Dallas County Courthouse

Also known as: Selma Historic and Civic Building, Vaughan-Smitherman Museum, Joseph T. Smitherman Historic Building, Central Masonic Institute, Freedman's Bureau Hospital, Selma Military Institute, Vaughan Memorial Hospital
109 Union St., Selma, Alabama

A historic Greek Revival building in Selma, Alabama.


Dallas County Courthouse

Photo taken by WillyT

View this photo at bamarides.com


Street View 


The Joseph T. Smitherman Historic Building, also known by a variety of other names throughout its history, is a historic Greek Revival building in Selma, Alabama. Completed in 1847, it has served many functions in the more than 160 years of its existence. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places on June 20, 1975, due to its architectural and historical significance. It currently houses the Vaughan-Smitherman Museum, a museum depicting Selma's history. The building was completed by the Selma Fraternal Lodge No. 27 of the Free and Accepted Masons in 1847. The organization had it built, at a cost of $15,000, to serve as a school for orphans and the children of indigent Masons. It first opened its doors in October 1848 as the Central Masonic Institute. The school was not a success, and within a few years the mortgage on the property was lost by the Masons. The structure was next used as a Confederate hospital during the American Civil War. It survived the Battle of Selma near the end of the war and served as a Freedman's Bureau Hospital for a short time following it. It was then purchased by local civic leaders in an effort to lure the Dallas county seat from Cahaba to Selma. The effort was successful, with Selma becoming the seat of government for the county in 1866. The building served as the Dallas County Courthouse until 1902, when a new courthouse was built at the corner of Alabama Avenue and Lauderdale Street.

The trustees of the Henry W. Vaughan estate purchased the building for $5,025 in 1904. In that same year they leased the former courthouse to a new school, the Selma Military Institute. The military school used the building until 1908, when it moved to what is now the administration building at the United Methodist Children's Home on North Broad Street. The trustees then converted the space into a new hospital, Vaughan Memorial Hospital, in 1911. The hospital occupied the building until 1960, when a new hospital building was completed on West Dallas Avenue. The building sat vacant and neglected until 1969, when the City of Selma, Dallas County, and the Selma Housing Authority purchased it for $82,500. This was done under the leadership of Joseph T. Smitherman, the mayor of Selma at the time. The facility reopened as the Historic and Civic Building on May 16, 1971. It was renamed in honor of Smitherman by the Selma City Council in 1979, for his role in preserving and restoring the building.

The three-story red brick structure is built in the Greek Revival-style that was popular at the time. It is most notable for its centrally placed tetrastyle portico, utilizing monumental Ionic columns. The exposed brickwork of the seven bay facade utilizes the stretcher bond, with a belt course between each floor. The pedimented portico covers the three central bays, with balconies at each upper level stretching the width and depth of the covered area. The wrought iron balcony railings utilize a design with an open diamond pattern, also known as a crowfoot baluster.

The building is now home to the Vaughan-Smitherman Museum. The first floor contains the museum's Civil War collection and documents relating to slavery. The second is dedicated to a political collection. The third floor is set up as a hospital, as it may have appeared while in use as Vaughan Memorial Hospital. Additionally, the museum has mid-19th century antique furniture, a collection of Native American artifacts, meeting rooms for clubs and civic groups, and parlors for social events.

National Register information 

Posted to the National Register of Historic Places on June 20, 1975
Reference number
Architectural style
Mid 19th Century Revival: Exotic Revival
Areas of significance
Politics/Government; Architecture
Level of significance
Evaluation criteria
C - Design/Construction
Property type
Historic functions
City hall; School
Current functions
Civic; Park
Period of significance
Significant year
ca. 1847

Update Log 

  • February 24, 2020: New Street View added by Michael Miller
  • November 29, 2011: New photos from WillyT
  • May 25, 2011: Updated by WillyT: Added description