Fincastle, VA Courthouse Burns, Dec 1970

Botetourt County Courthouse Botetourt Cty courthouse fire 12-15-1970.jpg


Fincastle, Va. (AP) -- Historic Botetourt County Courthouse -- focal point of this picturebook town -- was destroyed by fire in predawn darkness today.

The Jerrersonian styled courthouse, with four big white columns fronting it and centuries of history behind it, was destroyed despite the efforts of 28 fire trucks and perhard 100 firemen from 12 area fire companies.

The fire, discovered at 2:30 a.m. by two unidentified youths, was out of control when Fincastle volunteer firemen arrived on the scene at 2:45 a.m. with two trucks containing 1,800 gallons of water.

The town of Fincastle does not have a water system so water had to be pumped from a creek and a pond several hundred yards away from the courthouse on either side of the town.

As company after company of additional firemen arrived, the fight to save the courthouse fell farther and farther behind. By 4:30 a.m. the central roof had fallen in and by 7 the circuit courtroom and chambers of Judge EARL L. ABBOTT and several constitutional offices had been destroyed or largely burned out.

A county spokesman said that treasurer's records, and circuit court records including deeds and wills, were saved because they were in fireproof vaults, but that the records in the commissioner of the revenue's office were destroyed.

According to several witnesses, two unidentified youths saw smoke coming from the clock tower area on the courthouse roof.

Several persons arriving at the courthouse gained entrance to the front of the building but found only smoke inside. Then the fire was located, in a furnace room in the basement. A gas furnace had been installed in the furnace room in November.

When the door of the furnace room was opened, firemen were met by an apparent explosion, which hurled two of the firemen about 10 feet. Both were burned by the explosion.

M. L. CRONISE, Fincastle fire chief, said the fire was out of control by the time his men and equipment arrived from the firehouse on the same block.

"We were very limited in the equipment. It took some time to locate the source," said GEORGE HOLT, circuit court clerk.

The Bee Danville Virginia 1970-12-15


Botetourt Courthouse Fire

D 39 Botetourt County Courthouse Fire

On 15 December 1970, fire gutted the 1848 Greek Revival-style Botetourt County Courthouse. Amid the charred wreckage, in a secure vault the county's historic records fortunately survived almost unharmed. Because of the near-loss of the Botetourt County records, however, the Virginia General Assembly passed the Virginia Public Records Act in 1975. The act mandated that deeds, wills, and other vital records be inventoried and microfilmed and copies of the film stored permanently in the Library of Virginia in Richmond for safekeeping. The Botetourt County courthouse was reconstructed and reoccupied in 1975.

Department of Historic Resources, historical marker text.