Sunday, November 27, 2022

Report on old Princess Anne County Courthouse finished. Here’s what it found out

The 1822 Princess Anne County Courthouse and the Confederate Monument on the courthouse green (Rami Yoakum/Southside Daily)
The 1822 Princess Anne County Courthouse. The porch was added later, and the columns in 1966 (Rami Yoakum/Southside Daily)

VIRGINIA BEACH — Although its 200th birthday is still a few years away and its construction wasn’t without some controversy, the old Princess Anne County Courthouse is still solid and looking forward to many more years of service to residents here.

In 1819, Princess Anne County wanted a new courthouse and many residents wanted it closer to the geographic center of the county. The existing courthouse was in Kempsville, whose residents didn’t want the centerpiece of county government moved from there. The Virginia General Assembly got involved and a commission of Norfolk residents was appointed and tasked with making the final decision.

The rest, as they say, is history, and a new location a few miles southeast of Kempsville at the intersection of Princess Anne and North Landing roads was chosen.

The new courthouse was built in 1822 and appears to have opened for business in January 1823.

Recently, a Historic Structure Report was completed and it determined that the old building was still structurally sound and that there were no immediate issues that might threaten the building’s sustainability.

“The report provides a snapshot of what the building is at this time,” said Mark Reed, historic preservation planner for the City of Virginia Beach. “There are some repair needs but nothing is of critical concern.”

While the historic courthouse is in the Courthouse Village and Municipal Center complex that recently gained “historic district” status on the National Register of Historic Places, Reed said the building itself has undergone too many changes to qualify for that status on its own.

During the survey, as research was done on the old courthouse, information was compiled concerning as much of the building’s history as could be found.

“We now know more than we ever did,” Reed said.

He said the courthouse, which was the fifth and last one for Princess Anne County, was originally built in the shape of a “T,” with the front of the building being the top of the “T” and the leg of the “T” serving as the courtroom.

The courtroom was originally two stories in height, but a floor was added in the early 20th century to make two separate levels. Other additions were also done over the years and the courthouse eventually lost its “T” shape and became a square.

A porch was added in the early 1900s, which later became a two-story porch, while the columns that are there now were added in 1966.

Reed said the study presents an outline for repair and maintenance, including cost estimates.

“It now provides us with a significant guiding document for preservation and repair when we’re working on the building,” Reed said. “That’s the most important thing.”

Mold issues were identified and addressed in 2016-2017. Asbestos was also remediated at that time, which he said is “even better news.”

The former Princess Anne County Courthouse is currently being used for office space, and no change of use is planned anytime soon. It is listed among the “50 Most Significant Houses and Structures in Virginia Beach.”

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