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Bakersville Courthouse

Bakersville Historic CourthouseMitchell County's original county seat was not in Bakersville (as it has been since 1866) but in the once promising town of Calhoun. The name Calhoun has disappeared except from the earliest official records. Nor is the later name for the town, Childsville, remembered by anyone directly.

The creation of Mitchell County, from a large portion of Yancey and parts of Watauga, Caldwell, Burke and McDowell Counties, was precipitated over the question of secession immediately preceding the War Between the States.

The Northern half of the district strongly supported the Union and wanted to part company with the Southern half, which favored secession. The opportunity for this split came when Jacob W. Bowman, rising young politician of what is now Bakersville, was elected to represent Yancey County in the state legislature. Eager to serve his constituents living north of Toe River, young Bowman secured the passage of an act creating a new county.

The new county was named Mitchell in honor of Prof. Elisha Mitchell of the University of North Carolina, who was well known in the Toe River Valley and who had lost his life in 1857 while remeasuring the height of Black Dome in the Black Mountain Range, highest peak east of the Rocky Mountains, which was subsequently named Mt. Mitchell in his honor.

According to Chapter 8, Public Laws of North Carolina, Session of 1860-61, the county court of pleas and quarter sessions for the newly created county should be "held in the house of Eben Childs on the tenth Monday after the fourth Monday in March, when they shall elect a clerk, a sheriff, a coroner, a register of deeds and entry taker, a surveyor, a county solicitor, constables and all other officers."

James Bailey Sr. and David Proffitt of Yancey County, Joseph Conley of McDowell, A. C. Avery of Burke and John Harden of Watauga were appointed commissioners to "select a permanent seat of justice and secure 50 acres of land, to meet between May 1 and June 1, l861."

Tillman Blalock, J.A. Person, Eben Childs and Jordan Harden were appointed commissioners to lay off town lots, "and said town shall be called by the name of Calhoun."

The commissioners appointed to select "a permanent seat of justice" for the new county evidently failed to serve; or, if they did, were unable to agree upon a satisfactory site; because at the first session of the legislature in 1861 (ratified September 4, 1861) Moses Young and John B. Palmer of Mitchell County, John S. Brown of McDowell, William C. Erwin of Burke and N. W. Woodfin of Buncombe were appointed commissioners to "select and determine a permanent seat of justice, to meet between October 1, 1861, and July first, 1862."

The records show that on October 17, 1861, Lysander D. Childs and Eben Childs conveyed to Tillman Blalock, chairman of the Mitchell County Court, 50 acres of land to be used "for the location thereon of a permanent seat of justice in said county; two acres for a public grave-yard, one acre for the site of a public school building, and oneself acre to be devoted to each of the following denominations for the erection thereon of church buildings: to wit: Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists and Baptists."

Calhoun was located not far from the present towns of Spruce Pine and Ingalls "on a lane leading from the Burnsville Road." It was on land where the Toe River skirts 4,100-ft. Humpback Mountain, not far from Samuel Bright's old place. Samuel Bright was a pre Revolutionary settler of Toe River Valley.

The Bright place, as well as the town of Ingalls, passed into Avery County when this 100th and youngest county in the state was created in 1910, largely from the eastern part of Mitchell.

According to Chapter 61 of the second session of the laws of 1861 a term of Superior Court was directed to be held "for Mitchell County in the town of Calhoun on the sixth Monday after the fourth Monday each year."

Although court continued to be held there until 1866, Calhoun evidently was located too far from what was then the center of population of Mitchell County and thus proved too difficult for the majority of the residents to reach it over the poor roads and trails of that period.

For this and other reasons, at the first session of the legislature after the Civil War the county seat was changed to what is now Bakersville. However, it seems the community had previously been called "Davis"; because by Chapter 2, Public Laws of 1868, the name of the "town site of Mitchell County" was changed from Davis to Bakersville.

On July 27, 1866, in consideration of $1,000, Robert N. Penland conveyed to the Chairman of the Board of Mitchell County Commissioners 29 acres on the waters of Cane Creek "and the right of way to and use of the springs above the old Baker spring--to be carried in pump to any portion of said 29 acres."

This was a part of the land on which Bakersville is situated. In 1868 there was a sale of these lots, and at the December, 1868, session of the commissioners the purchasers gave their notes, payable in one and two years for the balances due on the lots.

This first court was held in Bakersville before there was a building to house it. It sat under the shade of a grove of trees near the site of the present courthouse. Judge A.S. Merrimon presided.

"If the setting was primitive, not so the judges," according to Muriel Early Sheppard in "Cabins in the Laurel." The judges "had an audience drawn from 40 miles around, many of whom had come all of the way on foot. The crowds milled up and down the streets day and night, especially the nights. The judges dressed in top hats and long-tailed coats for each grand promenade from the hotel to the bench, attended by the sheriff to escort His Honor in style. 'Make way for His Honor! Clear the way!' and the judge marching behind with never a glance to either side."

The first courthouse in Bakersville was built in 1867 by Irby and Dellinger of South Carolina. In November of that year M.P. and W. Dellinger gave notice of a mechanics lien for work done under a contract for $1,409.85, "subject to a set-off of about $200."

History compiled by Bruce Ledford. Sources: Ashton Chapman, Tri-County News Spruce Pine, NC, 1955.
Photographs courtesy of Mrs. Mary Lee Barron and Dr. Daniel Barron

© 2008 B.I.G.