Courthouse rises from ruin to stand as symbol of city

Montgomery County Courthouse
The Montgomery County Courthouse in Clarksville, Tenn., circa 2002. (Photo by Todd DeFeo/The DeFeo Groupe)

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. — The Montgomery County Courthouse in downtown Clarksville, Tenn., has been destroyed by both a fire and a tornado. But, both times, the building has risen from ruin to stand as a symbol of the city.

The building was nearly leveled at about 4:15 a.m. on Jan. 22, 1999, as an F3 tornado tore through town. The twister destroyed more than 160 buildings and damaged more than 500 more, causing $72.6 million in damages. But, instead of giving up on the historic structure, the county decided to rebuild the centerpiece of the community.

The courthouse is just one of a number of storied structures that have served the area.

James Adams built the county’s courthouse — a log structure — in 1796. The edifice was located near the present-day intersection of Washington Street and Riverside Drive. The county’s second courthouse was built in 1805 and a third courthouse was built the following year.

It wasn’t until 1811 that the county’s first brick courthouse was erected, and it lasted for about three decades. Another courthouse followed in 1843, but was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1878, prompting the county to build a sixth courthouse — the building that currently stands as the centerpiece of downtown Clarksville. The building’s cornerstone was laid on May 16, 1879; George W. Bunting of Indianapolis, Ind., designed the structure.

The building was destroyed or heavily damaged twice — by a March 12, 1900, fire and during the 1999 tornado. The structure was rebuilt both times, but on Jan 22, 2003, government officials rededicated the building as an office building rather than a justice center, opting to build an adjacent building to serve as a courthouse — the county’s seventh judicial center.

Todd DeFeo
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Todd DeFeo loves to travel anywhere, anytime, taking pictures and notes. An award-winning reporter, Todd revels in the experience and the fact that every place has a story to tell. He is the owner of The DeFeo Groupe and also edits Express Telegraph and Railfanning.org.