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Centennial of the Historic 1917 Courthouse

1917CourthouseLogoThis fall, Chesterfield County will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Historic 1917 Courthouse. This courthouse is a point of pride in the community and is being preserved for future generations. It is a Chesterfield County Historic Landmark, a Virginia Historic Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places.  

A special event is planned for Oct. 26 to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the day the cornerstone for the courthouse was laid in 1917. Fort Lee also is celebrating its 100th anniversary and will be participating in this event. Camp Lee was established in 1917 as one of the 32 new cantonments to train the burgeoning Army, following the declaration of war on April 6, 1917.

Historic Courthouse Centennial Celebration
Thursday, Oct. 26, 1:30-4 p.m.
Historic Courthouse Green
10011 Iron Bridge Road, Chesterfield

Schedule of Events:

1:30-2 p.m.  

  • The Fort Lee 392nd Army Band will perform prior to, and during, the ceremony.
  • There will be displays of tactical vehicles from the 502th Transportation Company and a display from the U.S. Army Quartermaster Museum.
  • There also will be displays on the Historic Courthouse Green from the Chesterfield Historical Society of Virginia and the Midlothian Masonic Lodge No. 211.

2-3 p.m. 

  • The replacement courthouse bell will be rung just before 2 p.m. to open the ceremony.
  • Fort Lee personnel will participate with 100 soldiers, representing the 100 WWI draftees from 2017.
  • The celebration will include speakers from Fort Lee, the Chesterfield Historical Society and Midlothian Masonic Lodge.
  • There will be a “First Day of Court” reenactment about the first court case in 1918.
  • Lane B. Ramsey, retired county administrator, will be the keynote speaker
  • Juan Conde, WRIC news anchor, will be the master of ceremonies.
  • The ceremony concludes with the unveiling of a new interpretive sign on the courthouse green.

3-4 p.m. 

  • After the ceremony, there will be tours of the 1917 Historic Courthouse.
  • The original 1749 bell is on permanent display in the Chesterfield County Museum, along with a special exhibit called “Ringing in the Courthouse Centennial,” about the history of the 1917 courthouse.
  • A Fort Lee exhibit called “Mobilizing for War” is on display in the Historic 1892 Jail.
  • Displays continue on the Historic Courthouse Green.


History of the Historic 1917 Courthouse

The Historic 1917 Courthouse sits where the first 1749 colonial courthouse was once located. In 1916, plans were made to demolish the 1749 courthouse, and replace it with a larger and more modern building. This decision was met with opposition from some county residents and resulted in the first preservation struggle in the county.

Eventually, the Board of Supervisors voted to construct the new building. Eight short months later, the courthouse opened and the first case was heard. The Chesterfield County courts system still uses this courthouse today to hear cases.

The courthouse is an excellent example of Colonial Revival architecture with four prominent Roman Doric columns and portico, and crowned with an octagonal belfry. The interior woodwork in the courtroom is original. The two-story courtroom contains the original paneled judge’s bench and jury seats. Interior renovations were made in 2013 and the building was rededicated in 2014.



Original 1749 Bell

As part of the centennial celebration, the 1749 bell, which is the oldest historic artifact in Chesterfield County (and three years older than the Liberty Bell!), was removed from the cupola of the 1917 courthouse. In April, it was cleaned, stabilized, the iron corrosion removed, and then it was coated to preserve it for many years to come. In October, it will be placed on permanent display in the Chesterfield County Museum. See the stabilization process video.  

A replacement iron bell will be placed in the cupola to be rung for the Centennial event and at other designated times in the future.  


Fort Lee Centennial Exhibit “Mobilizing for War”

/uploadedImages/County_Services/Government_Services/AWM Wall - For Every Figher.jpg/uploadedImages/County_Services/Government_Services/CASCOM Wall - I WANT YOU.jpg The first Camp Lee was selected as a state mobilization camp in 1917, just 18 days after a state of war with Germany was declared. It later became a division training camp. In June 1917, building began, with hundreds of Chesterfield County workers helping to construct it. Within sixty days, approximately 14,000 recruits were on the installation.

In June, an exhibit called “Mobilizing for War” opened in the Historic 1892 Jail and will be on display through November 2018. The exhibit contains 10 WWI posters that were used to mobilize the country to either join the Army or support the war effort as civilians. The posters are from the Ordnance Department, the Quartermaster Corps and the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA).

The jail is located at 6819 Mimms Loop in the Chesterfield County Government Complex. For access to the exhibit, go to the Chesterfield County Museum located next to the jail.

Hours are Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. and Saturday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. A $1 per person donation is suggested. For more information, call 768-7311 or visit www.chesterfieldhistory.com.

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Midlothian Masonic Lodge No. 211

The Masons were involved with the cornerstone-laying ceremony in 1917. Brother Benjamin Samuel Vincent was the Senior Warden of Midlothian Masonic Lodge No. 211 and led a delegation of Masons to assist Chesterfield County. His grandsons will be present at the Oct. 26 event. David Immanuel Vincent Jr., and Albert Fredrick Vincent are fifth generation Midlothian Lodge members and the family has been members since 1866.

1917 Courthouse Commemorative Book

As part of the commemoration, the Chesterfield Historical Society of Virginia, CHSV, has written a booklet, “Two Centennials – A Commemorative History of the 1917 Courthouse and World War I in Chesterfield County, VA.” Historical information was researched and compiled by George “Buddy” Cranford, and edited by Lies van der Linden-Brusse, both volunteers with the CHSV.

Cranford, who retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1981 and currently serves as a board member of the historical society, undertook writing the book to tell the community about the history of the courthouse and about the men from Chesterfield County who were drafted into WWI. The courthouse was a significant location for the WWI draftees. They camped around it while they were waiting for transport to U.S. Army training camps.

Copies of the book are being sold for $10 at the Chesterfield Historical Society’s headquarters, located in historic Trinity Church, 10111 Iron Bridge Road, Chesterfield, online at www.chesterfieldhistory.com or by calling 804-796-7121. All proceeds from the sale of the booklet will go to the 2017-2018 Centennial Committee, which has been responsible for planning for the commemorative event, restoring the historic 1749 bell and acquiring the replacement bell, for the interpretative signage, the museum exhibit and more.


Pennies for the Bell

We need your help to preserve Chesterfield County history! 

In celebration of the Centennial of the 1917 Courthouse, the old courthouse bell, which dates from 1749 (three years older than the Liberty Bell), was restored and will be displayed at the county museum in October, and a replacement bell will be installed in the courthouse bell tower.

At every Chesterfield County Library branch, there will be a donation jar to collect change to help preserve this unique part of our county’s heritage. The jars will be in place until Tuesday, Oct. 31. Any pennies (or nickels, dimes or quarters!) that you can spare would be greatly appreciated!


The Chesterfield Historical Society of Virginia is seeking funding from public and private sources to help finance the costs of preserving the historic 1749 bell, the replacement bell and other expenses for this commemoration.

If you are interested in contributing, contact Megan Kitchen, CHSV executive manager, 796-7156 or chsvexecutivemanager@gmail.com.