Preserving history, paving a future: Martin County turning historic courthouse into community space

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Published: Jul. 27, 2021 at 8:02 PM EDT
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INEZ, Ky. (WYMT) - The historic Martin County Court House is entering its next chapter.

“This place was built in 1939 and there’s so much history here,” said Tourism Chairperson Nita Collier. “The outside wall, you know, years of stories and people telling me, ‘My grandpa used to sit on that wall; they would gather there on Saturdays.’”

Collier said the building has seen the likes of Lyndon B. Johnson and John McCain in its time, but has also been a meeting ground for many in the community for decades. But the courthouse has been lost to the years and the county now hopes it can find its way back.

According to Collier, plans are in the works to create a community space, using the building without taking away the charm and history that it brings to the town.

“Our dream is a wedding venue, high school mock trial team, movies if they would be interested,” said Collier. “Downstairs we already have support for doing a commercial kitchen for our county. You know, having gardeners come in and do canning, people that do baking.”

The wedding venue would include a bride’s chamber and a groom’s chamber, as well as a space for catering and an area to gather. Keeping the original courtroom and pews for the ceremony space upstairs and many of the original tables and fixtures, Collier said the charm and potential can not be overstated.

But, she added, it is about preserving the history by paving a future for the families of Martin County, using the space to draw in more gatherings and tourism opportunities.

The work began last week to get the space on the path to preservation. Crews from Appalachia Reach Out have worked to clean up the space, take down some of the walls and pieces that are not original to the building, and clean it up to get a blank canvas prepared.

“We believe God has created us all holistically. And so part of that is helping economically in our county in our community, and part of doing that is coming alongside people who are passionate about raising our community up,” said ARO Executive Director Dwayne Mills.

Mills said the groups- made up of people from other states- is working on several stories around the county, but he finds the courthouse to be an exciting endeavor because he loves seeing the history of his hometown used to help in its growth.

“Our heart is just to come alongside the community, support them, and then really teach those who come in: If it can happen in Martin County, if we can engage community in Martin County, it can happen anywhere,” said Mills. “Coming alongside those who are working and have a vision and have a plan for it. To say, ‘Hey, we can come in alongside of you and support, encourage, and help you as you look at this vision and think about what this could look like and how it can impact our community.”

Collier said watching the groups work and seeing their progress and passion was an inspiration, giving her even more hope for the future of the region.

“Our children need to be able to help us protect this building and keep the memories alive from here,” Collier said.

She said the budget for the project is small, but the support from the community has been overwhelming.

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