Wednesday, September 20, 2017  

The Old Middlesex County Courthouse


On May 31 and June 1, 1863, the Harris H. Light Cavalry rode into Middlesex County. Hugh Judson Kilpatrick had assumed command of this unit, the Union’s 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, in February of 1863 under Major General George Stoneman. Known as “Kilcavalry” (or “Kill-Cavalry”) for using tactics in battle that were considered as a reckless disregard for lives of soldiers under his command, Kilpatrick’s Union troops had left the Battle of Chancellorsville and were roaming the Virginia countryside with orders to demoralize 
the local southern population by looting and destroying all their records. To that purpose, Union troops, at the end of May in 1863, stormed the old Middlesex Courthouse and the clerk’s office in Saluda, Virginia, searching for records to destroy.
The Confederacy became aware of the treachery being inflicted by Union troops and ordered the records sent to Richmond. In an attempt to prevent the Union Army from destroying records, most counties sent their records to be stored in Richmond. The effort proved to be in vain when the rebels accidently set fire to some buildings in the Confederate capitol in Richmond. The records and historical information from generations burned with it.
But not the records of Middlesex County. The Middlesex County Clerk, Mr. Philemon Taylor Woodward of Saluda, refused to send the records to Richmond. Instead, he hid them in a barn near Dragon Run. Woodward’s action saved the records dating back to 1643 and made Woodard one of the heroes of Middlesex County. The clerk’s office still stands and has been turned into a museum. Exhibits in the museum include historical facts regarding slave owners freeing slaves and copies of old wills that deeded slaves to other people. Perhaps some of the most interesting cases are the records of slave and free blacks going to court. The office, now part of the old courthouse museum, is arranged to look as it would have when Philemon T. Woodard worked there in the spring of 1860.
The Middlesex Courthouse has been in a succession of locations over the years. The old courthouse in Saluda is the third location of the county seat. Originally in 1670, Middlesex County was a part of Lancaster County. There was no real courthouse in 1695 when a building near Stormont was leased for a period of ten years. In 1705, the first county owned courthouse was built and used until 1748, when a courthouse was constructed in Urbanna. It served as the county seat for 104 years. In 1849, there was much disagreement about the notion of moving the county seat out of Urbanna to a different location. The controversy became so heated a referendum was called for to let the people decide the issue. In 1850, a referendum was held to move the courthouse to its present location in Saluda. Thomas Waring Fauntleroy offered land for the site. When the courthouse was completed, he laid out the town of Saluda on land he owned as part of a 1,030 acre track which also was the site of his home Oakenham which he built in 1837.
Saluda got its name at the suggestion of Fauntleroy who had family living on the Saluda River in South Carolina. The courthouse and buildings in Saluda date back to 1852. They include the clerk’s office, the jail and the court buildings. These buildings were granted Virginia Landmarks status and nominated to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.
The official description from the Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission reads as follows; “The two-and-a-half story, rectangular structure is executed in Flemish-bonded brick, in a “T”-shaped plan. The rear section of the “T” plan was added in the 1920s. The three bays of the Tuscan pedimented-gable facade contain a first-story arcaded loggia, one bay in depth, consisting of five rounded arches. The arches are painted white, the color of the building’s wooden exterior trim. Within the arcade, twin double doorways with simple architrave trim lead into the courtroom. All the windows contain this simply molded trim, and all retain the original 6/6 sashes. In addition to the Tuscan pediment on the main (south) facade, the building contains similar pediments on both ends of the lateral wing across the rear of the main block. A lunette is in the tympanum of the front pediment. An open arcade connects the original courthouse to a modern, two-story counterpart constructed in 1965. The interior of the courthouse may have originally contained a two-story courtroom with gallery, similar to that found in contemporary examples; unfortunately, the interior has been considerably renovated, and the plan has been altered to conform to present day use. In the courthouse complex stands the county clerk’s office, a one-story, gable roofed, American-bond brick structure built at the same time as the courthouse. Also in the complex, and stylistically contemporary with the other buildings, is the jail, a hip-roof, two-story brick structure laid in American bond. The main facade of three bays contains a transom-lit door surrounded by simple trim. The windows on all elevations contain segmental arches and simple trim. A corbeled brick cornice is carried around the building, broken 
by segmental arches of the windows.”
