A brick courthouse, completed in 1815, replaced a temporary log one, which stood on a corner of the public square. For the next 160 years this courthouse and the four blocks surrounding it were the hub of political and economic life for Lincoln County. For its first half-century, the homes of leading citizens, the shops of essential craftsmen, a few stores and offices, taverns, and stock pens lined the square. Most of the buildings were log or frame structures.
By the 1850’s, newer brick structures as well as more mercantile establishments appeared. During the occupation of Fayetteville, for two years of the Civil War, Union troops fortified the courthouse with a “bomb-proof” wall and used it for their military headquarters. Under martial law, commerce almost ceased. In the decades following the war, each burst of prosperity and economic slump is mirrored in the square as we see it today.
In 1874, the graceful Italiante courthouse, which reflected Lincoln County’s first post-bellum recovery, replaced the original 1815 building. For almost a century, before its unfortunate demolition, this structure in its park-like setting dominated the square. The completion of the current courthouse signaled the close of the public square’s function as Lincoln County’s economic center.
In the 1870’s, enough capital was accumulated for the handsome structures on the North and East sides to rise. A disastrous national depression in the late 1870’s halted further development. Local disasters – from the cyclone of 1850, which destroyed the first two-story commercial building, to two great fires in 1885, which consumed the entire West side excepting the Dragonfly Art Gallery (then, possibly the Tip Top Saloon). These disasters affected the gradual completion of a district of brick, two and three-story business houses with warehouses and professional offices located on the upper floors. The oldest structures remaining are on the Southeast corners, the Northwest corner, Southwest corner, and the North side of the Square.
Don’t forget that prior to 1903, saloons on three sides of the square were interspersed with dry goods stores, groceries, hardware businesses, tailoring establishments, drugstores, banks, doctor’s, and lawyer’s offices. In those days, no lady walked unaccompanied across the square.
East Side of the Square
For over a century a bank under various guises operated in what is not the entrance half of Carter’s Drugs.
The unoccupied building at the corner of College and Elk dates from the 1850’s. For most of a century, its third floor was a “lodge hall” – first for the Mason and later the Odd Fellows.
In the early 20th century, an elegant dry goods/department store (Jarvis’) occupied part of what is now the municipal building as well as Rutledge & Eakin dry goods and Shainberg’s and Kuhns, both “dime-stores”.
South Side of the Square
The corner building is antebellum, built by an early silversmith, Mr. Ringgold. This side was the last to achieve its current form. In the 1880’s and 90’s the center of the block was dominated by a large, two-story opera house (Bright Hall) where traveling theatre troupes and light opera companies performed. For well over a century, the corner, now occupied by O’Houlihan’s, was the site of market and grocery businesses. One of our two independent newspapers, The Lincoln County News, first published in 1835, was located in the middle of the block for decades.
West Side of the Square
The Dragonfly Gallery is the oldest building on this side. During the 1880’s and 90’s, it housed the Tip Top Saloon. Before 1900 – “Fire House Hill” was know as “Tip Top Hill”. Only after the fires of 1885, was the rest of the block completed. A department store (Terry’s) and the great Ready Bakery occupied the building where the Magnolia Mall is now. Butchers, barbers, varied merchants, and McKinney’s Drugstore (on the corner) filled the block.
The Pythian Building
At the turn of the century, a fraternal order, the Knights of Pythians, built this “Castle”. The top floor was their meeting hall and the spaces below were rented to professionals and businesses as well as Fayetteville’s first “Public Library”. The library was founded and operated, for half a century, by a women’s literary club “The Round Dozen” without any public funds. The ground and basement floors were occupied by businesses and various shops.
North Side of the Square
Wright’s Store: from the first decades of 19th century until the 1960’s this has been the site of the leading dry goods store in Fayetteville. It was the site of the Douglas Brothers business in ante-bellum days. One brother migrated to Nashville where, in the 1850’s, he was the city’s leading merchant. For decades it was Mr. Andy Wright’s store where everything from the finest imported laces to all manner of materials and readymade finery from New York could be bought.
Ashby Hardware: This building was like others on the block, constructed in the first recovery boom after the Civil War. In the 1870’s, for nearly a century, a bank occupied the West side of this store. For over 130 years a hardware company has occupied the East side. One was the parent company of Benedict & Warren, of Memphis, the Deep South’s largest wholesale hardware company.
Incidentally, the first telephone in Fayetteville rang in 1895, in what was then the Hugh Douglas Smith Seed Company. The building is currently occupied by Massey Realty.
Grocers, druggists, and jewelers long occupied this North block of the square.
On this side of the square, was the stand of the first white barber (barber shops also had baths attached) and was an anomaly and rarity prior to 1895. Later, around 1900, it became the office of the Fayetteville Electric Company, which furnished electricity to Fayetteville from 1889 until the late 1930’s.
On the corner, for over a century, jewelry businesses have operated. In the early 20th century, Mr. Broussard, a French-speaking native of Switzerland, not only sold beautiful things but also created exquisite settings of precious stones and fine engraving.