1750 Courthouse to change hands

Published 5:02 pm Thursday, April 25, 2024

The 1750 Isle of Wight County Courthouse on Main Street will change hands for the first time in 11 years on May 18.

That’s the date Historic Smithfield, the nonprofit organization that’s owned the courthouse since 2013, will officially deed the property to the 1750 Courthouse Board, which for the past 11 years has operated as a semi-independent group under Historic Smithfield tasked with raising funds for the historic building’s upkeep.

According to Courthouse Board President David Hundley, plans to transfer ownership began at an August 2022 board meeting.

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“The main reason for the discussion of ownership change was a review of the mission of Historic Smithfield, which was and has always been a project-based oriented organization,” Hundley said. “The Historic Smithfield Board felt it was time to transfer the property. The board, after gathering information, felt the 1750 Isle of Wight County Courthouse Board was in good standing to accept the stewardship of the building.”

The one-story, three-room courthouse has seen many owners since its construction, which predates the town’s 1752 founding by two years. According to Helen Haverty King’s book, “Historical Notes on Isle of Wight County,” when Francis Boykin built a new courthouse seven miles south of Smithfield in 1800, Virginia’’s General Assembly passed an act deeding the one on Main Street to him, which Smithfield founder Arthur Smith IV’s descendants challenged, kicking off a legal battle that continued seven years after Boykin’s 1805 death. By 1812, according to past reporting by The Smithfield Times, Dr. Richard Butler had purchased the courthouse and converted it into a three-story, 10-room home housing his medical practice, and remained in Butler’s configuration for the next 126 years.

In 1938, the courthouse was deeded to Preservation Virginia, then known as the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, after Emily Delk Simpson and a group of women persuaded the APVA to save the building from a planned demolition to make way for a new post office.

“A local chapter of this organization was formed in Isle of Wight for the sole purpose of saving the structure located on this property that had once been the 1750 Isle of Wight County Courthouse,” Hundley said.

From 1959 through 1961, the courthouse was restored to its colonial configuration.

“APVA owned the structure for the next five decades with the local 1750 Isle of Wight County Courthouse Board operating and caring for the property under the direction of APVA,” Hundley said.

According to a brief history written by Smithfield Times Publisher Emeritus John Edwards, Preservation Virginia began deeding some of its properties to local organizations deemed capable of caring for them in 2012. In 2013, Preservation Virginia deeded the property to Historic Smithfield. Historic Smithfield, in turn, accepted a historic easement that is supervised by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

The Courthouse Board is planning a ceremony at 4:30 p.m. on May 18 at the courthouse to sign the deed that will officially recognize the latest transfer of ownership.