Rutherford County Historic Courthouse

1920s - 1940s

"The Fly"

In the spring of 1923, a handsome, young stranger curiously walked the grounds of the Courthouse. An official led him up to the roof at the base of the clock tower. The stranger left the Courthouse and walked into several stores around the Square. In each store the man informed the merchants that he was known as the "Human Fly". Newspaper articles he presented confirmed his ability to perform daredevil feats. The "Human Fly" announced that he would climb the Courthouse to the top of the clock tower for a small fee. When the money was collected, that night the "Human Fly" attempted the dangerous climb.

A powerful searchlight mounted on a fire truck beamed on the Courthouse. The assent was successful. The crowd began to cheer as he waved from the clock tower. As he descended the crowd became anxious. A light mist was visible through the beam. Suddenly, the "Human Fly" lost his footing on the clock tower and fell to his death. It was said that this mysterious man had revealed no identity, and for five days he was displayed in the storefront window of Sweeny’s Funeral Parlor in a glass casket. This was in hopes that someone would recognize the "Human Fly". Records show that he was actually known by the stage name of Ray Royce, 26, of St. Louis. His real name was James A. Dearing. Read more on this story by the Murfreesboro Post.

The Great Depression

During the 1930s, the nation was mired in the Great Depression. One of the agencies created to put people to work was the Public Works Administration (PWA). Created 1933 and subsumed by the Federal Works Agency in 1939, in the PWA was designed to employ people to build roads, water and sewer systems, and public buildings. Some of the public buildings created by the PWA were courthouses.[3]

1930's Renovations

In 1938, the Grand Jury of Rutherford County made a report to T. L. Coleman, circuit court judge for Rutherford County on the state of the Courthouse and its facilities. The jury noted that the Courthouse was in terrible shape. "Upon examing the jury room . . . we find it in a most deplorable condition, the plastering on the ceiling is in such condition that we deem it dangerous to occupy the room . . . ." The jury further noted that "The hallways downstairs and upstairs and the sheriff's office should be papered, the paper being badly torn and falling off of the walls." [1]

In 1936, two years before the grand jury report, options about what to do with the Courthouse were being explored. One suggestion was to update the Courthouse with half of the project being funded by the Public Works Administration. Another idea was to completely demolish the Courthouse and build a new one. A new courthouse was projected to cost the county $250,000 with 45% of the cost being paid by the federal government. At first, it was decided that a new courthouse would be built. However, within a 24 hour period, the decision was reversed and it was decided that the present courthouse would remain. The county voted $5,000 for renovations. The Public Works Administration never became involved with the Rutherford County Courthouse. [2] Walkways and benches were added to the property.



Thanks to the renovations, the first night shots of the Courthouse were made Christmas 1936. Brightly colored lights cascaded from the cupola to the newly installed street lamps.

World War II

The Courthouse came to the forefront after many years of silence during World War II. It was used as an air raid alarm. The bell was rung at 9:00 am on June 9, 1942 to signal the first statewide blackout.

The Square became the center for the soldiers who took part in training exercises. Tanks and other army vehicles were seen circling the Square. Middle Tennessee having similar physical features to those of the European terrain was designated as a "maneuver training area."

After World War II, Murfreesboro garnered both local and national attention when it welcomed General Douglas McArthur, his wife native Jean Faircloth and their eleven-year-old son back to Murfreesboro. There had been such preliminary fanfare that the event that was to attract thousands of greeters was significantly reduced. However this event was the first to be planned by the community around a national hero.


Next: The 1950s - 1960s