A History of Graham, North Carolina

Historic Alamance County Court House - Graham, North Carolina

The city of Graham has an interesting history surrounding its origins. Graham is located in the direct center of Alamance County. This occurred as a result of the decision to split Orange County. In the early 1800s, Orange County was composed of both present day Alamance and Orange Counties. Some people believed that the county was too large and decided to split the county in two, creating Alamance County. Once the county was established a County Seat needed to be created, the city of Graham was the result of this effort.

Graham was centered around a court house square and in the summer of 1849 the first lots went up for sale that surrounded the court house. In 1851, just two years later, the town of Graham was incorporated. Graham was named for the outgoing governor, William Alexander Graham of Hillsbourgh. Sixty-eight lots were surveyed, of which all were sold over the next twenty years. The original seventy-five acres was purchased for $603.

The first town water works and electrical plant were constructed in 1904 and on December 1, 1905 the streets of Graham witnessed the miracle of electricity. Since 1905, Graham has experienced many changes while still maintaining the feel of a small town. In 1961, the legislature voted to change the name of Graham, to the City of Graham. Graham has experienced substantial growth since 1905, with a current population of 11,955. The City of Graham is also home to numerous well known industries in the fields of hosiery, plastics, electronics and metal works.

Graham was granted a U.S. Post Office on January 31, 1850, and its first Postmaster was James Sidney Scott. It has been in continuous operation ever since inception.

Original Alamance County Court House c.1900

Alamance County first met at the site of Providence Meeting House, near what is today Providence Christian Church in Graham, NC, near the railroad tracks. The original building was torn down some years later, but the markers of the original building can be found in the cemetery next to the church.

At the first county court meeting on June 4, 1849, the commissioners (Chair Michael W. Holt, George Garrison, Jr., Absalom Harvey, William Harvey, and Abraham Tarpley) discussed the construction of the county court house. On July 17, 1849, the contract was awarded with instructions to spend $8,000 to construct a court house.

Since the exact center of the county was too marshy to allow a courthouse to be built, a 75-acre site was selected and purchased short distance north of the center. The land was subdivided into lots, which were sold to local investors to help fund the building of the court house.

The original court house was constructed for $6,400, or around $163,000 in 2009 money. It was a small, cube-shaped two-story building that met the needs of the small population of Alamance County at that time. It featured a roof made of either tin or zinc, although there are some indications that it may have been copper at some point during its lifetime. It also featured a cupola with a large 400-lb bell at the very top. That bell, believed lost for many years, was recovered in the 1990s and is now the featured attraction at Sesquicentennial Park in the Court House Square in Graham.

The original court house opened in 1852 and served as the focal point for elements of local, state, and federal government and historic events. It also served as a town center in the new and growing county seat. All roads in Graham, whether they were dirt, plank, or macadam, led to the original court house.

In the 1880s, having survived thirty years of progressively heavier use, a Civil War, occupation by Federal troops, and a host of other local events, the court house was beginning to show its age and space limitations. $7,500, or around $177,000 in 2009 money was spent to add two wings to the east and west ends of the court house and to stucco the entire building.

The next major addition to the court house grounds was a memorial statue to Confederate soldiers added and dedicated on May 21, 1914. The name of the soldier at the top of the statue is “Conrad” (pronounced koon-rahd). This would be the last major addition to the court house grounds before space limitations forced the county commissioners to approve the demolition of the original court house and the construction of a new, larger facility. The original court house was demolished in 1923.

The "new" court house’s cornerstone was laid on November 17, 1923. William Arnold amd James Lexie Moore, brothers of Sheriff Hallie Moore, dug the foundation in 1924 using mules and dragpans. Just over a year later, on November 23, 1924, the new court house was dedicated by Judge W. A. Devin. At the time, the four-story court house was considered to be one of the best examples of modern architecture in the state of North Carolina, and the $253,925.82 cost – or $3.16 million in 2009 dollars – reflected that.

The new court house is an example of Neoclassical Revival Style architecture, a popular style for government buildings in the United States during the early 1900s. Other examples can be seen in buildings like the White House and the Lincoln Memorial. It can also be viewed in the Old Guilford Court House and in other court houses designed by architect and Greensboro resident Harry Barton, who designed our new court house.

In order to accommodate its use as a community center of so much activity, several upgrades and repairs have been made over the years. In the 1980s, an elevator was installed to assist disabled residents in their use of the building, and in the 1990s, major repairs were done to the aging roof of the building to prevent further damage from external leaks. The massive structural damage caused by those leaks, however, was not repaired until the 2010-2011 renovations.

In 1993, further issues with the nearly 70-year-old court house, including noise and dangerous conditions, caused the county to construct a new court house a bit further west down Elm Street. The Criminal Courts Building, commonly referred to as the “New Court House”, began construction in 1992 and opened in 1993.

In 2009 and 2010, the historic court house underwent renovations and was renamed the Alamance Civil Courts Building.

Alamance Civil Courts Building - Graham, NC

Click Here to view several maps of the city of Graham & Burlington provided by the State Highway Commission / DOT.

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