Historic Courthouse

Early Days

Rutherford County became organized October 25, 1803. Jefferson was named the county seat in honor of President Thomas Jefferson. The community thrived due to its accessibility at the mouth of the Stones River. The early Courthouse at Jefferson was built at a cost of twenty-five hundred dollars and was completed in 1806. By 1811 the county had moved to a small village in the center of the county at Cannonsburgh.

The legislature renamed Cannonsburgh, Murfreesborough on November 29, 1811. Captain William Lytle who wished to honor his friend, Colonel Hardy Murfree, named Murfeesborough. In 1813, a Courthouse, jail, whipping post, and stocks were completed and ready for occupancy; however, no pictures or descriptions of this building exist. In 1817, Murfeesboro was recognized as an official city by the state legislature. That next year, Murfreesboro became the capitol of Tennessee. The Courthouse housed the state legislature until it burned in 1822.

Many recognizable politicians were legislators and began their career here: James K. Polk, David Crockett and Sam Houston. A frequent visitor was Andrew Jackson who announced his United States Senate in this Courthouse.

The Civil War

In 1858, a new and bigger Courthouse was needed. A committee was formed to supervise the construction of a new Courthouse on the previous site. This structure with the exception of the North and South wings is basically the same Courthouse we have today. The bell and clock tower were added in 1860 prior to the Civil War.

Nathan Bedford Forrest with a task force of 1300 men was ordered to capture or remove the Union forces garrisoned there. Many local patriots were to be hung by the Federals the next morning. Forrest approached the Square where the Union army was at post on the two floors of the Courthouse. Forrest’s strategy was for two single lines to be formed on the west and east sides of the Courthouse. The first soldier in each line was given an axe. When a comrade was slain, the axe was passed from man to man until reaching the Courthouse doors. The door was battered down, the building was taken over, and the patriots freed.

The Confederacy was encamped on the lawn of the courthouse from July 1862 until the Stones River Battle ended in January 1863. The Courthouse served as a headquarters for the Union army the rest of the war.


Rutherford County faced economic problems similar to other regions of the South. Farmlands had served as battlefields and many splendid mansions were torched and only the chard walls remained. Miraculously the Courthouse remained intact. Alterations and minor repairs were approved by the Quarterly Court in 1867. It is not known if the Courthouse was in need of general repair, if it had been damaged during the war. Minor repairs and improvements continue to be made until the turn of the century.

In 1869, an iron fence was placed around the Courtyard. Damage had occurred to the fence due to horses being tied to it. In 1872, hitching posts were built around the Square to eliminate this problem. Attention continued to be made to the aesthetic beauty of the Courthouse interior. In 1874, two chandeliers were purchased for the courtroom and hall for a total of one hundred sixty-seven dollars. The turn of the century brought minor repairs to the Courthouse. A cistern was filled and the roof was repainted.

In 1908, alterations were made to adjust for offices. The beautiful columns and porches were unmolested while construction of the third floor was added.

The Courthouse experienced another narrow escape March 20, 1913. A tornado struck Murfreesboro. The debris from the tornado only damaged the tip railing around the clock. It was highly debatable whether or not the tornado actually hit the Courthouse.


During the Depression, many found unusual ways to survive. Unfortunately, not all were a success. In the spring of 1923, a handsome, young stranger curiously walked the grounds of the Courthouse. An official led him up to the roof at the base of the clock tower. The stranger left the Courthouse and walked into several stores around the Square. In each store the man informed the merchants that he was known as the "Human Fly". Newspaper articles he presented confirmed his ability to perform daredevil feats. The "Human Fly" announced that he would climb the Courthouse to the top of the clock tower for a small fee. When the money was collected, that night the "Human Fly" attempted the dangerous climb.

A powerful searchlight mounted on a fire truck beamed on the Courthouse. The assent was successful. The crowd began to cheer as he waved from the clock tower. As he descended the crowd became anxious. A light mist was visible through the beam. Suddenly, the "Human Fly" lost his footing on the clock tower and fell to his death. This mysterious man had revealed no identity. For five days he was displayed in the storefront window of Sweeny’s Funeral Parlor in a glass casket. This was in hopes that someone would recognize the "Human Fly" but no one did. Later he was buried in an unmarked grave in Evergreen Cemetery.

In the 1930’s major improvements were made to the Courthouse. Walkways and benches were added to the property. The first night shots of the Courthouse were made Christmas 1936. Brightly colored lights cascaded from the cupola to the newly installed street lamps. This area continued to be the center of activity during the 1940’s. The Courthouse came to the forefront after many years of silence during World War II. It was used as an air raid alarm. The bell was rung at 9:00 am on June 9, 1942 to signal the first statewide blackout.

The Square became the center for the soldiers who took part in training exercises. Tanks and other army vehicles were seen circling the Square. Middle Tennessee having similar physical features to those of the European terrain was designated as a "maneuver training area."

After World War II, Murfreesboro garnered both local and national attention when it welcomed General Douglas McArthur, his wife native Jean Faircloth and their eleven-year-old son back to Murfreesboro. There had been such preliminary fanfare that the event that was to attract thousands of greeters was significantly reduced. However this event was the first to be planned by the community around a national hero.

1950s - 1970s

Rutherford County was beginning to change from agrarian based economy to attracting many industries and manufacturing interests. The Courthouse and central business district experienced the most change. In 1951, Murfreesboro with an urban renewal project began removal of a slum area known as "The Bottom". Replacing this area was Broad Street connecting U.S. 41 from Murfreesboro to Nashville. Until then West College was then link to Nashville. The coming of industry caused Rutherford County’s population to skyrocket. Much of the retail activity shifted to shopping centers away from the Square. In the early 1960’s, wings on the north and south side of the Courthouse were completed. Additional office space was needed to accommodate the County’s growing need.

Coming Soon: The Offical Rutherford County Historic Website