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Hartselle Enquirer
Photos by Zane Turner   Built in 1837, the Old Somerville Courthouse, which was the Morgan County Courthouse until the county seat moved to Decatur, is undergoing renovations. 

State money boosts Old Somerville Courthouse renovation effort 

By Zane Turner  

For the Enquirer  


Recent state funding for its restoration gives Somerville Mayor Darren Tucker reason to hope that his town’s 186-year-old landmark, the Old Somerville Courthouse, will once again become a historical showcase that the public can enjoy. 

“I think about the people that constructed it and the people who wrote the order to build it,” Tucker said. “All those people are dead and gone, so this is a memorial for them.” 

The oldest permanent courthouse in Alabama is showing its age, but a new round of renovations is underway. Built in 1837 when Somerville was the Morgan County seat, the former Morgan County Courthouse has gone through multiple restorations. This time Tucker wants to get it as structurally sound as when it was built so its historical significance can be on display. 

“We want to get it back to its original state so that schools can come through here on field trips,” Tucker said. “Once we get it completed, my goal is to put some wood and glass antique display cases in there and have things from 1837 all the way up to current.” 

Tucker said the building’s floor is the main focus of the current renovations. Moisture has seeped beneath the floor, causing it to rise and leaving the building unusable. 

Last year, the courthouse project pushed by Tucker was awarded a $300,000 grant from the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs to repair the floor and install four dehumidifiers under the building. However, Tucker said, the work was delayed due to a lack of construction bidders and begun only recently. 

He said the project also received $500,000 in funds from the state’s budget this year. 

State Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, who helped secure the state money, said the courthouse is an important part of the county’s and state’s history. 

“This $500,000 will vastly expand the scope (of renovations),” Orr said earlier this month. “We think we’ll be able to fully complete the old Morgan County courthouse in the next two years. I’m excited about that. It’s good for Somerville and the county and the state.” 

The ongoing renovations involve several areas of the courthouse. The upstairs courtroom will undergo repairs. Workers will replace three floor beams, upstairs windows and floors in both the upstairs and downstairs. They will also seal the mortar on the exterior of the building to keep out excess moisture, according to Tucker. 

He estimated that the total cost of the renovations would be $1.8 million, with $900,000 allocated for the interior repairs and the remaining half for the exterior repairs. With $800,000 in hand, he said the remaining $1 million for the renovations could possibly come from the Alabama Historical Commission. 

The commission received $6 million from the state budget this year, specifically designated for the repair of buildings constructed before 1840. To distribute these funds, the commission established the Preservation of Alabama’s Significant Sites Grant Program. Applications for the grant program will be accepted until July 10, with successful applicants expected to be granted funds before Sept. 30. Tucker said Somerville is applying for one of the grants for the courthouse. 

Kathryn Shoupe, Alabama Historical Commission public relations manager, said the state is interested in preserving the site due to its inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. The courthouse was added to the register in 1972. 

In addition to its significance in the state’s and county’s history, the building also holds a special place in the history of the people of Somerville. Lonnie Williams, 69, had been a resident of Somerville all his life until he and his wife moved to Priceville a few months ago. Williams is the son of former Somerville Mayor J.D. Williams, who led the restoration project for the Old Somerville Courthouse in 1974. 

“When my dad and them first got it restored, it was used for City Council meetings and City Court. It’s not used for anything like that now,” Lonnie Williams said. 

J.D. Williams served as the mayor of Somerville for 42 years, from 1962 to 2004, and during that time, his son grew up around the courthouse. 

“It’s just a nice place. I remember we had ball games there; we would play in the yard,” Lonnie Williams said. “We had a bicycle track there when we were younger, always had fun playing on the rock wall. It was a neat place to grow up around.” 

Williams said that even though he and his family have moved away from Somerville he still attends Somerville Baptist Church and wants to continue to be a part of the community. 

Morgan County Archivist John Allison said the courthouse has faced challenges in the past. 

“It’s an ongoing battle anytime with buildings of that age, but that one had some particular issues with the foundation, I know,” Allison said. “I know some windows were replaced or repaired substantially.” 

As reported by The Decatur Daily in June 2009, the town of Somerville celebrated the reopening of the courthouse following a four-year restoration project that cost nearly $300,000. The project involved replacing broken bricks, windows and the floor, rebuilding the deteriorating cupola, installing a new roof, adding shutters and laying new sidewalks. 

Despite its age, the Old Somerville Courthouse was not the first courthouse in Somerville. According to “A History of Morgan County” by John Knox, a log cabin served as the county courthouse from 1820 until the construction of the Old Somerville Courthouse was ordered for $187.37. The log cabin courthouse was later torn down. 

The Old Somerville Courthouse served the county for almost 55 years until the county seat was moved to Decatur in 1891. 

Since 1891, the courthouse has served many functions for the Somerville community. As reported by The Decatur Daily in November 1967, it was used as a military college, a high school, a junior high school and an elementary school. As of June 2002, it was being used as a substation of the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office. 

More recently it was used as a community center until its deteriorating condition caused it to close, according to Tucker. 

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