Respect for the Law

Mecklenburg County's new courthouse is on a short list of structures


County courthouses have survived well in Charlotte, despite the city's well-known propensity for tearing down old buildings, even those with historical merit.

The new Mecklenburg County Courthouse, under construction at Fourth and McDowell streets, is only the seventh courthouse in the county’s 243-year history, and the two most recent courthouses are still in use. The first county court was held in the home of pioneer settler Thomas Spratt near present-day Randolph and Caswell roads. The first actual courthouse, built in 1766, was a rustic log structure at the intersection of Trade and Tryon streets. The courthouse was built on pillars that provided open space beneath for a market.

The second courthouse, a two-story brick building with a hipped roof and cupola, was constructed on the same site in 1810 and served until 1845.

The courthouse was moved to the northeast corner of West Trade and Church streets in 1845. This ungainly building, in use until 1897, had four large, covered brick columns and twin outside staircases that led to the second-floor courtroom.

The fourth courthouse, built in 1897 at South Tryon and Third streets, was considered pretentious by many. The neoclassical structure with a shining dome was built of brick and stone with marble floors and featured a large, open plaza. Despite its imposing appearance, the courthouse was outgrown and abandoned in less than thirty years.

In 1928, the courthouse was moved to a dignified, classical revival facility at 700 East Trade Street that is still used for county offices. When it was built, some argued that the new building was too far from the heart of the community and that "country people" would never be able to find the courthouse so they could pay their taxes.

The sixth courthouse, the one currently in use at 800 Fourth Street, was designed by noted architect Harry Wolf. It opened in 1978 and was featured on the cover of Architectural Record, which called it "one of the finest civic buildings of the decade."