Sunday, May 18, 2014
Tripp Mickle in 2002 on Sifting through the Ruins of the Tryon Court House
The rhythmic swishing of red clay over archaeologists’ steel sifters vibrates through the trees of the 2-acre forest off N.C. 274 — the last tangible piece of property connected to the colonial Tryon Courthouse. One day, a digger uncovers a nail, and four archaeologists from the Schiele Museum scurry to see the first discovery in the quest to unearth the old courthouse.
“During colonial times, this was where people came to resolve disputes, where men and boys trained for the colonial militia, where the Tryon Resolves were signed and where Cornwallis camped as he moved through the Carolinas,” said John Russell, a member of the Gaston County Historic Preservation Commission. “This is one, if not the most important historical site in the Western Piedmont.” The property was subject to foreclosure a year ago because of unpaid taxes.
The Historic Preservation Commission intervened in order to salvage the last physical connection to the Tryon Courthouse. “This is a way to connect the present population with the history of the area,” said Alan May, curator of archaeology at the Schiele Museum. County commissioners agreed to postpone the sale to allow for a historical exploration of the property. The Historic Preservation Commission scoured deeds, maps and court records to identify locations on Christian Mauney’s property, which served as the site of the courthouse. Mauney, who once ran a tavern on the property, was a settler from Germany. “The work with the deeds has helped us to see that Christian Mauney provided his wife with a parcel of land with the original homesite on it,” May said. “That was important because instead of having 350 acres to look at we now have it narrowed down to four.”
Several weeks ago, archaeologists started digging in search of artifacts dating from the mid-18th century. “We’re looking for any debris left over from the original house,” project director Tracy Martin said. “Nails, ceramics, flat glass from windows, anything.” The team expects to continue work on the project through August. However, dry soil as a result of the drought may postpone the project until fall. “We have a better-than-average chance of uncovering artifacts,” May said. “However, there are all kinds of factors that can preclude us finding anything.”
The Carolina Colonial Assembly formed Tryon County in 1768, eight years before this country’s founders signed the Declaration of Independence, to meet the needs of the state’s swelling frontier population. The county sat south of Granville County’s current boundary line and stretched west from Mecklenburg and the Catawba River into the mountains. During Tryon County’s early years, court was held in various commissioners’ homes. In July 1774, commissioners chose Christian Mauney’s land between present day Bessemer City and Cherryville for a permanent courthouse. Mauney’s log home became the nucleus for local political activism, as revolution gripped the colonies.
There, in August 1775, commissioners signed what’s now known as the Tryon Resolves. “They declared themselves free and independent, which was innovative and many years ahead of its time,” said Darrell Harkey, historical coordinator for Lincoln County. “The Resolves really show the revolutionary spirit of these people who were in search of a new government.” The North Carolina General Assembly divided Tryon County in two in 1778, creating Lincoln and Rutherford counties. Gaston County was formed from Lincoln in 1846.
The newly formed Lincoln County continued to hold court at Mauney’s home, but the home was no longer at the county’s geographic center. Court was held there in 1784 for the final time. It is unclear when and how Tryon Courthouse disappeared. A dense forest now stands in the place where passionate revolutionaries once decried British tyranny.
“The revolution was a mindset,” Harkey said. “It was not in the guns, but in the hearts and minds of the people.” Note: Some of the historical information for this article taken from a historical sketch written by Forestview High Principal Robert Carpenter. You can reach Tripp Mickle at (704) 869-1820.