Dade Courthouse Still Stands After Second Assault In Six Months

May 1, 2019

The north wall of the historic Dade County Courthouse is a little worse for wear after a driver slammed into it April 27. But it wasn't the first assault on the old building and if experience is any guide it won't be the last.


The Yankees burned down the Dade County Courthouse in 1863 on their way to Atlanta and it looks as if they might have started a trend. When The Planet learned that a driver had slammed into the north wall of the historic courthouse on April 27, it seemed that the keyboard was still smoking from the last assault-on-the-courthouse story: The Planet had reported that someone drove into the south wall (below) a scant five months earlier, on Nov. 26.


That time, the perp was an elderly driver who became confused driving late at night. This time, said Trenton Police Chief Christy Smith, it was a DUI. Justin Dean Snively, 28, of Wildwood, was arrested on the 27th after the latest courthouse kamikze for driving under the influence of alcohol as well as driving without a valid license and improper lane change/failure to maintain lane.


The arrest report listed no separate charge against Snively for his attack on Trenton's abandoned centerpiece, the 1926-built courthouse that has recently been declared one of Dade County's scant historic places.


Snively and the November assailant in any case only damaged the brick wall around the courthouse, which as local historian Donna Street told The Planet in the earlier instance was neither historic nor historically correct. The wall was put up after paving Highway 11 required dropping the road three feet. Now that the courthouse is being--slowly--restored after Dade's legal offices moved to the new courts facility in 2010, Ms. Street hopes the old native sandstone wall depicted in this postcard she supplied can eventually be reconstructed.


After the November incident, Dade County Clerk Don Townsend told The Planet the county would go after the at-fault driver's insurance company for funds to repair the south wall. Now he reports that that process is complete, the wall has been mended and the county reimbursed for any outlay. The same thing will happen with the north wall, he predicted.


But Townsend had no hope that this will be the end of this matter of drivers slamming into the courthouse. They do it all the time, he said, running into either the wall or the small triangles of greenery on both sides of the courthouse. You will notice, he pointed out, that only one tree is left out there. (Here it is, a Bradford pear, depicted in flower as seen from a second-story courtroom during last March's courthouse tour.)


The Dade County Public Library considered putting its new electronic signs out on those green islands when the signs were delivered last year as part of a grant. "I told them, it sounds like a good idea but I can guarantee you that someone will mow it down," said Townsend.  


Too bad, said Townsend, that drivers keep hitting the wall when the old leaning telephone pole outside the courthouse would make a far better subject for demolition. "If anybody knocks anything down, I wish they'd hit that pole," he said. "Maybe someone could paint a target on it."


Donna Street agreed that the old pole, which she said belonged to Trenton Telephone, should go. "We all hate that pole," she said. "It is a subject we always avoid in our [Historic Preservation Committee] meetings because we all get peeved."


Ms. Street, Dade's most avid local historian, agreed with Townsend about the frequency of motorist-v.-courthouse-wall incidents. "It used to happen all the time until they put those little triangles in," she said. "One of the deputies got drunk one night and hit it."


That, she clarified, was the fabled 1950s-'60s-era deputy "Hotrod," who was also suspected of being a "firebug," or arsonist.


(The Planet disagreed: In the version related to The Planet earlier, the "firebug" had been Hotrod's son, Hotrod Jr., who had been accused of burning down the old elementary school.)


Trenton Police Chief Christy Smith also reported there had been several examples of drivers being confused by the way traffic loops around the courthouse at the dead center of town. "We've had people go the wrong way around it," she said.


She thought signs advising drivers of the correct way to skirt the courthouse circle might be in order.


Clerk Townsend said there used to be such signs, with arrows pointing the right way around, before the triangles of grass were put in. 


In any case, The Planet will stand guard faithfully on the courthouse front, duly reporting on any further assaults on the venerable edifice.

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