Courthouse Group Area Survey, U.S. Route 13, Eastville, Northampton County, VA
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Significance: Local government began on the Eastern Shore late in 1632 with the commissioners (or justices, as they later came to be known) meeting as a court. They gathered in homes of individual members or in other privately-owned buildings such as taverns and ordinaries, migrating from one meeting place to another. The early court records kept by the clerks in their homes miraculously have survived to the present day and are the oldest continuous county court records in the United States, dating from 1632.
In 1663, following the division of the peninsula into the two counties of Northampton and Accomack, the first courthouse was built at the "Towne," a small settlement on the Bayside between Cherrystone Inlet and Kings Creek.
With the increase in population and its shift northward, and the resulting dissatisfaction of county residents with the long distances involved in traveling to court, this first courthouse at the Towne was abandoned and in 1677 a new site selected at "the Hornes," so named because of its location between the curving, prong-like branches of another Bayside creek. "The Hornes" later became Peachburg Town and finally Eastville. It has been the county seat of Northampton County for over three hundred years.
The decision to locate at "the Hornes" was made not only because of its central location and easy access by water, but also because there was a tavern there and a cooperative tavern owner named Matthews who offered to provide a meeting place for the justices free of charge, well aware of the trade that would accrue on busy court days.
Ten years later, after marriage to Sarah Matthews, widow, William Kendall offered 50 acres of land at the Hornes for the erection of "a Courthouse of Twenty-Five foot long, with an outside Chimney, a convenient prison, and all other things necessary for a Court." However, before this was accomplished another tavern keeper made an offer of 40 acres of land with the construction costs of the court buildings to be borne by him rather than at taxpayers' expense. Needless to say, the latter offer was accepted and the building, probably built to the preceding specifications, was in use by 1690.
This building served as a meeting place for the court for about twenty-five years and in 1715 was replaced by another frame structure, this one two stories tall, with a floor of hard packed earth and a raised platform for the justices "layed with Planed Old pine Plank."
In less than 15 years, this second courthouse was "much out of repairs and not in condition for the Justices to do the County business in" and so in 1731 the court awarded the contract for a new courthouse to John Marshall, to be built of brick laid up in Flemish bond at the cost of 50,000 pounds of tobacco. This is the present Old Courthouse, though altered somewhat from its original size (it formerly measured approximately 35 by 23 feet) and from its original site, which was in the area of the Confederate monument on the Court Green
The Clerk's Office nearby, also of brick, dates after 1750, probably some time in the third quarter of the 18th century. Its diagonally-battened door fastens with an old wood and iron lock, tall cabinets for storage of records extend from floor to vaulted ceiling, and the floor is paved with large, odd-sized flagstones. (Excerpted from Frances Latimer, Northampton County Courts, 1993).
Survey number: HABS VA-594
Building/structure dates: 1730 Initial Construction
Building/structure dates: 1913
Building/structure dates: 1814 Subsequent Work
Building/structure dates: 18q1 Subsequent Work
Building/structure dates: 1724 Subsequent Work