Updated: April 2019
A Charming Building with a Small Museum
After the formation of Burke County in 1777, a modest wooden county courthouse was erected at this location, also known as Courthouse Square, in 1791.
Over the next forty years, the weather took a heavy toll on the wooden structure making it look “shabby and weather-beaten.”
In the session of 1830/1831, the North Carolina General Assembly appropriated $8,000 for a new courthouse to replace the existing “weather-beaten” structure. Natural stones were hauled on carts pulled by oxen and mules from a quarry on the Forney Plantation circa five miles north of Morganton, a lengthy and cumbersome process, which led to the bankruptcy of the contractor and a construction delay of several years. When the courthouse finally opened in 1837, the cost had almost doubled to $15,000.
Since the summer temperatures in Morganton were a little cooler than in Raleigh, the North Carolina Supreme Court held its August sessions in the Burke County Courthouse each year from 1847 to 1861.
During the American Civil War (1861-1865) in April 1865, just a month before the end of the fighting, the Burke County Courthouse was raided by a contingent of General George Stoneman’s cavalry. This raid also destroyed a large portion of the county’s records.
The Burke County Courthouse was included in the National Register of Historic Places in 1970 and was at that time the “oldest public structure still being used for its originally designed purpose in Western North Carolina beyond the city of Salisbury.”
This continuous use ended six years later in 1976 when the larger and modern courthouse on 201 South Green Street opened.
The Historic Burke County Courthouse is a square Classical Revival stone building, 60 feet (18.3 meters) wide and deep. The one-story structure rests on a full-height basement and has two pedimented porticos, one on its southwest and one on its northeast side, each supported by four Roman Doric columns. The courtroom is on the first floor accessed through double-hung doors under the porticos.
Initially, the courthouse had twelve-over-twelve sash windows and a very simple cupola placed at the center of its hip roof.
When the Historic Burke County Courthouse was remodeled in 1901 to create a more imposing appearance, the simple cupola was replaced by an elaborate Baroque design. At the same time, the native stone was covered with stucco and the trim work enhanced with more detail. The roofline of the porticos was also raised by four feet (1.2 meters) to match the roofline of the main structure, requiring four feet pedestals to be placed under each column.
The Heritage Museum
In the nostalgic setting of a 1900s attorney’s office, the Heritage Museum showcases the history of the Historic Burke County Courthouse including information on the Supreme Court Justices, who held their summer sessions in the building between 1847 and 1861.
Tue. to Fri.: 10am to 4pm.
Closed for lunch.
$5 donations are appreciated.
The Historic Burke County Courthouse is not accessible by wheelchair.