Plan and Description of
Architecture of the Wise County Courthouse
Made of white brick,
three story high, original part of the building completed in 1896 and the
addition was completed in 1922.
It has the Tuscan
type of columns in front, the brick work is the common bond type. It is
build on the "H" type, but, one side of the "H" is larger than the other.
The entrance doors are of the "Fan" type, the doors rounding off at the
top to form an ellipse.
The flooring of
the Courthouse is small and uniform in width. The hall and the Clerk's
Office of the older part of the Courthouse is floored with marble squares
and the flooring of the newer addition in the
hall is the mezzanine type. The windows are
two lights 40 x 40 inch panes. Walls plastered with wood wainscoting. Exterior
cornices of stone. Interior cornice at bottom of wood wainscoting, at ceiling
of embossed steel. Exterior top cornices of steel.
Doors hung with
common type hinge of brass, all hardware of brass. Three flights of stairs,
baluster of wrought iron, with wood handrail, square iron newels. Door
locks on outside of doors, made of brass.
Portico one story
high, at both entrances, ten foot long by three feet wide. Top of portico
has baluster of granite stone. Newels also of white granite in square form.
Columns of white granite. Courthouse is covered with gray slate roof.
History of Wise County Courthouse
On February 16, 1856
an act of the Legislature of Virginia was passed forming the new county
The bill forming
Wise County from parts of the counties of Russell, Scott and Lee was first
introduced in the Senate by Senator McElhaney. The bill as first prepared
by Mr. McElaney had left the name of the county in the bill blank, but
the name was afterwards inserted by him as "Roane", and passed
the senate after the name "Roane," had been
inserted. After the bill was reported in the House, Mr. Thomas L. Preston,
a member of the House of Delegates from Smythe County, amended the bill
by striking out the name "Roane" and inserting the name "Wise," naming
the new county after Henry A. Wise, then Governor
of Virginia. The bill was then reported back
to the Senate with the name of the county inserted as Wise, and became
a law. A new county in Texas was named after Governor Wise of Virginia.
So Texas and not
Virginia was the first state to name a county
after Governor Wise.
The act forming
the new county of Wise provided that the county seat of the new county
be on the lands of Daniel Ramey at the Big Glades (Wise), and that the
name of the county seat should be Gladeville.
The commissioners were to select a parcel
of land for the public building, not to exceed two acres in quantity. The
public square now being about two acres in size.
The first general
election held for the county of Wise was in May, 1856.
The following officers
being elected: Clerk of the County, Commonwealth Attorney, Sheriff,
Commissioner of Revenue for the Eastern District,
County Surveyor, one man from each of five magisterial districts were elected
overseers of the poor. Twenty justices of the peace, four from each magisterial
The act forming
the county provided that the justices of the peace, should select and provide
a place for holding the courts until a courthouse could be built. They
selected the Little Primitive Baptist Church, a one story log building
about 20 x 24 feet in size that stood at the time on a very small cleared
spot of land about 300 yards back of, and a little southwest of our present
Near this church
by a big spring during the first term of court a big fight was staged,
between Beverly Dickenson and Alexander Carico. Dickenson hit Carrico with
a stick making one mortal bruise, which caused death. Beverly was guilty
of Voluntary Manslaughter, and sentenced to the penitentiary for
He was the first
man to be tried in Wise County for Homicide.
This little church
was almost completely surrounded by woodland and thick underbrush. On account
of the smallness of this one-room structure the grand juries and petit
juries had to retire to a nearby, large flat rock for holding their sittings
and deliberations. The rock is still there and is known as the
The first deed on
record: Charles A. Campbell to John Wright, June 20th 1856. Charles Campbell,
Seal, Morgan T. Lipps, Clerk.
First Marriage License:
July 31, 1856 Elijah Vanover and Haney Mullins.
The deeds were recorded
by hand and the scrivener James C. Johnson made beautiful scrolls in multi-colors
at the beginning of each deed.
