Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Carroll County Courthouse Tragedy

When I was growing up and we needed to "go to town" for anything, whether it was for a doctor visit or to pick up grocery, Hillsville was where we went. I also got my first job in Hillsville and lived there, on and off for about five years. One of the prominent features of the town is the Carroll County Courthouse which sits proudly on Main Street. As a child, I was (and still am) fascinated by older buildings with an upstairs.  Perhaps that comes from living in a single level, ranch-style home. I have always loved and admired this beautiful building.

The Carroll County Courthouse, Hillsville, Virginia
My grandpa always told me stories about the Allen family tragedy that took place in the courthouse when he was eleven years old.  (He always referred to it as "The Allen Tragedy.") He remembered the shootout, the following manhunt for the Allens, and the trials.  

I got to fulfill some of my curiosity about the courthouse when I minored in Appalachian Studies at Radford University. For two different projects, I researched the construction and history of the courthouse and the Allen tragedy. I was able to locate the original architectural plans for the courthouse for one of those projects and I had an artistic friend sketch what the courthouse would have looked like if it had of been build according to the plans.

One of two beautiful staircases that lead to the second floor courtroom

Whether you choose to call it "The Carroll County Courthouse Tragedy," "The Allen Tragedy," "The Hillsville Shootout," or some other name,  it was a horrible event. We will never know whether the Allen family conspired to shoot up the court or whether the court officials of Carroll County saw this as an opportunity to rid themselves of a family that they viewed as trouble makers. Several of my ancestors were involved in that faithful day. Some of them survived, some did not. 

The 100th anniversary of the tragedy was on March 14, 2012.  Frank Levering wrote a play called "Thunder in the Hills" and it was performed in the actual courtroom where the event took place.  (Read more about it here and here.) 

One of the bullet holes in the courthouse steps from that terrible day
Fortunately, I was lucky enough to get two tickets to the sold-out play. It was fabulous! I laughed. I cried. All of the actors and actresses gave wonderful performances.  Of course, as someone who worked in the living history field for almost 20 years, I am a tad picky when it comes to historical accuracy because that was my job for so long.  In a community performance like "Thunder in the Hills," I totally understand that money is limited and that totally period-appropriate clothing, jewelry, and eyeglasses would be expensive, so that can be overlooked. It was well-written and well-acted. It was truly an event not to be missed! I can only hope that there will be future performances of this wonderful play so that more folks can see it.
If you are ever in Hillsville, be sure to visit Carroll County Historical Society located in the courthouse.

Here is another good website with more information. 

Copyright 2012--All Rights Reserved--The Wheel & Distaff by Kimberly Burnette-Dean. 


  1. sorry I missed out---thanks for your review!

    1. Cynthia, It was very, very good. I really hope that they do it again in the future for everyone that missed it!


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