The bronze plaque is bolted to a slab of rock blackened by decades of exhaust fumes from cars passing along the 1900 block of Randolph Road.
It sits a foot from the curb, so reading the plaque requires standing in the street. But if you believe what the National Society of Colonial Dames had cast in 1926, then this is the very spot Mecklenburg became a governed county on Feb. 26, 1763.
On that day, according to the Dames, court was first held in Mecklenburg in a cabin owned by Thomas Spratt.
Now, 250 years later, Mecklenburg is commemorating its sestercentennial Tuesday by officially reopening the countys 1928-completed courthouse that was closed in 2009 for refurbishing.
The old courthouse at 700 E. Trade St. is home to District Attorney Andrew Murrays offices. The restoration was largely an effort to return much of the 1928 character to the building. The public ceremony begins at 2 p.m. in front of the courthouse.
Whether Feb. 26 is the appropriate date to celebrate 250 years has become a matter for debate.
Theres no disputing that Mecklenburg is 250 years old, said local historian Jim Williams, secretary of the Mecklenburg Historical Association said. The only dispute is the date when the county became a governed community.
A proclamation passed by Mecklenburg commissioners in December said Feb. 26, 1763, is the proper date two months after colonial Gov. Arthur Dobbs approved lopping off a section of western Anson County to form Mecklenburg County. The name was chosen to honor King George IIIs wife, Charlotte Sophia of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Germany.
In 1903, D.A. Tompkins, owner of The Charlotte Observer, published a history book of the county and Charlotte, saying that court was first held at Spratts cabin on Feb. 26.
The problem is we dont have court records to show that; the first 11 years of court records dont exist, Williams said. It appears the Colonial Dames got their information from Tompkins book and cast it in bronze.
But the story of holding court in Thomas Spratts house seems to have jumped out of thin air.
Mecklenburg became necessary because it had grown significantly in the years before the Revolutionary War, populated chiefly by Scot-Irish and German immigrants moving south for farmland from Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia.
One was Spratt, who the plaque said was the first person to cross the Yadkin River with wheels. It also said his daughter, Anne Spratt, was the first white child born between (the) Catawba and Yadkin rivers.
The law forming Mecklenburg took effect Feb. 1, 1763, Williams said. But records show that the first court couldnt have been held until the third Tuesday in April, which was April 19, he said.
On that day, 16 men appointed justices of the peace there were Alexanders and Polks among them met to elect county officials that included a sheriff and a register of deeds.
At its birth, Mecklenburg was much larger, containing much of what is now Union and Cabarrus counties, said UNC Charlotte historian Dan Morrill.
Morrill says he stays away from the Feb. 26 dispute. It makes no difference, he said.
The county is 250 years old and thats good enough for me, said Morrill, who is scheduled to speak at Tuesdays ceremony. There is no question that the first court in Mecklenburg County was held in 1763, and that is the date we can publicly celebrate.
Besides, its a celebration that is going last the whole year.
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