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Graves County courthouse demolition draws in locals, hopes for the future

The demolition of the Graves County Courthouse began nine months after the December tornado outbreak devastated Mayfield and many other western Kentucky communities.
Lily Burris
The demolition of the Graves County Courthouse began nine months after the December tornado outbreak devastated Mayfield and many other western Kentucky communities.

Nine months after a violent December tornado severely damaged the historic Graves County courthouse in Mayfield, the demolition of the red brick building is underway, and the action drew a crowd on Friday.

In the months following the storm, people in the community have been waiting to see what would happen to the decades-old building. The contract to raze the courthouse, along with the jail and American Legion building, was awarded to Youngblood Excavating and Construction at the end of August. The preparation for the demolition started on Monday, and it began for the courthouse on Friday. Graves County Judge-Executive Jesse Perry said it’s likely that the entire building will be down by next week, but the rubble won’t yet be hauled away.

Before the storm hit the building, Perry said he wanted the courthouse updated. He said he knows people were proud of the age of the building, which has sections that date back to 1897.

“It broke my heart the night to go in and see, drive around and see what happened to the building,” Perry said. “But that's bricks and mortar, I can tell you that, that's how I feel about it. My top priority has been humanity.”

He said he also understands this demolition and the rebuilding of houses is good for community morale.

Area residents stopped by to watch the building come down, including lifelong Graves County resident Lenisha Flatt who works at a local preschool.

“It's sad for sure, because it's always been here,” Flatt said. “But then I know it's got to be torn down for the new one to come up, to move on, so it’s a mixed bag.”

Flatt thought the courthouse might come down sooner, but she understood how red tape might have impacted the process. She’s hoping as they rebuild, the historical look of the courthouse will be redone to help make it feel like Mayfield again.

“I'm glad I'm seeing it and I think I'll always remember it,” Flatt said.

Jacob Rohrer was watching the demolition from his truck. He’s lived in the area for the last 40 years and described his feelings as “kind of sad but kind of glad to see what's going to come new.”

“I hope they bring back the older look to the new buildings to make it kind of feel like it used to be,” Rohrer said.

David Whaley, who’s been a Mayfield resident for the past 11 years, stopped to watch the demolition while he was taking his wife’s car out to get gas. He said it’s sad to see the building come down because the community has lost a lot of history.

“I'm optimistic that by the time they redo all this thing and rebuild, it'll be really nice and a lot nicer,” Whaley said. “But you hate to see all the historic buildings go down for the people who've been here their whole life, it's hard.”

Whaley is hoping to see the community grow as Mayfield continues to recover from the December disaster.

Lily Burris is a tornado recovery reporter for WKMS, Murray State's NPR Station. Her nine month reporting project is supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
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