Wednesday, October 3, 2012 1:00 AM
Little is known about the early courthouses that served as county seats in Old Union, Camden and Philadelphia.
In all likely-hood, the structures would have consisted of one or two stories, with a jail and offices for the sheriff and clerks of Neshoba County.
County official constructed the first brick courthouse in 1858, a photograph of which graced the cover of Red Clay Hills of Neshoba, a detailed history of the county, complied by Jenelle B. Yates and Theresa T. Ridout, and published in 1992 by The Neshoba County Historical Society.
The pre-Civil War building became the subject of many derisive comments, as did several other courthouses that followed.
Neshoba County suffered only a few casualties and very little damage during the four years of the Civil War, but on one occasion, did experience one serious indignity.
About noon on Thursday, April 23, 1863, Colonel Benjamin H. Grierson brought his troop of about 1,200 cavalrymen through the little village of Philadelphia.
To calm the few citizens that appeared, the Yankee officer stopped in front of the north side of the newly constructed courthouse and made an extemporaneous speech, one that drew no applause.
Upon completion of the short little talk, one bold farmer stepped forward and asked, "Colonel, are you going to burn our town?"
Grierson turned in his saddle and gazed for a few seconds at the two story courthouse with a cupola, and the three or four buildings constructed from very rough lumber, and with a wry little grin on his face replied, "No Sir. My orders are not to leave the countryside better off!"
Riding off, he summoned Colonel Edward Prince and ordered him to command a rear-guard battalion and swear the locals to a vow of silence concerning his cavalry movements. In a good natured tone, Prince asked the gathered citizens to line up in the main street.
One of Grierson's Butternut Guerillas, Sergeant Richard Surby commented, "The last I saw of them, they were standing in line with arms extended perpendicular, and Colonel Prince was swearing at them not to give any information for a certain length of time."
By the early 1870's, the Neshoba Courthouse, spared by Colonel Grierson, badly needed repairs. E. E. Hembree noted in an article to the Neshoba Democrat, "In 1873 the courthouse was all cracked open and fastened together with long iron rods. There was a big white thing on the top of the building, which they called a cupola."
On Aug. 18, 1883, the old structure burned and the county replaced it in 1885 on the foundation of the second, at a cost of $8,000.
The quality of the third edifice was extremely poor, and after only 27 years of use in 1912, this courthouse became the ridicule of the town-folk.
Editor Clayton Rand of the Neshoba Democrat later wrote: "The county board of supervisors would do nothing toward the building of a new courthouse and there was a gentlemen's agreement among the merchants and businessmen on the square that if the old structure caught fire they would shoot the first man that tried to put it out.
"One night at store closing time the courthouse caught fire, and as the smoke billowed out its windows, everyone in town sneaked home and hoped for the best.
"The fire smoldered through much of the night, ate its way into a few rafters, but finally extinguished itself, and it was generally believed that it was because the structure, saturated with spit, was fireproof."
The "fireproof" courthouse remained in use until 1928, when the county constructed the current building at a cost of $85,000. In the 1950s, the supervisors added two wings to that building.
The Philadelphia-Neshoba County Historical Museum is located at 303 Water Avenue under the curation of Steven H. Stubbs.
Hours of operation are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information call 601-656-1284.