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President's Column

mark A. Finkelstein
Tenth Judicial District Bar







~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, New York Trust Co. v. Eisner

256 U.S. 335, 343 (16 May 1921).

            Justice Holmes’ statement above is just as true in Wake County today as it was in the halls of the United States Supreme Court 100 years ago. Here are some key events of Wake County history that should inform and inspire us all as lawyers continue to create the history of our county:

·           On December 29, 1808 in a one-room shack just behind the current North Carolina Supreme Court building, Andrew Johnson, 17th President of the United States, was born. The Johnson’s wooden "cabin” has been moved to Mordecai Park where we hold our annual May members’ picnic.

·          Andrew Johnson may still be a wanted man in Raleigh. As a child, he was indentured to a Raleigh tailor. Young Andrew skipped out on his indenture contract and moved to Tennessee. Such conduct was a crime in antebellum North Carolina.

·           Abraham Lincoln selected Andrew Johnson, a Senator from Tennessee and a Democrat, as his Vice Presidential nominee under the Union Party banner in 1864. Up until President Clinton’s second term, Johnson had the distinction of being the only President impeached by the US House of Representatives. He, like Clinton, was not convicted by the Senate.

·          Wake County was formed in 1771 from parts of Johnston, Cumberland and Orange Counties. It bears the maiden name of the sitting colonial governor’s wife, Margaret Wake. Tryon Palace in New Bern is named after that sitting royal governor, William Tryon.

·         Bloomsbury, formerly known as Wake Courthouse, was the first county seat of Wake County. The community of Bloomsbury was the area around Joel Lane’s house – still located at the corner of St. Mary’s Street and West Hargett Street. Joel Lane was a member of the first Wake County Court which held hearings in his house. The commission established in 1792 to locate a new capital for North Carolina met in Joel Lane’s house and agreed to purchase land from Mr. Lane to establish a new capital city. Raleigh was placed on 1000 acres purchased from Lane. The city was planned on a grid system and named Raleigh after Sir Walter Raleigh. North Carolina’s capital moved from Fayetteville to Raleigh in 1793.

·          Wake County has had seven courthouses (unless you count the places in Wake Forest and elsewhere in the county where traffic court was held up until recently or Joel Lane’s home, which was built in the 1760’s and has been noted as the location of Wake County’s first trials). Shortly after Wake County was established, a log courthouse was built near the intersection of Hargett Street and Boylan Avenue. This log structure served as the courthouse until a courthouse was built on the current Fayetteville Street Courthouse location in 1795.

·         The land where the courthouse stands today was given to the county in 1795 by Theophilus Hunter and James Bloodworth.

·         The 1795 courthouse was moved and replaced with a brick Greek Revival building in 1837.

·         A new courthouse and jail in the "Second Empire” style was built from 1882-84.

·         The 1915 granite courthouse was similar in style to the 1870’s reconstruction federal courthouse that now houses the Fayetteville Street post office and Bankruptcy Court. This courthouse building was demolished in 1967 and replaced with the current cast terra cotta courthouse in 1970.

·       An undivided half of the land on Fayetteville Street where the courthouse stands today was given to the county by the Bloodworth family. Litigation in the late 20th century established that if this property ever stops being used as a courthouse, an undivided half of the property will revert to the heirs of the original Bloodworth donors under the terms of the original 1790’s deed.

·         A committee including our own Chief District Court Judge and WCBA President, Robert Rader, helped design the new 577,000 square foot Wake County Justice Center at the corner of Salisbury and Martin Streets. The WCBA helped host a grand ceremony, including the first en bank sitting of the Wake County District Court and the Wake County Superior Court, to open the new Justice Center in July of 2013.

·         The Wake County Bar is at the heart of the North Carolina Bar Association and has played a key role in the NCBA’s history. The North Carolina Bar Association was founded in Raleigh on Feb. 10, 1899. From 1903 through 1915, the NCBA licensed attorneys in North Carolina from offices in Raleigh. In 1915, the legislature established a board of law examiners made up of the Chief Justice and two associate justices of the Supreme Court. At the request of the NCBA, the legislature established the North Carolina State Bar in 1933. In 1976 Legal Service of North Carolina, Inc. was established in Raleigh through the North Carolina Bar Association. The association also established Lawyers Mutual Liability Insurance Company of NC, which issued its first policy in Raleigh in 1978.

I will close with a note regarding the author of the initial quotation above: The Town of Wendell in Eastern Wake County was named after poet Oliver Wendell Holmes, father of the quoted Supreme Court Justice. Wendell natives, however, do not pronounce the name of the town as the Holmes family pronounces Wendell. The town of Wendell does not rhyme with swindle.

             Knowing our history enriches our lives and inspires us to continue Wake County’s great tradition. WBF

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