Chatham County – A Courthouse History

Pittsboro, North Carolina.

It had been too long since we visited North Carolina. Our last visit was in the fall of 2015. We came back in October 2018 again in part to celebrate Lynn and my 48th anniversary with our son and daughter-in-law. Josh and his wife live outside of the small town of less than 5,000 residents. Yet one wouldn’t guess that Pittsboro is that small judging from the amount of traffic traveling the main drag. You see, PIttsboro is also the county seat of Chatham County and houses the county courthouse. The opening image features the former county courthouse, still standing in the center of a round-about. It was quite difficult for me to get a photo of the building without any cars traveling in front of it. If you look carefully behind the building on the right, you’ll see the current county courthouse in the background.

On the day we visited, two volunteers were there to give us a private tour. We barely got in the door when one of the guides brought us over to a large map of Chatham County and started describing the history of the county from it’s inception. The guide’s attitude was infectious. Here we were, a couple of visitors on our second trip to the state having minimal interest in the background and history of a relatively rural county in central North Carolina. Yet our small group paid attention and indeed, I can’t speak for the rest of our group, but I was certainly interested in the past history of the small county founded in 1771.

The museum encompasses much of the main floor of the old courthouse. There is enough information in each of the displays to do a self-guided tour, but I was really enjoying the enthusiasm of our main guide. She injected some personalized stories about the county that made the tour that much more contemporary. After the new courthouse was built, the historic courthouse held some offices and storage, but a small section of the building became the genesis of the museum as it exists today.

Interactive displays and nicely created panels provide details on the main points of Chatham County’s history leading back to the pre-Revolutionary War days. Those with a deep interest in the county history will also find detailed records and research materials, political, genealogical, and even high school yearbooks among many other resources.

In 2010, the small museum was almost destroyed along with the entire second floor of the building when fire broke out during the old courthouse renovation. Though the building was all but gutted, the outer structure itself was sound. County Commissioners decided to rebuild and the Chatham County Historical Society committed to enlarge the museum. The second floor would contain a recreated Superior Courtroom.

One display I found interesting focuses on John Randolph Lane, a Confederate Soldier from a nearby community. He was shot in battle by a Federal sergeant. Years later, he eventually met Charles McConnell, the man who wounded him. Then Col. Lane spoke of the friendship with the man who shot him during a speech given at the 40th anniversary of the Gettysburg battle in July 1903. He noted that “Year by year the relentless temper of war is giving way to the gentle tones of brotherhood and peace. Your valor is coming to be regarded as the common heritage of the American nation.” A photo of the two gentlemen that was taken at the Alamance Battleground accompanied the short biography. Our Journey will take us to that pre-Revolutionary War battlefield in a couple of weeks here on another Travel Tuesday.

On our way to view the second floor courtroom, we passed a small memorial, an artifact of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, is on display. As we passed by, our guide noted that there is a much larger artifact from 9-11 on display outside the new courthouse. That beam is featured in the image below. In the background is the current Chatham County Courthouse.

In the next few weeks, we will focus on our journeys around central and eastern North Carolina. The gallery of images below features more views of artifacts and exhibits in the Chatham County Courthouse Museum in Pittsboro. As always, in most browsers, you can click on an image in the gallery to view a high resolution image and to scroll through the gallery.

John Steiner



  1. What a fun little museum! Can’t believe it took us so long to view it. Thanks for getting us off our duffs & exploring the slice of Americana where we reside!

  2. I was born in Pittsboro at Mathiesen Clinic and have lived/worked in Chatham all my life. I began working for Chatham Co in 1978 in the old courthouse in the tax office. The pic you have of the safe was in our office and we stored our money in the upper safe. Some old tax records were in the lower safe. There was also a walk in safe where our tax rolls were stored. Thanks for the memories.

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