By James Ingram Reynolds
(1906-1996),written in 1991
The very first Sampson County courthouse was built upon those original five acres sold by Richard Clinton to the new county government in 1784, with construction beginning the following year. It was said to have built of logs, with prisons and stocks attached.
A large Greek Revival-style courthouse was built in 1818 as a replacement. It was a wooden building of two-story construction, supported by high brick pillars. At a later date it was converted to three-story by building a ground floor on its base, and the first floor was equipped with county offices. The second floor was the courtroom, and the third floor was the jury room. It had a picket fence built around it to keep cattle and other animals from roaming around and under.
In 1904, the wooden courthouse building was moved to the southeast corner of Faison and McKoy Streets and had porches added. Mr. Jap Carr and his family lived in that house for many years. Later on, it was used by Royal Funeral Home as a mortuary, and since that time has been used as a dwelling house.
Sampson County’s third courthouse was of brick construction and erected in 1904. It was two-story with entrances and porches built on all four sides. On the northwest and the southwest corners, one-story law offices were built. The one on the southwest corner was occupied and used as a law office by John D. Kerr and Henry D. Faison. The one on the northwest corner was occupied by John Fowler and Mr. Fleet Rose Cooper, all being attorneys. Both structures were later removed.
The courthouse was renovated and enlarged in 1938 and had large attachments at each end on the west and east sides.
We had a goodly number of prominent attorneys, judges, mayors and so forth whom I knew well. I have a group photograph that was taken in front of the courthouse taken before 1920. Included in the picture is Colonel Cyrus Faircloth, father of Croom Faircloth; Harrison Fisher, who lived on Sampson St. and his widow is still living; Archibald McLean Graham, who lived on Lisbon St; Judge Henry Grady, a superior court judge who lived on the south side of Main St.; John D. Kerr, Richard Herring, Judge Lyon, Buck Crumpler, Judge Henry E. Faison, and Fleet Sessoms, who was Clerk of Court for 40 years; Major George E. Butler, and Congressman/ attorney John E. Fowler, who was a cousin.
Buck Crumpler was an outstanding criminal attorney. He and his family lived on the north side of West Johnson Street. On one occasion Mr. Buck was defending a man for some crime he had committed so he was found guilty and sentenced to prison. So immediately after the trial, Mr. Buck had walked downstairs and was on the porch on the west side of the courthouse. A policeman was taking the prisoner to jail and they walked by Mr. Buck. So this fellow that was just convicted said to his attorney, “Mr. Crumpler, what’s I to do now?” And Mr. Crumpler just joking said “The only thing that I know to tell you is to run like hell.” That man took Mr. Crumpler at his word and he broke and ran. It just so happened that Jim Hubbard and I, both young men at the time, were nearby and helpful in apprehending the man.
Another story pertaining to Mr. Buck, it so happened that his wife, Eva, was the daughter of Mr. Rob Adam Butler who lived out on Five Bridge Road. Mr. Rob Adam was a large, jovial man. He had a reputation of always having a lot of good, homemade wine for his friends. He never sold any of it, but would share with those that he considered special friends. We didn’t have air-conditioned buildings in those days and on one particular occasion, during real hot weather, we had a judge here holding court by the name of Judge Bond, and after court recessed for the day, Mr. Buck Crumpler said to him, “How would you like to ride out into the country with me to meet a friend, and the ride in my cloth-top automobile would give us a chance to cool off”, so they agreed to do so.
They left town and while on their way out to see Mr. Rob Adam, Mr. Buck warned the judge of how friendly and jovial Rob Adam was, that it was just his nature. When they got there and were in front of the house, Mr. Buck got out of the car and called out “Come on out here, Rob Adam, I want you to meet the judge.” Mr. Rob Adam burst out of his house like a bull in a pasture, hurried to the side of the car and sized up the judge, head to foot. Incidentally, Judge Bond didn’t have a hair of his head. His head was just as slick as a peeled onion, and Mr. Rob Adam bent way over and looked at him good and said to Mr. Buck, “You don’t mean to tell me that this damned old bald-headed SOB is a judge of superior court.” Judge Bond didn’t take too kindly and the two men were about to have a confrontation but Mr. Buck quickly soothed things over. Judge Bond and Mr. Rob Adam went into the house and stayed in there a good while, and perhaps partook freely of the different homemade wines that Mr. Rob Adam had made. When it got later in the afternoon and was time for them to leave, Judge Bond and Mr. Rob Adam slowly walked out of the house towards the car, locked arms and singing “Nearer My God to Thee.”
