The original county of Isle of Wight, designated Warrosquoyoake from 1634 to 1637, was at least twice its present size. Settling on a location for a courthouse which would be convenient to all was a difficult process. The first courts were held in homes or taverns near Smithfield. Eventually, the Council of Colonial Virginia ordered a new courthouse to be built in the Town of Smithfield on land owned by Arthur Smith IV of Windsor Castle.
This historic building, the first erected in Smithfield, witnessed the growth of America from its earliest settlements, to life under colonial rule, the quest for independence, the Revolutionary War, and the first days of our republic. Historians believe it was here in early courthouses that colonists learned the principles and values of self government that served as the foundations of our country.
Ordinary people worked in this courthouse to build our country and to shape the vision of a democracy valuing all people. The stories told by this building hold important lessons for us today in civic responsibility, community service and the founding of America.
By 1751 the one story high, fifty feet long, twenty-four foot wide courthouse had been finished. It served the county well until 1799 when disputes concerning the location of the court surfaced. The General Assembly decreed that the courthouse would be moved to the land of Francis Boykin, seven miles west of Smithfield, its present location. This was accomplished in 1801.
Around 1808, Dr. Robert Butler, a native of Surry County, lived in Smithfield as a practitioner of medicine and surgery. In 1812, he bought the Old Courthouse from the Boykins and the Smiths. He then converted the one story, three room building into a three story, ten room mansion without altering the original brick walls. The old building that had been a courthouse for fifty years became a family residence for the next 126 years.
All rise—and come see how court cases were handled in the 1750s, coming this April 29th!