It may come as a surprise to some that the sleepy little town of Saluda was once the scene of a landmark court case that changed history in America. On July 16, 1944, 27-year-old Irene Morgan Kikaldy boarded a bus in Gloucester, Virginia where her mother lived. When the Greyhound bus stopped at Saluda, en route to Baltimore, additional white passengers got on and the driver asked Irene Morgan to move further back in the bus. Federal regulations provided that interstate buses were desegregated, however, the State of Virginia enforced segregation regulations that required people of color to sit in the back of the bus. The bus driver insisted Irene Morgan would have to move to the back of the bus. When she refused, the driver called the Middlesex County Sheriff Sager who tried to give her an arrest warrant. She then tore up the arrest warrant. In the struggle that ensued, Morgan accidently kicked the sheriff in the groin while tussling with deputies who were attempting to pull her off the bus. Morgan was arrested and tried in the courthouse at Middlesex. She was convicted of violating state law for segregation on buses. She pled guilty to the charge of resisting arrest and received a fine of $100 which she paid. Morgan refused a guilty plea for violating Virginia’s law on segregation on buses. And she refused to pay the $10.00 fine.
Morgan and her lawyers fought the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The landmark case of Irene Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia ensued. In 1946, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-1 the state of Virginia’s law enforcing segregation on interstate buses was illegal. The Court ruled that the Virginia law was unconstitutional as the Commerce Clause protected interstate traffic. Thurgood Marshal was co-counsel and later became a U.S. Supreme Court justice. The ruling stated, “As no state law can reach beyond its own border nor bar transportation of passengers across its boundaries, diverse seating requirement for the races in interstate journeys result. As there is no federal act dealing with the separation of races in interstate transportation, we must decide the validity of this Virginia statue on the challenge that it interferes with commerce, as a matter of balance between the exercise of the local police power and the need for national uniformity in the regulations of interstate travel. It seems clear to us that seating arrangements for the different races in interstate motor travel require a single uniform rule to promote and protect national travel. Consequently, we hold the Virginia statue in controversy invalid.” In January of 2001, the President of the United States awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition of her courage and efforts in the cause of desegregation.
If the old courthouse walls could speak, they would tell tales involving many of the men pictured in paintings that span 150 years of the history of the county’s 300 year history. The walls of the old courtroom have portraits of former Middlesex County dignitaries, dating back to the Civil War. Prominent among those portraits are men like William Steptoe Christian, MD, who was a Colonel in the Army of the Confederacy and was captured at the Battle of Gettysburg. He was imprisoned at Johnson’s Island on Lake Erie. He survived to become the President of Virginia’s State Medical Society in 1904 and first Superintendent of Schools in Middlesex. Nearby is a portrait of Joseph Allen Bristow who was a member of the Virginia Constitutional Convention between 1901 and 1902. Honored as well in portraiture is Captain Elliott Muse Healy, son of Walter Healy of The Eminence plantation. Captain Healy was killed at the Battle of Manassas in August of 1862. Also honored on the old courthouse wall is a portrait of Sargent William Smith, the son of George and Hanna Jones Smith. He died at the battle of Chancellorsville in May of 1863. Confederate States of America veteran William Hill Vaughan is remembered in the old courthouse as are many judges and clerks of the Court.
The beautiful new courthouse was completed in September 2007 on ground to the rear of the old courthouse.
The exhibit created by the Middlesex County Museum and Historical Society is open to the public free of charge. Hours are Monday to Saturday 8:30 am to 4:30 pm year round. “There is a nice collection of original documents as part of the exhibit”, says museum director Holly Horton. “We have deeds, manumission papers (owners freeing slaves while the owner is still alive), wills, and county budgets as some of the papers on view. The penmanship and the language in the documents are quite interesting.”
The historic courtroom in the old courthouse has been remodeled and is being used as a meeting room for the Board of Supervisors, the school board and various other county agencies. The courthouse today houses various government meetings and offices. On the grounds of the courthouse are a Civil War monument erected in 1910 by the local Chapter of the Daughters of the Confederacy and other monuments for veterans of other wars.
There is a treat in store for anyone who takes the time to walk the grounds of the old courthouse in Saluda. A war was fought over its grounds, slaves were freed, and civil rights history was made here. Visit the old clerk’s office museum and that is a short block’s walk up Route 33 to visit the Middlesex County Museum and Historical Society.