ABINGDON, Va. — We talked about the courthouse.
And why not?
When I was asked to teach another round of “Legends of Local History” at the College for Older Adults in Abingdon on Sept. 13, I wanted to do more than share random stories from the books I’ve written on local legends and history.
So I made it a topical talk, explaining the burning of the Washington County Courthouse in 1864 and how it was rebuilt in 1868-69.
I shared stories on what happened when Russell County, Virginia, moved its courthouse from Dickensonville to Lebanon.
I talked about how the Grayson County Board of Supervisors in Independence, Virginia, sold its old courthouse for $110,000.
And I showed how the Sullivan County Courthouse was rebuilt after the Battle of Blountville during the Civil War in Tennessee.
Then I took a survey on blank sheets of paper with three questions: Are you a county resident? Are you a Town of Abingdon resident? Should the Washington County Courthouse remain, or should it be moved to Abingdon’s former Kmart?
That, in a nutshell, is virtually the same question that voters will face when deciding on a referendum on the Nov. 5 ballot in Washington County.
I did not ask for the names of any of the respondents.
I ended up with 32 total ballots on whether the courthouse should stay in place or relocate to a shopping center.
Of these, 17 voted not to move the courthouse while 10 voted to make the move to the Kmart site, a building with 89,000 square feet and a parking lot with 350 spaces.
Many of the adults, with an age range of 55 to 86, left comments on their ballots.
“Courthouse is too historic to leave empty or filled with museum stuff,” one Abingdon resident wrote on a ballot.
“I also feel sorry for the lonely Kmart building,” wrote a resident of Washington County. “But I prefer the courthouse remain in downtown Abingdon.”
Yet another Washington County resident wrote, “Build a new courthouse by converting the Kmart building.”
One Abingdon resident wrote, “As for the courthouse, do need more room, and parking space. More modern facilities are needed, more ease for disabled to get into the courthouse. If the ‘people’ are allowed to vote on it, I would vote to move it to Kmart!”
Just to let you know: Two residents of Abingdon voted to build a new courthouse near the county offices building and Virginia Highlands Community College, though that choice will not be a choice on the November ballot.
Three more votes had to be disqualified. Two were from non-Washington County residents, so they won’t be eligible to vote on the referendum on Nov. 5 anyway. One more vote was simply disqualified because the student did not say where they came from. But, evidence does point to the respondent being a Washington County resident, with the use of the word “our” when leaving these comments: “No, no, no to Kmart! Yes to modifying our courthouse bldg.”