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At the time that Forsyth County was created in 1849, state law required that every county provide three structures…a courthouse, a jail and a poorhouse for the less fortunate. The law also provided that at each session of Superior Court held in that county that the grand jury visit and examine those three places and evaluate them and make recommendations to the county commissioners as to conditions and remedies.
This went on for years in Forsyth County, with the grand jurors reporting similar findings each time…the courthouse was OK, the jail barely adequate, the poorhouse a disgrace. But because no one really cared about the last two, nothing was ever really done. But in the 1880s, with the rapid population growth fueled by the expanding tobacco industry, the courthouse too began to get low ratings. The courthouse was badly overcrowded, and at some point, the room where jurors deliberated was taken over by other functions and when cases went to the jurors, they were forced to retire to the courthouse lawn to discuss the case, taking shelter on the tiny portico in case of inclement weather. As a result, Forsyth had become a laughing stock, even among the residents of lesser counties.
Winston civic leaders wanted something done, but then, as now, those living outside the city were unwilling to help pay for improvements. Then, along came Jones, or in this case, Judge Edwin T. Boykin.
Boykin was among the most popular circuit judges in the state and perhaps the best, known for his knowledge of the law and incisive charges to both grand and trial juries. He was also a man of charisma, with a sense of humor. His favorite story was about his attempt to get home to Salisbury from Asheville in August 1887.
Having wrapped up his term in Asheville he boarded a Western North Carolina Railway train. The journey would be through Marion and Morganton, involving a number of long high trestles. It had been raining for days, so no one had been able to check the safety of those trestles. As the train approached the high trestle at Bridgewater in Burke Country, the conductor suddenly signaled the engineer to stop the train. When asked why, he could only say that he had had a “presentiment” that something was wrong. The train remained stationery as the situation was discussed, then slowly, and then more rapidly, the trestle collapsed into the gorge.
Back to Asheville, and a new route, now in pitch darkness. Suddenly, the engineer sensed that something was not right and stopped the train. When the crew went forward with lanterns, they found that the train had stopped just short of a chasm where the roadbed had collapsed…a few more feet and the entire train would have plunged into the void.
So back to Asheville and a third route, in the early hours after midnight. Again, the engineer stopped the train. He said that the roadbed was quavering beneath his engine. By now, most of the passengers had lost their minds and insisted that he continue, no matter the risk. He agreed, but only if the passengers and crew dismounted and walked ahead. As they did, he inched the train across the unsettled roadbed to safety. Judge Boykin liked to say that there were many lawyers who wished that such “presentiments” had not happened.
In May of 1893, Judge Boykin opened the Forsyth County session of Superior Court. His first order of business was his charge to the grand jury.
Three days later, the Grand Jury complied:
The reaction was predictable. The county commissioners all claimed that they had long supported building a new courthouse, but that the 62 county magistrates, representing the outlying districts, had obstructed them. There was some truth in this, but not much. The commissioners had the power to do what needed to be done. At any rate, the grand jurors took the judge seriously. They expressed their opinion to the county solicitor, who drew up an indictment of the commissioners and magistrates for misdemeanor contempt of court.
That got some action. A joint meeting of the commissioners and the magistrates was set for June. All agreed that a weather and fireproof structure needed to be built to house the county records, but not at a cost above $1,000. And a discussion was begun about selling the courthouse property to finance a new courthouse elsewhere. Of course, that was a red herring to buy time.
The contempt indictment was continued at the July session under another judge. And continued again at the August session by yet another judge. By then, the great depression of 1893 had set in, and the commissioners had a useful excuse for avoiding the issue, at which point the indictment disappeared.
The county would not get a new courthouse until four years later:
Perhaps a contributing factor came about on July 12, 1893, when Judge Edwin T. Boykin married Miss Ada Rogers, “one of Concord’s fascinating daughters”, at the Concord Episcopal Church, the Rev. J.C. Davis presiding. Maybe he had more important matters to attend to after that.