The Buncombe County Courthouse is a beautiful Neo-Classical Revival structure completed in 1928. The 17-story building was designed by Frank Pierce Milburn, an architect whose work focused on public buildings. The Buncombe County Courthouse was Milburn’s last public work and is still the tallest courthouse in North Carolina. Although Milburn passed away before the completion the Courthouse, his son, Thomas Y. Milburn saw it through to completion.
The original intention was for the Courthouse and the adjacent City Hall to be a matched pair, but the city government favored Douglas Ellington’s Art Deco design, while the county commissioners preferred Milburn’s more classical plan. Ellington ended up with the design of the City Hall while Milburn’s design was chosen for the Courthouse. The two completed buildings are quite beautiful and are as different as night and day.
As I said, the construction of the building was completed in 1928, with the dedication ceremony being held on December 1st of that year. Less than two years later, the United States was rocked by the Great Depression. Buncombe County and the City of Asheville were left with massive debt. While counties and cities across the country were defaulting on their debts, the governments of Buncombe County and Asheville vowed to repay their debt. For nearly forty years the government made their payments until, in 1977, their debt was fully paid.
Their determination to bring Asheville out of debt had a lasting effect on the city. Because they could not afford to finance new construction while repaying their debt, many of the beautiful structures, like the Courthouse, the Grove Arcade and the City Hall, remain intact today. The beautiful old buildings of the city are one of the things I love about Asheville. Imagine if these old buildings had been razed to make way for newer, more modern structures. The city would have lost much of the history that contributes to its appeal.