With the sun gleaming on a new copper roof and children playing at the entrance, the historic Chatham County Courthouse opened its doors again to the community on Saturday.
A March 2010 fire left the historic Pittsboro building — whose cornerstone was laid in 1881 — little more than a shell of bricks.
“I remember the sense of loss that we all felt as a result of that terrible day,” said U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers, R-N.C.
“And yet here we are today coming together to celebrate a rebirth of this beautiful courthouse, the center of your community.”
Saturday’s celebrations included a courtroom ceremony, tours of the restored courthouse and the new Chatham Historical Museum and a rededication of the cornerstone.
The restored courtroom — housed on the second floor — was filled to capacity with about 250 attendees eager to celebrate. Restored and improved, the courtroom has new soundproof walls, an audiovisual system and an automatic sprinkler system — an improvement that was met with applause.
Chatham County Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour said the new courtroom preserves the history of the courthouse and will be a gathering place for legal hearings, ceremonies and county meetings.
“It’s a home for public discourse, Chatham County’s front porch,” Baddour said.
Fred Vatter, a member of the Chatham County Historical Association Board of Directors, said he hopes the reopening will renew interest in local history.
“There’s been a big increase in the population of the county and many people don’t know about the history,” Vatter said. “And they should. It’s fascinating.”
Karen Howard, member of the Chatham County Schools Board of Education, said it is especially important to preserve the town’s history for future generations.
“In the future, we will modernize again, yet still stay true to the historic community that Pittsboro is,” she said.
A new museum on the courthouse’s first floor celebrates the county’s history and builds upon a smaller museum collection that was salvaged and restored from the previous courthouse.
“To me, the outstanding part of this is the volunteers who have worked two years and three months to make this happen,” said Susan Little, chairwoman of the committee to rebuild the museum.
Rob Watson — who works as prototype manager with Design Dimension Inc., the company that designed the layout and information panels for the museum — brought his family to view the exhibits.
“I think it turned out great and we’re really excited,” Watson said.
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