The First and Second Lauderdale County Courthouses

The First Two Lauderdale County Courthouses

102 South Court Street

This block was originally surveyed as part of the courthouse square. The first Lauderdale County Courthouse was completed on this block in 1822 and stood until 1899. The second Lauderdale County Courthouse was built in the same spot on in 1900 and stood until 1965. The current building was designed for the First Southern Bank Co. and was completed in 1971. Today, it houses the city of Florence’s government offices. 

The Courthouse Square

Planned, central block type courthouse squares were just coming onto the American landscape when Florence was laid out, with the first models occurring in Middle Tennessee after treaties removed the Native Americans living there. These arrangements placed the courthouse on an entire block in a central location of the town. In Florence, as in many towns throughout the southern and Midwestern United States, law offices and businesses sprang up close to the courthouse square. The original courthouse was a center of activity for early Florence; church congregations often used the courtrooms for their services, and public sales and auctions took place in front of the courthouse door. After 1830, the central block courthouse square became the preferred plan across the region.

Planning a City

This block was set aside by Ferdinand Sannoner and John Coffee as the courthouse square when they surveyed the city in 1818. Florence is unique in that it was a planned city on what was then southwestern frontier of the United States and was established a year before Alabama became a state. Fertile land along the Tennessee River drove wealthy planters and speculators to create the Cypress Land Company, who undertook the surveying and selling of much of the land around Florence.

The First Lauderdale County Courthouse

The original Lauderdale County Courthouse was designed by Florence resident and county clerk William W. Garrard.

The contract to build the structure was secured by James Pursell. However, Pursell became ill after he spent an entire night chasing a runaway slave and soon died. After his death, Nathan Vaught completed the structure, which was two stories high with a low-pitched hip roof crowned with a cupola over a four-sided clock tower and pedestal. The clock had Roman numerals and hands powered by an intricate timing mechanism consisting of a system of chains, pulleys and weights. There was also a bell housed within the steeple that rang at regular intervals, for curfews, and for fires. The bell was said to have been cast in 1824 in Philadelphia. The courthouse was enlarged around 1840, during which time the colonnade was added.

The Second Lauderdale County Courthouse

The cornerstone for the second, and much larger, Lauderdale County Courthouse, was laid on Thanksgiving Day in 1899 in front of a crowd of between 1500 and 2000 citizens. This building, designed by James Golucke and James W. Stewart, was completed in 1901. Some materials were recycled from the original courthouse, including some of the columns, which were changed from the Tuscan to Ionic order. The architectural style is Neoclassical and features several of the style’s hallmarks: a symmetrical façade, columned portico, and prominent clock tower and cupola. These structures were built during a time when American was promoting and celebrating its colonial past, and many of these buildings are vague reconfigurations of colonial buildings. In many Southern towns, Greek Revival elements (such as the Ionic columns) were featured on many civic buildings constructed during this time period. The Second Lauderdale County Courthouse was a visual attempt to recapture and celebrate America’s colonial heritage. 

Parades and marches often started at the courthouse, like this 1925 Ku Klux Klan Parade...
...and this 1926 circus parade

A Rattlesnake?

A snake skin was displayed in the 2nd Lauderdale County Courthouse from 1921 until 1966. While it was reported to be a rattlesnake, world-renowned herpetologist Ross Allen paid a visit to Florence to examine the snake and declared it to be a boa constrictor, native to South America. The snake had allegedly been killed by a man in Jackson County, and sold to a Lauderdale County man who brought it to the courthouse to display it in 1921.

The Courthouse Square, Re-imagined

The third Lauderdale County Courthouse was built in 1965 just south of this building, and the Confederate Monument was moved in that same year. The First Federal Savings and Loan Corporation built the current structure in 1971. In 1995, they changed their name to First Southern Bank, and in 2008, moved across the street to 301 S. Court. The building, like the Municipal Building behind it, is in the International style with no added architectural decoration. During the period when this building was constructed, the International style served a burgeoning demand for civic and commercial structures that projected a modern but functional appearance.