History of the Fayetteville Square
Fayetteville was perhaps the second county seat in the United States to be laid out by legal mandate with a courthouse square in its center. A stone plinth on the square’s Northeast corner marks the spot where in 1810 a pin was driven, and the committee of surveyors, including Hardy Holman, began cutting away at the vast can brake which covered all, and platting the future town. The county court had acquired 100 acres from Mr. Ezekiel Norris—first by attempted chicanery and then by gradual purchase—for a county seat. The acreage, reserved for the courthouse, was cleared by a freed black man named Richard Sappington. A brick courthouse, completed in 1815, replaced a temporary log one, which stood on a corner of the public square. For the next 160 years this courthouse and the four blocks surrounding it were the hub of political and economic life of Lincoln County. For its first half-century, the homes of leading citizens, the shops of essential craftsmen, a few stores and offices, taverns and stock pens lined the square. Most of the buildings were log or frame structures.
By the 1850’s, brick structures and more mercantile establishments appeared. During the occupation of Fayetteville, for two years of the Civil War, Union troops fortified the courthouse with a “bomb proof” wall, and used it for military headquarters. Under martial law, commerce almost ceased. In the decades after the war, each burst of prosperity and each economic slump is mirrored in the square as we see it today. In 1874, the graceful Italianate courthouse, which reflected Lincoln County’s first post-bellum recovery, replaced the original 1815 building. For another near century, before its unfortunate demolition, this structure in its park-like setting dominated the square. The completion of the current courthouse signaled the close of the public square’s function as economic center of Lincoln County.
In the 1870’s enough capital was accumulated for the handsome structures on the North and East sides to rise. A disastrous national depression in the late 1870’s halted further development. Local disasters—from the cyclone of 1850, which destroyed the first two-story commercial buildings, to two great fires in 1885, which consumed the entire West side excepting the Dragonfly Art Gallery (then, possibly the Tip Top Saloon). These disasters affected the gradual completion of a district of brick, two and three story business houses with warehouses and professionals’ offices located on the upper floors. The oldest structures remaining are on the Southeast corners, the Northwest corner, the Southwest corner and the North sides of the square.
Don’t forget that prior to 1903, saloons on three sides of the square were interspersed with dry goods stores, groceries, hardware businesses, tailoring establishments drugstores, banks, doctors and lawyers’ offices—no lady walked unaccompanied across the square in those days.