Surry County Courts and Courthouses: A Timeline

Court has been held at many places and in many buildings in Surry County. Gleaned from many sources, the following list shows most, if not all, of the places court has been held.

1. The colonial government of Virginia authorized courts to be established south of the James River in James City County by act approved by the General Assembly of Virginia in October, 1646. It was to be held the 16th of every other month, to determine all causes as large and ample as any other county court within the colony. Thus, court was held somewhere in Surry, likely Southwarke Church, for 6 years before we were a county. Records of this court are lost, likely burned with the rest of James City County's records.

2. In 1652 the county of Surry was formed and the county court started. The first courthouse was established at Wareneck or Southwarke, close to Underwood's mill.

3. 1707-1710. A new courthouse was built at Wareneck. 20,000 pounds of tobacco was paid Francis Clements to build the courthouse in November, 1707 and 20,000 pounds of tobacco was paid Nathaniel Harrison to finish the courthouse in 1710.

4. 1728. Surry county's courthouse was moved to the land of Howell Edmonds near Shingleton Plantation, south of the Blackwater River near present day Route 40, now in Sussex County. This was near the center of the population of Surry County at that time, which then extended to the North Carolina line. While some records state that it was near Littleton, this is incorrect.

5. 1754. As the result of Sussex County being split from Surry, the courthouse was moved back closer to the James River. It was built on the land of William Clinch called "Troopers." It was a wooden building.

6. 1765. The wooden courthouse at Troopers burned. It was replaced with a new brick courthouse on the same site.

7. 1787 The brick courthouse at Troopers burned. The records are silent as to where the court was held until April 25, 1797, when it first met in the new courthouse at Macintosh's Crossroads, now the town of Surry, Virginia. It was a one story brick courthouse, facing west, built on land given to the county by Robert Macintosh. He owned the ordinary and served as contractor of the new courthouse. 1795 Legislative Petition asking permission to build the new courthouse.

8. 1825-1826. The brick Clerk's Office across the lawn from the courthouse was built by John Hopkins for $979.00, the low bid. It was accepted by the county in May, 1826. For the first time in its 174 year history, Surry County had a permanent home for its records. Before this, records had been kept at home by the Clerk of Court.

9. 1864-1865. As the Civil War progressed, our records were moved from the Clerk's Office and hidden by the clerk of court. By 1864 Union troops ranged freely through Surry County. The courthouse was abandoned until the Civil War was over. Court, however, continued to be held. Beginning on 2 August 1864, court was held at the Parish House. By 28 March 1865, court was moved to Moore's Swamp Meeting House. On 25 September 1865, the war being over, court was moved back to our court house. Our records were all saved, as shown in a 1869 inventory written into our court records.

10. 1895. With the growth of Dendron and Claremont, the 1797 courthouse was insufficient to handle the county's business. The old courthouse was torn down and a new Victorian courthouse was built to replace it. It had the first fireproof vault for safekeeping of the county's valuable records.

Image Courtesy of SCHSM

Image Courtesy of SCHSM

11. 1906. The Victorian courthouse burned. It was replaced with a classical two story courthouse in 1907. It was similar to the present courthouse, but with a large cupola on its roof. Our records were saved.

12. 1922. The courthouse burned again, and was replaced with a similar structure. Again the county's records were saved. This building is being used today.

13. Undoubtedly, court has been held in other places not yet found, as the courthouses burned or were replaced over the last three hundred and forty seven years.

THUS - Surry County has had nine courthouses since 1652. At least four of these burned. Enemy troops came through the county, camped and burned in both the Revolutionary war and the Civil War. The county suffered shelling in the War of 1812. Despite all this, the county still has its records. What a debt of gratitude we owe to the Clerks of court, and the many others who kept our records safe. Depending only upon the love, skill, energy and ingenuity of our citizens, Surry County has achieved what most other counties have not. We have our original records for 347 years - still in Surry County for the use of our citizens. Let's keep it that way. J.E.A.

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James E. Atkins