The halls of the old Ashe County Courthouse came to life once again Saturday morning, but it wasn’t with the shuffle of paperwork or arguments from litigators that was the cause for the new excitement.
A new era began Saturday as the county witnessed the defunct county courthouse transform into the Museum of Ashe County History with its official grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremony. County commissioners and members of the Ashe County Historical Society gathered on the courthouse’s steps to celebrate the county’s rich and intricate past with a glimpse into the future and how future generations will remember the area and preserve heirlooms that provide the keys to both the county’s past and future.
Museum Curator Don Long, along with AHS President Gwen Ashley, welcomed all those who came to witness history unfold before their very eyes and to thank those individuals who worked tirelessly to make the dream to salvage the aging courthouse at the turn of the century and restore it to its original 1904 condition.
Special mention was made of local resident Larry Parsons (now deceased), who started a petition for the county commissioners to save the building from demolition and keep it from becoming only a distant memory. Commissioners at the time who voted to save the old courthouse were John Marsh, Harold Stanley, Beth Sayer, Doyal Denny, and Dwight Shepherd.
Other key supporters were recognized Saturday including Warren Pitts. It was upon Pitts’ insistency that the Historical Society set up a temporary museum across the four-lane in a building owned by Fifth-Third Bank, also recognized for their generosity.
With anticipation building on the courthouse’s lawn, guests and awestruck elected officials took a stroll through the museum’s historically themed rooms to reminiscence of an almost forgotten age that has been brought back to life thanks to the dedication and diligence of local preservationists. Congresswoman Virginia Foxx and Ashe County Board of Education member A.B. Weaver marveled at the Virginia Creeper railroad exhibit, which is a scale model of the line that ran from Todd to Tuckerdale and depicted the radical transformations the county endured during the timber industry’s boom and subsequent return to splendid fall foliage with a new generation of trees decades later.
Members of the local Veterans of Foreign War chapter and other Ashe County natives eyed the veteran’s of war exhibit; searching fervently for familiar faces of relatives who may have fought in military campaigns overseas.
Throughout much of Saturday morning, the familiar squeak of the old courthouse’s wooden floors reverberated up and down the main hallway as if time itself had reversed and another day of court was set to begin. The building’s original wood floor, windows, and walls have all been restored to their original luster to recapture the setting of the courthouse at the turn of the twentieth century. It was a process that began in 2000 with a hard fought restoration process and the ensuring architecture remodeling work.
At 10 a.m. sharp, Long and other members of the Historical Society gathered in front of the courthouse to commemorate the next chapter in history of Ashe County with the raising of the state and American flag, followed by a 21-gun salute and the ringing of the old courthouse bell.
“It is something we have worked for a long time now, but we are finally at a point to invite folks in and see what we’ve been doing,” Long said.
For more information on the Museum of Ashe County History, please call (336) 846-1904.