Updated: April 2019
A Courthouse Reminiscent of Prosperous Times
With the arrival of the railroad in 1879, trade and tourism began to pick up in Henderson County. Driven by a strong economy, the county flourished. Wanting to display Henderson County’s new prosperity, the commissioners regarded the 1840s courthouse as “inadequate”.
After reviewing different plans, they rejected the proposal from Frank Pierce Milburn (1868-1926), the architect of the Columbia County Courthouse in Florida and the nearby Blanche Hotel (1902). Milburn had also done significant work at the South Carolina State House and the Florida Capitol. Instead, the commissioners accepted the plans of Richard Sharpe Smith (1852-1924), who had supervised the construction of Biltmore House on George Vanderbilt’s estate and later, then in private practice, had done extensive work in Asheville.
Construction of the new Henderson County Courthouse was completed in 1905.
Standing out from the three-story brick courthouse is the golden dome, which forms part of the building’s roof, also called cupola. On top of the dome, Smith placed a 6-foot statue. Some sources state that the figure depicts the Greek goddess Athena representing among others law and justice. However, it is more likely that the statue is the Roman goddess Iustitia or Anglicized Justicia, also called Lady Justice, who is usually portrayed as an impassive woman with a scale and double-edged sword wearing a blindfold (since the 16th century to symbolize that Justice should be impartial) and who stands in front of many courthouses.
The Neo-Classical Revival courthouse features Corinthian columns at the entrance of the building. The front and side entrance pavilions are Roman-inspired porticos (Italian for porch) with four columns (tetrastyle). Gray granite floors and brick wainscot form the interior of the courthouse, which gives the building some delicacy and magnificence reflecting a prospering town and county.
In 1979 the Henderson County Courthouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Today, the courthouse is home to the Henderson County Heritage Museum.
About Richard Sharpe Smith (1852-1924)
In 1852 Richard Sharpe Smith was born in Yorkshire, England. He received his architectural training in the office of his cousin George Smith. He also worked for several architects in Manchester.
In 1882 Richard Smith immigrated to the United States and started his new position with the Reid Brothers, architects, in Evansville, Indiana.
In 1883 Richard Smith moved to New York City and joined Bradford L. Gilbert’s office, where he supervised the design and construction of railroad stations.
In 1886 Richard Smith joined the office of Richard Morris Hunt working on various projects for Richard Hunt.
In 1889 Hunt assigned Richard Smith to the Biltmore Project supervising the construction of → Biltmore House and other buildings on George Vanderbilt’s estate. Richard Smith was sent to Biltmore and communicated with Richard Hunt, who remained in his New York office, through weekly progress reports and frequent letters.
Starting in 1892 George Vanderbilt asked Richard Smith to design additional buildings for him.
In 1895, the same year, when → Biltmore House was finished, Richard Hunt suddenly died, and Richard Smith became George Vanderbilt’s personal architect.
In 1896 the Vance Memorial, which Richard Smith designed, was completed.
By 1901 the first cottages in the Cottage District in Biltmore Village were built.
In 1901 Richard Smith established his private practice in fast-growing Asheville. Through his abilities as an architect and indeed through his association with George Vanderbilt, Richard Smith became one of Asheville’s leading architects, and the first, who resided permanently in the city. During this time, Richard Smith designed the Henderson County Courthouse in Hendersonville (1905) and together with Rafael Guastavino the Basilica of Saint Lawrence (1905-1909).
In 1906 Richard Smith formed a partnership with Albert Heath Carrier, whose family had moved to Asheville in 1885, and formed the Smith and Carrier firm. Together the firm worked on more than 700 projects from its inception to Richard Smith’s death in 1924. Some of their essential works were the Legal Building (1909), the Scottish Rite Cathedral and Masonic Temple (1913), the Fraternal Order of Eagles Building (1914), the Elks Home (1915) and the Loughran Building (1923).
In 1924, Richard Smith died. He was praised by the local newspaper Asheville Citizen to have “done more than any other person to beautify the city.”
1 Historic Courthouse Square, Hendersonville NC, 28792
Wed. to Sat.: 10am to 5pm.
Sun.: 1pm to 5pm.
Free on-premise parking.