of the Courthouse in this postcard, it had, by 1906-1907, been in existance for almost fifty years. A third floor was added to the Courthouse and the roof was changed from hipped to almost flat. [1]

This type of postcard, offering an idealized image of a dowtown structure, like the Rutherford County Courthouse, was popular across the nation in the early decades of the twentieth century. These postcards were part of what is known as the "City Beautiful" movement. The City Beautiful had its origins in the late 1800s as progressive urban reform movements like clean water, clean streets, decent housing, etc., took hold in cities. By the early twentieth century, however, business people used the ideas of City Beautiful to make their cities more appealing to commercial interests. As historian Alison Isenberg writes "The City Beautiful proved to be something quite different in the hands of politicians, business men, and planners . . ." City Beautiful postcards of downtowns and main streets offered a sometimes unrealistc image of what a city's leaders wanted their city to look like, but not always did. [2]

[1]  Heritage Center of Murfreesboro and Rutherford County, "One of Tennessee's Six Remaining Antebellum Courthouses. Rutherford County Courthouse," (Murfreesboro, TN: circa 2000).

[2] Alison Isenberg, Downtown America: A History of the Place and the People Who Made It (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 36, 326-327.