New Webster County Courthouse holds open house
October 7, 2019
Several hundred people crowded the halls of the new Webster County Courthouse in Walthall on Sunday afternoon, Oct. 6, as county officials held an open house.
“We think that we have built a courthouse that is very pleasing to Webster County and will last 100 years, like the old one did,” said Pat Cummings, President of the Webster County Board of Supervisors. Cummings thanked everyone who worked together to make the new facility possible.
County offices moved into the new building on July 19, six and a half years after fire destroyed the old courthouse on Jan. 17, 2013.
The new 17,000 square foot, two-story brick Courthouse bears a resemblance to the old Courthouse. The new building, designed by JH&H Architects of Flowood and built by Benchmark Construction, has arched windows and entrance features reminiscent of the old building.
County offices and the Board of Supervisors board room are on the first floor. Two courtrooms, judges’ chambers and the jury room are upstairs.
“I couldn’t be any happier,” Circuit Judge Joseph Loper said as he looked over the large second floor circuit courtroom. It is built in a traditional style, with dark wood benches and furnishings, but has modern features including an electronic evidence presentation system and good acoustics.
Loper hasn’t held court there yet. He will be the only one of two circuit judges and three chancellors to have presided in both the old and new Courthouses.
After the fire, the early sentiment was to attempt to restore the old structure. But, Judge Loper said, “Long after we are gone, this building will still be here.”
Webster County Chancery Clerk Russell Turner, like other county officials, said he regrets the circumstances that brought about the new Courthouse, but is pleased with the new building. The total cost of the building and infrastructure was almost $6 million. The new building was built with insurance proceeds from the fire, and a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission paid for infrastructure improvements.
Circuit Clerk Sherry Henderson greeted visitors at the counter in her large office. County offices spent more than six years in cramped temporary space.
Tax Collector Barbara Gore said, “We have more room. Our space is just arranged better.”
While they celebrated the new Courthouse, visitors also fondly recalled the old one. Emmy Eidson Stephenson said she grew up playing on the old Courthouse steps. Her grandmother lived across the street, and she lived within sight of the building. Her grandfather, M. M. Eidson, was Webster County Circuit Clerk in the 1940s.
“A lot of my memories are about that Courthouse. There wasn’t a lot to do in Walthall. We would go sit on the Courthouse steps at night.” She cried when her sister called in the wee hours of the morning to tell her that the Courthouse was on fire.
The old Webster County Courthouse was a landmark for Perval and Garland Hunt, who now live in West Point. “That’s where we became Mr. and Mrs. Hunt,” she said. They have been married for 76 years. Walthall Mayor H.T. Morehead performed their wedding at the Webster County Courthouse on April 24, 1943. She turned 93 on Oct. 7, and he is 95. When she heard about the open house for the new building, she knew that she had to attend.
Part of the brick entrances and a small magnolia tree remain at the site of the old Courthouse. The site is now a park.