|The Old Courthouse was opened in 1912.|
Inverness has quite a history itself. The town was originally known as Thompkinsville. The name was changed in 1889, according to a local historian, at the behest of a lonely Scotsman who said Lake Tsala Apopka reminded him of the lake region around the city of Inverness in his native country.
The Old Courthouse was built in 1912, and sports an eclectic mix of Italian Renaissance, Neoclassical, Mission, and Prairie School architectural styles. It replaced a tall white Victorian structure that served as the courthouse for many years. But before that there were the sorts of political shenanigans you can’t make up.
In his book Back Home: A History of Citrus County Florida, well-known historian and writer Hampton Dunn relates the story of how the courthouse was stolen one night and Inverness became the county seat.
Citrus County was established in 1887, and the county seat was to be Mannfield, named after lawyer and citrus grower Austin S. Mann, who had built a political following and been elected to the Florida Senate. It sat in the geographical center of the county, just two miles south of Lecanto. Mann had influence with Henry B. Plant’s railroad operation that was coming to the area, and the tracks would go right through his new town.
But there was another group of community leaders that included Sheriff Jim Priest. That group bought land and laid out the town that became Inverness. They put out the word that Inverness would become the county seat.
There developed a bitter dispute over the location of the county seat, with some of the participants resorting to fisticuffs to make their points. An election was called and the battle was on. Finally, in 1891, Inverness won over Lecanto 267-258. Still, the vote was so close that each side claimed victory.
|Elvis Presley spent some time in Inverness.|
Meanwhile, the Inverness faction, leaving nothing to chance, decided to go ahead and move the courthouse to Inverness even as the arguments aboard the train were being heard. Two mule-drawn wagons, including one that belonged to the sheriff, were packed with the furniture and records and taken to Inverness.
There was only one hitch in the plan, though. The Clerk of the Court, Capt. W.C. Zimmerman, opposed the move and refused to vacate his office in Mannfield. He wouldn’t budge. So the sheriff ordered two men to pick him up along with his desk and put him in the wagon. The sheriff declared that Zimmerman was not allowed out of his chair until they got to Inverness.
The sheriff hightailed it to Inverness on horseback and beat the wagon. When the Clerk of the Court was safely installed in his office, the sheriff forced him to come to the front door of the rented courthouse building and declare the Citrus County courthouse officially moved to Inverness. As for Plant's railroad, even though work had been done on a track bed headed toward Mannfield, the line was rerouted at Holder to run toward Inverness.
A local landowner donated a parcel of land as the new courthouse site in 1891, and the tall Victorian was built.
That was the old, old courthouse.
The new Old Courthouse–the one that opened in 1912 and is there now–has the distinction of being the location for part of the 1961 Elvis Presley movie, Follow That Dream.” They used the courtroom on the second floor. There were so few interior photos of the courthouse available that when it came time to restore it, historians were at a loss.
But MGM Home Video, which owns the Presley movie, gave the county permission to copy stills from the movie to use as a reference for the renovation. Presley spent four days in Inverness for the courtroom scenes. Courthouse employees and local teens were the courtroom audience in the movie.
It’ll be a pleasure to spend a few hours in such a storied location. Hope to see you there.
The Inverness Festival of Books from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, January 29 at the Old Courthouse Heritage Museum, One Courthouse Square, Inverness, Florida. There'll be authors, storytellers, poetry readings and more. We'll have antique books for sale and we'll be appraising books as well.
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