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Pittsylvania County Courthouse

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1853, L. A. Shumaker; 1898 addition, Bartholomew F. Smith; 1917 addition, Stanhope S. Johnson and Pritchett and Henderson; 1968 addition. 1 N. Main St.
  • (Virginia Department of Historic Resources)

Pittsylvania's brick courthouse not only holds a place in the evolution of Virginia's courthouse architecture but also one in the civil rights and constitutional history of the country. Here in 1878, after he excluded African Americans from serving on jury duty, Judge J. D. Coles was charged with violating the Civil Rights Act of 1875 and was subsequently arrested and jailed. He then petitioned the Supreme Court to be released from custody. Ruling against him in the case Ex parte Virginia, the court held that he had violated the Civil Rights Act and the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment that extended federal citizenship to blacks. Although limited in its immediate impact, the ruling was a portent of changes to come in the distant future.

The Pittsylvania County Courthouse and the neighboring Old Campbell County Courthouse, on which it was modeled, are Greek Revival with fashionable all-stretcher brick bond on the facade. Although both courthouses have five-bay facades, Doric porticos on the upper floor give their front elevations a vaguely three-part aspect reminiscent of earlier Jeffersonian buildings. The elaborate Pittsylvania courthouse has an entablature with triglyphs and guttae and a two-stage square cupola. The courtroom retains its original paneled ceiling, but its aedicule and paneling, as well as its benches, are twentieth-century additions. Gazing down from the walls of the courtroom are portraits of prominent white, male Pittsylvanians. On the ground floor are the treasurer's and clerk's offices. The clerk's office was enlarged in 1898, court-related offices were added in 1917, and a rear addition for the sheriff's and commonwealth attorney's offices was completed in 1968.

Writing Credits

Anne Carter Lee



  • 1853

  • 1898

  • 1917

  • 1968


What's Nearby


Anne Carter Lee, "Pittsylvania County Courthouse", [Chatham, Virginia], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of Virginia vol 2

Buildings of Virginia: Valley, Piedmont, Southside, and Southwest, Anne Carter Lee and contributors. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2015, 360-361.

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