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The majestic Chowan County Courthouse, located on East King Street in Edenton, is considered the finest example of Georgian architecture in the South. The proving ground for patriots Joseph Hewes, Samuel Johnston, and James Iredell, the courthouse played an integral role in state history.
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In 1712, the Edenton assembly mandated the first courthouse in Chowan County. A rustic wooden structure, the courthouse hosted legal, social, and political meetings, which previously had take place in private residences. In November of 1766, assembly members Joseph Hewes and Jacob Blount introduced a plan to build a new courthouse, completed in 1767. While the architect remains anonymous, many have speculated that either Gilbert Leigh or John Hawks (architect of Tryon Palace) supervised construction.
The Chowan County Courthouse is a stellar example of Georgian architecture, named for England’s King George III. Simplistic symmetry defines the style, popular during the colonial and early nationalist periods. The exterior, a large rectangular frame of Flemish-bond brick, rests on a central pediment overlooking Edenton Bay. The interior consists of two floors, the bottom a courtroom with a large magistrate’s chair in the center. English ballast stones pave the ground floor, and in lieu of paint the plain walls were whitewashed. The top floor, an assembly hall, was one of the largest during the colonial period. Beginning in 1778, the hall hosted the Masons of Unanimity #7, an order to which George Washington belonged. The first president’s chair remains a permanent collection piece in the courthouse.
County and state funds have sponsored several renovation phases, beginning as early as 1824. The county erected a wooden platform above the floor, adding benches and preserving the integrity of the stones beneath. Necessary utilities were incorporated through the years, including telephone, electricity, and plumbing services. A more extensive renovation concluded on October 8, 2004, when the Chowan County Courthouse opened to the public after years of work. Although Edenton constructed a more modern courthouse in 1979, the historic Chowan County Courthouse remains in use and open to the public.
Mark D. Brodsky, The Courthouse at Edenton: A History of the Chowan County Courthouse of 1767 (1989)
Ann Rouse Edwards, The Chowan County Courthouse, 1767: Celebration of a Re-awakening, October 8th, 2004 (2004)
Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Eastern North Carolina (1996)
Chowan County Government website: http://www.chowancounty-nc.gov/
Gerald Allen and Jeffrey Harbison, “A Plan for the Restoration of the 1767 Chowan County Courthouse” (unpublished report, 1995)