Pittsboro, North Carolina

Pittsboro, North Carolina
Hillsboro Street in downtown Pittsboro
Hillsboro Street in downtown Pittsboro
Nickname(s): 
Circle City
Location of Pittsboro, North Carolina
Location of Pittsboro, North Carolina
Coordinates: 35°43′13″N 79°10′35″W / 35°43′13″N 79°10′35″W / 35.72028; -79.17639

Pittsboro is a town in Chatham County, North Carolina, United States. The population was 3,743 at the 2010 census[4] and estimated to 4,221 at the 2017 Population Estimates Program (PEP) of the U.S. Census Bureau. It is the county seat of Chatham County.[5]

History

Foundation and early years

Pittsboro was established as a town in 1785. The Chatham County Court House was built on land belonging to Mial Scurlock; however, in 1787, the legislature declared that a town could not be established on Scurlock's land. The town's trustees instead purchased adjacent land belonging to William Petty and laid out the town. That same year, Pittsboro was officially named the county seat. Although Chatham County is named for William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham, Pittsboro is named for his son, William Pitt the Younger.

Pittsboro was once considered as a potential site for both the University of North Carolina and the state capital. The university was established in Chapel Hill, beginning in 1789. The state capital was located in Raleigh, 34 miles (55 km) to the east of Pittsboro.

As the county seat, Pittsboro has been a center of trade and local government, including the courts. Many farmers would come into town on the weekend for trade. In 1881, a new county courthouse and jail were built in Pittsboro.

Slavery and racial segregation

The area did not have large plantations, but farmers also depended on slave labor. In 1860, nearly one-third of the county population was made up of enslaved African Americans. After the Civil War and emancipation, whites used violence and other means to enforce white supremacy and suppress the freedmen's vote. The Ku Klux Klan and other supremacist groups were active in the county.[6]

In 1885, Pittsboro was the scene of a notorious mass lynching of four African Americans, including a woman, that earned statewide condemnation. They were tenant farmers. A masked mob took Jerry Finch, his wife Harriet, and Lee Tyson from jail, where they were being held after arrest as suspects in a robbery/murder case.[6] Harriet Finch was one of four black women to be lynched in the state.[7] They also took and hanged John Pattishall, who was awaiting trial for two other unrelated robbery/murders.[8]

Violence continued during the stress of economic hard times at the end of the century and into the early 20th century, when the state disenfranchised most blacks. This political exclusion lasted until after 1965 and passage of the Voting Rights Act.

Early industrialization

During the previous decade, textile mills in the north central area of the county along the Haw River, Rocky River and Deep River provided new manufacturing jobs to workers who had lost farmholdings due to economic depressions of the 1870s and early 1880s. It was the beginning of industrialization around Pittsboro.

Local currency: the PLENTY

In 2002 some citizens of Pittsboro revitalized a local form of currency called the PLENTY. In 2009, it was being exchanged at a local bank at the rate of $9 for every $10 of PLENTY. The currency failed to gain traction during both releases and is no longer used.

Chatham County Courthouse fire

Chatham County Courthouse

On March 25, 2010, the Chatham County Courthouse (pictured below), while undergoing a $415,000 exterior renovation, caught fire. Smoke was first reported in the area around 4:15 p.m.; the fire was dispatched to the Pittsboro Fire Department around 4:45 p.m. By 5 p.m., smoke was reported to be rising from out of the clock tower, which was surrounded by scaffolds. The building was evacuated safely.

The building suffered severe damage to the clock tower and the third floor. It was reported that the fire had destroyed all the computers and records, but there are offsite copies and the information should be recoverable.[9]

On March 26, 2010, at approximately 1:30 a.m., the clock tower collapsed onto the main building, but the building as whole was damaged only on the second floor. Damage in the rest of the building was from water and smoke effects. Overall 11 fire departments participated in the fire efforts.

Viewed from the west-northwest, the Chatham County Court House in August 2013, having been rebuilt after a fire destroyed the upper floors and clock tower.

The fire marshal's investigation into the fire determined that it was caused by a soldering torch that ignited wood near the soffit. Workers attempted to extinguish the blaze, but were unsuccessful. On Wednesday, March 31, 2010, the Chatham County Commissioners voted in favor of rebuilding the courthouse.[10] The courthouse officially reopened on April 20, 2013.[11]

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