The Rutherford County Court House in Murfreesboro, TN was founded
in 1803 and completed in 1859. This stunning piece of architecture is one of only six pre-Civil War court houses that remains standing in Tennessee. The court house has been renovated and still serves as the government seat for Rutherford County. The court house, like Murfreesboro, is rich in history.
The court house and the surrounding downtown square were the scene of heavy fighting during the Civil War. Colonel Nathan Bedford Forrest and his army captured Murfreesboro from Union troops on July 13, 1862. The court house grounds became a campsite for both Union and Confederate soldiers. The court house then served as Union Army headquarters for the rest of the Civil War.
In 1913 a tornado caused extensive damage to the court house and the downtown historic square but thankfully the court house was able to be repaired. By the middle of the 20th century, there was a movement across the state that resulted in historic buildings being demolished to make way for modern new structures. Due to the dedication and hard work of many local Murfreesboro residents, the court house was renovated rather than be demolished by a wrecking ball. It is hard to imagine that this stunning piece of history came perilously close to being destroyed!
Although time has taken a toll on the court house and some things have been altered, the character of the original building remains. The clock and cupola were replaced and some wings have been added to the original structure. The court house was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.
One of my favorite stories about the Courthouse is about the “Human Fly.” I heard this tale during the Boro Story Tellers Haunted Murfreesboro Walking Tour. It was the spring of 1923 and the Great Depression was causing people to come up with unique ways to make money. A young man arrived in town and proclaimed himself the “Human Fly.” He bragged to everyone around, including the newspaper reporters, that he had great abilities and performed dangerous daredevil acts. He proudly announced that he would scale the court house building all the way to the top of the clock tower for a very small fee. Everyone in town chipped in to see this unknown man perform his great feat.
When enough money had been collected, the time and date were set with much fan fare. The human fly successfully scaled the building to the very top of the clock tower where he waved to the cheering crowd below. But, as he began his descent, a light mist began to form. Without warning the man lost his footing and fell to his death in front of the crowd. The young man had told no one his real name or where he was from. So, for five days the body of the Human Fly was placed on display in the front window of the local funeral parlor in a glass casket. Locals hoped that someone would pass by and recognize the poor fellow. No one did, so the young man was buried in Evergreen Cemetary in an unmarked grave. He will forever be known as the “Human Fly.”
To learn more about the city of Murfreesboro TN and its interesting history, you can take a self-guided walking tour around the court house and the downtown square. Historical plaques and markers are in place that will share many facts about the buildings found on the downtown square. I highly recommend the haunted tour narrated by the Boro Story Tellers available every October.
Murfreesboro has grown from a small town which a humble beginning to a vibrant and bustling city. Despite the modern amenities found in Murfreesboro today, it will forever remain linked to its rich and unique history. The Rutherford County Court House proudly stands as a reminder of that history today.