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Picturesque, quaint Charlotte Court
House, the county seat of Southside Virginia’s Charlotte County, is
truly a town rich in history.
So rich, in fact, that the courthouse
square has been listed on the state and national registers of historic
places as a Historic Courthouse District for its uniqueness.
has the look of a little Williamsburg,” says Stephanie Heintzleman, the
county’s assistant administrator.
40 is one of two main routes that form the center of the town's
The courthouse district is centered on
two main routes, highways 40 and 47. The town began as Daltonsburg in 1755
during the French and Indian War and was later called Marysville and
Smithville before being renamed Charlotte Court House in 1901.
Many historic events occurred within
the town, including a visit from George Washington dating back to 1791
when he stopped for breakfast at Tankersley Tavern while returning from
his southern tour.
Today the tavern, located on highway
40, is home to a bookstore, The Yarn Corner.
The tavern is also believed to have
been the site of a famous debate on states’ rights between Patrick
Henry, Virginia’s first governor, and John Randolph, representative and
senator, in March of 1799. Henry, who spoke for three hours, gave his last
speech in Charlotte Court House, while John Randolph, who also spoke for
three hours, gave his first.
Just a few months after the famous
speech, Patrick Henry died at his home, Red Hill, in Charlotte County
about 30 minutes from Charlotte Court House.
Moates, Civil War re-enactor and owner of Bob Moates Sports Shop.
“There is just so much history
here,” says Bob Moates, Civil War re-enactor and owner of Bob Moates
Sports Shop. “So many of the buildings in the town that are still
standing were involved in our history.”
Charlotte Court House is also
historically unique because it has the only courthouse building designed
by Thomas Jefferson and constructed in 1823 that is still standing and
still in use today. This courthouse was the setting for the major motion
picture Sommersby, filmed in 1992.
Today, those visiting the courthouse
district not only get a glimpse of unique architectural design, but
visitors can stop by the Charlotte County Museum housed in the county’s
old 1936 jail.
The museum provides a wealth of
information and history on Henry, Randolph, and Ambassador David K.E.
Bruce, who donated land and money to the town so that a library, two high
schools, and other county offices could be established. The museum
promotes Charlotte County, through events such as the Ride in the
Heartland bicycle event held each fall and the Celebration of the Arts
held in the spring.
History buffs and lovers of
architecture will enjoy a walking tour of the historic district where the
Old Brick Tavern, built in 1823 and renovated in 1998 for the circuit
court clerk’s office, houses county records from 1785 to the present and
displays Patrick Henry’s will.
The tour would also include the old
clerk’s office, built in the 1890s, featuring the original marble floors
and fireplaces; the district court building of Greek Revival style, built
in 1830; the county library, built in 1810; and a replica of the first
clerk’s office, which houses the APVA museum.
Village Presbyterian Church, another
Greek Revival structure, Masonic Lodge, Smith’s Store and Tuckers Store,
all circa 1825, are also on the walking tour. “This is a well-preserved
little colonial village,” says librarian Jim Watkins.
Just down the street is the Central
High Museum, where African-American culture is displayed in the school’s
former library. Central High School was open from 1939 until desegregation
brought about its closing in 1969; it was the county’s only black high
The museum opened in the fall of 2001
and gives visitors a chance to view memorabilia from the school, such as
photographs, sports jerseys, textbooks, and news articles.
In addition, the town of Charlotte
Court House also makes it on the map as part of the Wilson-Kautz Raid
Driving Tour and The Civil Rights in Education Heritage Trail. The county
library is highlighted on the Civil Rights in Education Heritage Trail as
being one of the first to allow access to African-Americans, thanks to
Ambassador David K.E. Bruce and his donations of libraries not only in
Charlotte Court House, but in 11 other counties as well.
Bruce also helped fund construction of
Randolph-Henry High School, established in 1938, in the town. Today, the
school division is rated outstanding among other school divisions in the
Even the town’s fire department
holds history dating back to its beginning in 1948, when it was located
directly behind the courthouse. Fire chief for the past 35 years, Ed
Stanley, remembers when the department had only one fire truck. “When I
first joined there was only a 1951 Chevrolet fire truck and a 1948 GMC van
that was used to carry equipment.” He says, “We only had 500 gallons
of water to put out a fire.”
Today, a visit to the town’s
municipal building will reveal five fire trucks and other apparatus. “We
have been able to purchase three new trucks in the past six years. This is
just a great neighborhood and we’ve got some good people here,” says
Those visiting the town should not
expect to see large retail businesses, lots of traffic or a hustle-bustle
lifestyle. In fact, there are only a few locally owned businesses and no
traffic signals in the town itself or the county. “Charlotte Court House
is still a place where family and friends can enjoy a relaxed pace of
life,” says Mayor Stephen Walker. “We aren’t too busy to help a
friend or neighbor. More importantly, they don’t need to ask for help,
it just appears; go for a walk in the town and five people will pull over
and ask you if you need a ride.”
The town, with an estimated population
of 453 according to the 2003 census, has two bookstores, a newly opened
craft shop, a florist, and a pharmacy, all of which provide visitors the
opportunity to pick up unique gifts and items while traveling through.
“There may be a few drawbacks to not having big businesses or having to
drive to a large grocery store, but it’s a very attractive place to come
and I think in the long run more people will begin to move here,” says
town clerk, Karen Price.
Bernaldo (seated) and Karen Price inside the What Dreams May Come
In her spare time, Price also owns and
manages What Dreams May Come, a consignment shop for local artisans and
crafters. “The concept began because I knew several people who made
things but were traveling outside the area to sell them, and I thought it
would be nice to have a local shop that featured artisans and crafters.”
For those interested in Civil War
history and portraying a solider, Bob Moates Sports Shop has everything a
war buff could want. Moates, a re-enactor himself, over the years, has
portrayed General Robert E. Lee in settings ranging from ceremonies to
documentaries on the History Channel.
1841 replica cannon that resides in courthouse square.
Also for the Civil War buff, visitors
will see an 1841 replica cannon that was placed in the courthouse square
this past summer alongside the Confederate War Memorial.
The residents of Charlotte Court House
not only take pride in their town’s history, but love its friendliness
and slow pace of life, as well. “When people ask me how long I have been
here, I always say that I am doing life with no desire for parole,” says
Charlotte Court House District Supervisor, Gary Walker. “I consider
Charlotte Court House to be the ‘Mayberry’ of Southside Virginia, a
place where we still know who our neighbors are and still care about each
In the words of Mayor Stephen Walker,
“Charlotte Court House is a nostalgic trip to a time and place worth
visiting. Many people give thought to settling down in a quiet, relaxed
environment and those of us who chose to make this our home have done just