Fannie Watson shares insights into history of 1885 Shelby County Courthouse

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article originally appeared in the Oct. 24 print edition of The Light and Champion.

Long time Shelby County educator Fannie Watson presented a program at the Shelby County History Museum about the historic Shelby County Courthouse on Oct. 15.

Watson spoke about the Shelby County Courthouse, but what she truly spoke about was the history, community and education behind it. 

“I feel so very honored and yet very humbled to be here with you this afternoon - for me to share my little knowledge about the courthouse,” she said. “Because I know many of you know more than I do about it - so I’m just going to think that we’re going to reminisce together, today, about our beautiful courthouse.”

Sharing history and knowledge on the courthouse, she also stated a number of recorded facts about the courthouse and its happenings. 

A fire destroyed the first Shelby County Courthouse along with all of it’s records on June 1, 1882. In Watson’s speech, she explains a $1,000 reward was put out five days later for the arrest and conviction of whoever started the courthouse fire.

On November the 16th, 1882, it was ordered that a new courthouse be built. Watson read aloud the old courthouse record.

“It is to be built according to the following dimensions; 50 by 40 - feet, two stories high. It was to be made of brick - and it was to have five rooms below and two above, besides the district court room. It was to be covered with slate. One hall would be 8 - feet wide. And one hall would be 10 - feet wide.”

And there are to be four chimnies,” Watson said. “With eight fireplaces.” 

After hearing facts and stories about the courthouse and its happenings, Watson spent most of her time talking about J.J.E Gibson, an Irish immigrant who moved to Shelby County after high school, and his commitment to Shelby County. Watson explained how Gibson studied architecture after high school and became a professional architect. 

He had a cousin who went to New Orleans, they built fine homes there. Then he felt the call - to the Wild and Wolly West and ended up in Panola County,” Watson said.

On Nov. 7, 1884, Shelby County officials opened the bids for the new rebuilding of the courthouse and Gibson got the lowest bid - $26,725. Gibson made payments throughout the progress of the courthouse being built until the new Shelby County Courthouse was finished. 

Watson spent part of her time as a teacher in Center, teaching her students about J.J.E. Gibson and the history behind the courthouse. They made booklets and story books about Gibson to spread the history behind it all. 

During her presentation, Watson spoke highly of Shelby County, Shelby County Courthouse, J.J.E and everything in-between. 

For related video of Watson's presenation, please click on YouTube link:

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