Courthouse turns 100

Published 12:41 am Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sarah Kingery, of Willow Wood, looked at Kay Rader with more than a bit of inquisitiveness obvious on her seven-year-old face. Rader and Kingery know each other from Sunday School at First Baptist Church of Ironton but Saturday, Rader looked, well, a bit differently than she normally does.

Dressed in a 1940s-style black dress, a hat and jewelry— lots of jewelry—Rader left her modern- day attire at home, donned the likeness of famous woman ironmaster Nannie Kelley Wright and became part of the celebration of the 100th birthday of the Lawrence County Courthouse.

Visitors who normally come to the county seat to transfer land or pay their taxes were treated to refreshments, live music compliments of violinist Herb Rose, and lots of Lawrence County history.

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Linda and David Sanders came from Coal Grove to take part in the festivities.

“I just saw it in the Tribune,” Linda Sanders said. “I have an interest in the history of the county, the community, Coal Grove.”

Blueprints of the building, along with a list of bidders who sought to build the domed structure, were laid out on tables in the third floor outside the county commission office. A gas chandelier that once hung in the courthouse and had been forgotten in the attic was found during refurbishments, cleaned and put on display. The recorder’s office and other offices had amassed collections of historic artifacts as well.

Local history author Virginia Bryant was on hand to sign copies of her latest book about Wright. The book, along with wood block replicas of the courthouse was on sale. And there were freebies, too. Wooden nickels with the courthouse and a bust of Ironton founder John Campbell, were given away, as well as post cards with courthouse as it looked when it was first built and as it looks today.

“We’ve probably gone through close to 3,000 (postcards),” South Point Postmaster Greg Dotson said. South Point post office staffers offered hand cancellation of the cards, since that post office is the one closest to the original county seat of Burlington.

Outside, members of the Huddle family gave children goat cart rides. A short distance away, the Ironton- Lawrence County Community Action Organization gave tours of its building that was once the home of John Campbell. Campbell’s 200th birthday is also this year.

Some courthouse workers eschewed their suits and ties for period clothing. All three Lawrence County Commissioners sported dark suits meant to give the air of early 1900s- era authority. Commissioners Jason Stephens and Tanner Heaberlin donned turn-of-the-century-style hats and Stephens even wore a morning coat, vest and pin striped pants. Several ladies were in dressed plumed hats or bonnets and floor-length dresses while others opted for shorter but still more formal dresses than what is generally worn today.

Heaberlin thanked the courthouse celebration committee for their work to make the day successful.

“I think the committee has done a great job, Tami (Meade, county commission administrator) and Summer (Riley, Meade’s assistant) and the committee have worked hard to make this day happen,” he said. “To the volunteers, to anyone who contributed, to the elected officials, thank you.” Commission President Doug Malone made a point to thank Meade, Riley and the committee at Thursday’s commission meeting.

Stephens read a proclamation marking Saturday as a day of rededication of the old building.

Throughout the day, Rader gave a presentation downstairs on the life of Wright, a woman she called “very dynamic” with a “zest for life.” Upstairs, some of that zest was more than evident in a play based on the divorce of Wright from her second husband Gregory Wright. Playwright and moviemaker Mickey Fisher adapted the transcript of the trial into a 15-minute play that was offered throughout the day as well.

Local erstwhile thespians depicted the court proceedings during which Wright’s second husband, Gregory, sought alimony from woman who was once on the list of wealthiest women in the world.

According to the play, Nannie, played by Taylor Parnell, and her attorney, played by T.J. Parnell, argued that Gregory Wright had been a man best known for “idleness and drink.”

While on the witness stand, Nannie testified “The only thing my husband ever finished was an open bottle” and alleged he even went to business meeting drunk and was even sometimes verbally abusive.

Gregory, played by Chris Destocki, and his attorney, played by Mark McCown, charged that Nannie had a mouth of her own she frequently used and once even insulted Gregory’s mother.

In the end, both in the play and in real life, Gregory Wright was denied his alimony though Judge A.J. Layne did order Nannie to pay her ex-husband’s legal fees.