The Walthall Courthouse Square Park is the wonderful and hard-fought result of the most devastating event to happen to this community – the 2013 Webster County Courthouse FIRE. The local county politicians chose to demolish the courthouse remains and build a new structure on a different site. Leaders of the Village of Walthall, with the pro-bono efforts of an architectural firm, led the effort to turn the demolition site and the relocation of the new Courthouse away from the Square into a positive asset for the community. Grant funding and in-kind commitments were secured. Key elements of the historic building were saved from demolition and repurposed for a stage and platform for the Park. The perimeter plinth wall was restored and the character of the square was reinforced to provide an iconic Center for the community. This project represents the best of community activism and citizen architects coming together to improve their community.
This is the saddest event Walthall has gone through, at least in living memory. The Courthouse fire was unthinkable, then the demolition of the remains of the building, which took 5 years to get completed, was even worse. And, the county government’s decision to build the courthouse on a different site further deteriorated the historic town square. The Court Square is the center and the heart of our small community. The loss of this Icon could have easily killed our community. BUT – our community came together and helped create a wonderful asset in the center of our community – creating a beautiful public space.
Key elements of the Courthouse were retained to help tell the story of the Courthouse Square and to reflect the importance of this site to the community. A historic marker, including descriptive information and a drawing of the Courthouse façade, was installed on the site. Sidewalks and stairs that originally led to the courthouse now lead to the Park lawn which will be used for events and play. The park is accessible and includes developed parking areas and lighting to encourage full use by the community. The two trees that survived the fire were saved and additional trees and landscaping added. The former County Jail was previously rehabilitated to house the Village Hall and is located directly behind the Park. A house on the square was also recently donated by a local family and was rehabilitated to provide the Henderson Community Center adjacent to the Park
The Courthouse demolition process left the remaining elements in a serious state of damage, with rubble scattered throughout the site. The park project included the final clean-up of the site.
The former front terrace of the Courthouse remains and is repurposed as a stage for the Park – which can front to the park lawn – or to the street and Village property across the street. Walthall has been hosting election return live coverage for decades – with large boards and lights. This event draws hundreds of people and is a fund raiser for the local volunteer fire department, who serve food during the event. The north entrance, including the accessible ramp, was also retained and provides an accessible platform for events. The low portion of the wall between the front terrace and the stage was retained to define the original layout of the courthouse and to protect the park area from the adjacent street.
The Courthouse flag poles were retained and reused. The former well cap was secured and restored, including the inset writing on the cap written when Miss Mississippi Charlie Carroll returned to her hometown of Walthall after winning the state title in 1962.
A Community groundbreaking was held at the start of the project in September, 2018. Scores of people participated. The burned-out shell of the building sat in place for 5 years before the county demolished it and released the site. The local citizens had been waiting for this positive project for years – questioning if something positive could be done with the former Courthouse site.
This park is now being used by the community for birthday parties, visiting and for regular events (when thing fully open). An opening ceremony was held when the park was completed – in conjunction with the return of “Walthall Trade Days”. Folks regularly walk through our community, and the park has become a wonderful resting spot. It is well lit at night, highlighting once again, the historic town square as the center of our community.
This project is about restoring Community and celebrating its Stories!
Client: Village of Walthall, MS