If walls could talk, the Chatham County Courthouse would tell stories — and as they restore the structure to its original masonry, builders have unmasked remnants of its history.
The 131-year-old courthouse, located at 158 West St. in Pittsboro, partly burned down in a March 2010 fire.
“When it burned down, it was like somebody ripped my heart out,” said Pittsboro commissioner Bett Wilson Foley, who grew up in town.
The courthouse is in the process of being rebuilt and restored, and excavation efforts by Hobbs Architects have revealed new information about the local legends surrounding the building’s past construction.
Workers found an arched brick opening filled with masonry that could have once been a tunnel opening.
Gene Brooks, former president of the Chatham County Historical Society, said the tunnel was probably built in the 1840s courthouse renovations.
He said the structure probably remained intact during the courthouse’s 1881 rebuild, but was eventually sealed over.
Brooks said the tunnel was most likely an escape route from the courtroom in case of a slave uprising, natural disaster or a fire during trial.
He said the county was likely prompted to build the tunnel because the previous courthouse was poorly built and the roof blew off during trial one day.