It is interesting
to note that a deed is or record signed by William Gibbs McDoo, son-in-law
of Woodrow Wilson, Secretary of Treasury in his own right and candidate
for Democratic nomination for President.
Wise County's First Courthouse
Location: Wise County's First Courthouse
located on the present public square.
Owners: Wise County
Description: The following is a description
of the courthouse, ordered by the court and entered in the Court Order
Book #1; ordered to be built of hewn logs thirty feet square (later changed
to thirty by forty-five feet), two stories high, upper story to be divided
into two rooms, covered with shingles, to be "pinted" with lime, two chimneys
to be build of brick, with two fire places in each chimney. This house
was burned by Federal Forces during the fall of 1864.
The brick for these
chimneys was burned at the Andy Day Brick Kiln on the Rocky Fork of Guest
River. Some of these bricks can still be
During the raid
of the Federal Forces and the burning of the courthouse (second courthouse),
some of the records were destroyed and while some of the people were trying
to save others, one of the Federal
Soldiers, slashed the back of Court Order
Book #1 with his bayonet several times. The leather on the back of this
book is still as it was the day it was cut, and many people have come to
the court house to see the book. (Note: the book has been rebound and the
slash marks are no longer visible.)
The County Court
ordered that the court be held in the bar room of N. B. Bruce's Virginia
Hotel, then in February 1865 Court again ordered that a house owned by
A. W. Smith be kept as a courthouse. In
September 1865 it was moved to James F. Wells
house. By this time the Governor had learned of the trouble the courts
were having about a house in which to sit, and His Excellency issued a
proclamation, directing the courts be held at the house known as the "Daniel
Ramey House" until a courthouse be rebuilt.
This house was a
two-story old fashioned log structure with a back shed attached and stood
on the present public square.
The court built
a small red courthouse and jail which was used until 1876.
The second building
was made of native clay, hand molded brick, and was built in 1876. This
was a two-story in front with a chimney at each end. A flat one-story projection,
extended back in the rear which was used for the court room. The furniture
was hand-made and not very durable.
In 1881 James M.
Gilley, Sr. hauled the court house bell from Estilville (now Gate City)
to the court house at Wise. It took two days to haul it by wagon.
William "Hop" Elkins,
then a boy was with Gilley and they had the clapper of the bell tied with
a rope so that the jolting of the moving wagon would not ring the bell.
So, Elkins, boy-like and mischievous, secretly cut the rope just as the
wagon topped the Wise mountain and the bell started tolling. Upon arriving
at the court house they found practically
every man, woman and child congregated in front of the building to find
what the tolling bell meant.
Gilley was allowed
$8.00 by the Board of Supervisors for hauling and hanging the bell.
Between the present
court house and jail there was once a whipping post constructed mainly
for punishment of wife beaters and other domestic delinquencies. Popular
resentment against it, caused it to be
discontinued a long time before the law authorizing
it was abolished.
The old gallows
from which seven men were hung stood on the courthouse square remained
for several years after electrocution at Richmond was substituted for hanging
in the local areas. Many children
of this contemporary age used it as a play
In 1896 the present
court house was constructed by Mr. Milbourne Gilliam and Mr. Creed Flanary,
residents of Wise. It was then, and still is one of the outstanding architectural
structures in Virginia. This is a two-story building made of brick and
stone. It houses the Clerk's Office,
Commonwealth's Attorney, Sheriff's Office,
Treasurer's Office, Commissioner of the Revenue, Court rooms, jury and
grand jury rooms and Board of Supervisors.
In 1920 the county
having outgrown it's court house facilities the Western annex was constructed
upon the same two acre tract. The annex now houses the Treasurer's Office,
Commissioner of Revenue. On
the second floor the Board of Supervisors,
Agricultural Department, Trial Justice, court rooms, Library, Probation
The court room is
adorned with portraits of men of honored names in the history of Virginia.