Oct
15

History of the Springfield Courthouse: Part II

In our latest blog post, we discussed the first 100 years of the Springfield courthouse, from its humble beginnings as a log cabin all the way up to the start of the 20th century. Today, we’re revisiting how the building slowly entered the modern age and developed into the recognizable landmark we all know today. If you enjoy learning about the history of our county as much as I do, you’re going to love this in-depth post!

The first step towards modernity: a sewer system. In 1906, a committee reported that, although the Courthouse was erected with four rooms designated to be restrooms, these rooms were never supplied with plumbing because of lack of a sewer system. The county shelled out $200 for construction and the courthouse was finally able to enjoy the magic of indoor plumbing… sooner than many other Robertson county residents, in fact!

However, this new addition lost its magic quickly. In the spring of 1907, the courthouse was closed for a deep cleaning. Reports stated that the closure was due to “the sanitary conditions… we have had consumption and other contagious infectious diseases… The carpets, dirt and germs were removed and disinfected as best we could.” No other evidence exists that any illness affected the courthouse workers, but apparently the deep cleaning was considered sufficient to reopen by the summer. 

In April of 1911, the courthouse took one final leap into the new century and began wiring the courthouse for electricity. Soon, city and county business was happening underneath the glow of electric light instead of flame.

Early courthouse images

After electricity was installed, the history books fall silent for several years. In 1928 it appears that the trees planted by the civil district representatives several years earlier were cut down, much to the chagrin of one reporter, who stated that “in a few short hours the hand of ignorance and ruthlessness laid waste this great work, and now there stands the ugly waste of those beautiful trees”. We also know that in 1929, the cornerstones laid decades earlier were removed and opened for a surprise; you can read more about that in the last blog post.

In 1930, the courthouse underwent a significant remodel after sustaining tornado-induced damages, including both north and south wings and the now iconic clock tower. The original mechanical clock was made by E. Howard Co. in Boston and measured a whopping 72 inches in diameter!

Courthouse clock tower under construction 

In 1939, a local newspaper held a contest to name the new clock. Mary Kate Parsons won with the title of ‘Father Time’. 

The records go quiet again for a bit as Robertson County joined the fight against the Axis powers in WWII, followed by Korea and Vietnam. However, another important update is recorded in 1964: the courthouse was finally equipped with air conditioning! 

The building’s age began to show itself more severely in the sixties. In 1964, local papers reported the clock was failing to keep time. After the clock was electrified, the problems multiplied, and it often struggled to remain accurate. At one point, it chimed 64 times in a row!

The day the clock announced a time of 64 PM. 

In 1973, the courthouse celebrated 94 years as an established building with a report in the Tennessean that noted, despite the recent addition of a new roof and one additional courtroom, the entire building was in desperate need of a full remodel. In 1975, a grand jury reported the courthouse to be unsafe: “[The building… is in deplorable condition, and [we] recommend a new one or a splendid overhaul of the one we now have. Also the upper part of the building is a hazard to the lives of whoever is in the building. This should have the immediate attention of the committee.”

Committee report on the state of the Courthouse

Renovations and new additions began shortly after, including the addition of handicap-accessible features and an elevator in 1982. Father Time’s face and hands were replaced by Dennis Harmon and Bill Melo of Emmanuel Stained Glass Studio in Nashville. However, at this point, the clock itself was non-functional.

The temperamental clock would finally find a physician when hobbyist antique clock repairmen Dixie Couts and Gerald Couts ascended the tower to investigate. They made the necessary repairs and restored the clock’s functionality, with Dixie offering to take over as the clock caretaker, a role he filled until 1992. James Taylor served as the next caretaker until 2004, when a new clock arrived from England. 

Dixie and Gerald Couts pose with the restored clock

In 2005, the Robertson County commission unanimously voted to pass a resolution to appropriate $4 million in funds for the long-needed courthouse renovation project. This project included new electrical and plumbing equipment, remodeled bathrooms, and more to ensure the building would continue standing for decades to come. 

Today, the Courthouse continues to stand as a testament to Robertson County’s growth over centuries. From a log cabin in 1799 to the landmark structure we know and recognize today, the history of this building is both fascinating and a reminder that, no matter how much we’ve grown, there is always still room to improve. 

Thanks for following along on this series focused on the Robertson County Courthouse. I always enjoy learning more about the history of our area, so make sure you subscribe to our newsletter to get updates the next time we do a deep-dive on a Robertson county landmark.  Sign up here: https://bit.ly/30UD7nI

Special thanks to the Robertson County archives for the images provided and help with research on this topic! 

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