W. V. Hughes was rightly proud of his courthouse

As Wicomico County celebrates its 150th anniversary and completes the refurbishment of the courthouse exterior, this is a good time to reflect on those beginnings.

In September of 1867, Maryland Gov. Thomas Swann proclaimed the new county as “official,” following a vote by the two entities affected, Somerset and Worcester counties.

In Somerset County, the votes were 724 in favor of the new county, with 526 against it. In Worcester County, the vote was 557 for the new county, 380 votes against it.

With that, on Sept 18 of that year, Swann, “by virtue of the authority vested in me by the 2nd Section of the 13th Article of the Constitution … do proclaim and make known that on and after the 5th day of October next,” the specified land would become Wicomico County, with Salisbury as its county seat.

A census of Wicomico County was completed the next year, noting that the county included a white population of 11,470 and an African American population of 4,394.

It took time but the courthouse was finally built in 1878, and the new county had a new home for justice.

One day in August 1919, the person in charge of the construction of the courthouse returned for a sentimental visit. A Wicomico News reporter, admitting to hanging out at the benches in front of the courthouse for the chance of some scoop, saw the familiar face of a man gazing intently at the building’s exterior.

This was Mr. W. V. Hughes, who 41 years earlier was the contractor for the construction. Wrote the reporter, “As he looked upon the fine condition of the building which has weathered the storms of nearly half a century, Mr. Hughes smiled with pleasure at his handiwork,” and turned to talk to the reporter.

Said Hughes, “That was the cheapest building, considering its size and the quality of the material used, I have ever erected, and I have built public buildings all over the United States. The Board of County Commissioners and the Building Committee in charge of the erection of the courthouse were men who looked carefully after the material used and the workmanship and the result is that the county got full value for every penny expended.”

Hughes ticked off the names of all the commissioners he remembered from that early time, noting that by then — 1919 — all had passed.

But as fate would have it, Hughes was mistaken, and as he continued to gaze up at his handiwork, “the tall figure of Clayton C. Parker loomed up and it required but a second or two for the old friends to engage in a hearty handshake,” followed by a long chat recounting their time building the courthouse.

Noting that Hughes was in his retiring years, spending his summers in the north and winters in Florida, the reporter wrote with Hughes in mind, “Come again, friend Hughes, you will still find old friends to accord you a glad welcome!”

This small anecdote, recorded by an unidentified reporter for the Wicomico News in a column called “Heard Under the Court House Dome,” provided a heartwarming story of pride for the workmanship that went into that 1878 courthouse.

One might wonder what Mr. Hughes might think now if he were to gaze upon today’s restoration of the building. Most likely he would be pleased to see that the community has taken care of the edifice he erected 139 years ago.

Linda Duyer lives in Salisbury. Contact her at lindaduyer1@yahoo.com.

 

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