There was an incident pertaining to Judge Bond and Mr. Joe Hubbard, a local man. As I previously stated, Mr. Joe, when he was a young man, was just a little bit on the rough side. He had been charged for something and then tried in Superior Court. Judge Bond was presiding and they put a rather stiff penalty on him. That night, Mr. Joe got liquored up and went into the Montague Hotel where the judge was staying while he was holding court here. He ran the judge clean out of the hotel wearing nothing but his long nightgown.
Another one of the attorneys was Mr. Henry E. Faison, who later served as a judge. While court was being held here on one cold winter day, for some reason I was either a witness or a spectator in the court. On this particular day there was a funeral taking place in Buies Creek for Mr. Campbell, the man who was the founder of Campbell University. While court was taking place, Judge Faison called a halt to the proceedings and said he wanted to pay his respects to Mr. Campbell as a great educator, statesman, and so on, and while he was paying tribute to him he pauses and says, “And now we’ll pause for a moment of silent prayer in appreciation of his valuable service and the life that he lived.” Well, everyone bowed their heads in silence and finally, in about a moment or two they raised their heads and the judge looked out the window and said “Hell fire, it’s snowing.”
The following story was widely told and was supposed to be true. Mr. John D. Kerr and Mr. John Fowler, attorneys, were in court in Clinton, with one representing the prosecution and the other representing the defense at a particular trial in the local superior court. Mr. Fowler, a bachelor who stood about 6 feet, 2 inches tall and weighed about 240 pounds, was an outstanding orator. In presenting his argument for the jury he quoted scripture at great length and won his case. When the court adjourned all recessed and went downstairs. The juries were all male in those days, a lady was never in a courthouse. Mr. Kerr poked at Mr. Fowler and said. “John Fowler, you old reprobate, you ought to be ashamed of yourself, quoting scripture from the Bible to that jury when you yourself have never taken a wife for yourself and are living in sin. I’ll bet you $10 that you don’t even know the Lord’s Prayer.” The crowd was gathering around them and Mr. Fowler replied, “I’ll take that bet.” After the men had each put up their $10, Mr. Fowler started as follows: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake…”, whereupon, Mr. Kerr interrupted Mr. Fowler and said “You win, damn it, but I didn’t think you knew it.”
John Kerr’s law office sat on the court square adjacent to the southwest corner of the courthouse. It was a small brick building. After it was torn down, he moved his office upstairs in a two-story wooden building over a pressing club (dry cleaners). The building was on the northeast side of Fayetteville Street across from what served as the bus station.
Another attorney, Mr. A. Blackmon Crumpler, was also a very well-known evangelical minister of this city. Mr. Blackmon lived on the northeast corner of Williams and Johnson Streets, there at the intersection. My family lived kind of diagonally across the street from him so I knew Mr. Blackmon quite well. He told me this story himself.
The first time that he married, he was pastoring a church out in the country near St. Louis, MO, and back then everything was horse and buggy in those days. He told me about a real hot summer day and he decided to hitch up his horse and buggy and drive it to St. Louis for the day. He was walking along the streets of St. Louis and there was a man out on the sidewalk hollering out, “ice cream, ice cream, get your ice cream.” He said “that was a new name to me and I’d never heard of it before and I approached the man and he suggested I taste some of it, which I did. It was the best tasting stuff that I had ever had in my life. I thought so much of it, I decided to buy a gallon of it to take back home to my new bride. I went back home approximately twenty miles in the buggy in real hot weather.” When he got home, he told his wife, said, “I’ve got something I want you to eat. I know you’ll enjoy it, it’s called ice cream.” He said when he opened it up he found that all he had was a gallon of milk.