Tucker County Courthouse and Jail
The Tucker County Courthouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2013, The Gombach Group.
The Tucker County Courthouse at 213 First Street, Parsons, West Virginia, is a well-preserved example of late 19th-century public architecture in West Virginia. The building and its period dependency, the jail and jailor's/sheriff residence, were constructed within several years of one another; they survive from a time when many counties in West Virginia built separate or detached residences for jailors and/or sheriffs that also contained the county jail. Both the courthouse and residence/jail were designed by architectural firms that were prominent in West Virginia at the time. Relating to the history of the Tucker County Courthouse is the significant story of the rivalry between the county towns of St. George and Parsons and how the county court came to reside for all time at Parsons.
The courthouse at Parsons is an especially commanding structure in a small-town setting. The building's high degree of architectural and structural integrity reveal much about ideas of late 19th century design and construction. Exterior pressed brick, stone banding, and appointments of stone rustication enliven the elevations facing First Street and Walnut Street. The edifice's striking sense of verticality is an effect created by high-pitched roofs, both conical and pyramidal, by tall window openings (flat-headed and arched), and by ornaments of cast and pressed metals serving as finials, coping and solid balustrades. Few courthouses in West Virginia feature better preserved design features of high-style Victorian-era public architecture.
The Tucker County Courthouse was designed by architect Frank Pierce Milburn (1868-1926), an architect of considerable importance who practiced in the southeastern United States and in Washington, D.C., during the late 19th and early 20th century. Two of his West Virginia courthouses are found in McDowell County and Berkeley County.
The jail and "jailor's residence" are combined in a single structure that remains significant for its relationship to the courthouse; it is also a well-preserved example of public residential architecture (1896) of the late 19th century designed by the prominent Wheeling, West Virginia, firm of Franzheim, Giesy and Ferris. The architects of this partnership were all talented, but Mr. Franzheim achieved particular prominence in West Virginia. In addition to the jail at Parsons, a substantial yet modest brick structure of late 19th-century eclecticism, Franzheim contributed to other outstanding buildings including the Fayette County Courthouse and the Vance Memorial Chapel in Wheeling.
The county seat at Parsons, Tucker County, was not always the established location of the county court. Its legitimacy as county seat was actually secured in a bizarre incident often referred to in local history as the "County Seat War." While intra-county rivalries are not rare in American history, the competitive interests of the county communities of St. George, which was selected as the county seat in 1856 when Tucker County was formed from part of the vast territory of Randolph County, and Parsons, a growing lumber town to the south, are worthy of note. The competitive "calm" in the county irrupted in 1893 with the "fly-by-night" seizure of the county records and the forced removal of the court by a gang of Parsons residents who simply rode into town and rode out with everything of official import. In the words of Vernon Shahan, a citizen of St. George, (as reported in the Parsons Advocate and later summarized by Ferrell Friend in the Charleston Gazette): "During the night of August 1, 1893, a group of prominent citizens and hoodlums from our neighboring town of Parsons zoomed into our thriving community with road wagons and on foot and literally stole our established county seat and moved it to Parsons."
The town of St. George settled in 1776 (and the oldest community in the county), never regained its former prominence. With the construction of the magnificent brick courthouse at Parsons in the years 1898-1900, the flickering hope that the county seat might once again come to St. George was lost forever.
County Order Books; 4, pp. 243, 391, 409-10, 414, 503; 5, pp. 3-5.
Friend, Ferrell. "The County Seat War." Charleston Gazette-Mail. Sept. 25, 1977.
Morgan, Maxine. "Historic Properties Inventory Form." Oct. 10, 1983 (Historic Preservation Unit).