THE COURTHOUSE PAGE
ARCHITECT OF OLD COURTHOUSE
Architect: Augustus O. FISHER and Frederick B.
GUENTHER. The specifications are signed by A.O. FISHER and J.D. LOWERY identified in Min.
Book Q p. 571 as builders and undertakers. FISHER identified himself in Mitchel's
Directory for 1860 as architect and carpenter. Min. Book Q p. 336 states "The Plan
and Superstructure of said building which had been undertaken by John D. LOWERY and A.O.
FISHER to build the same according to said plan at the price of . . . $9,400." Min.
Book Q p.526 authorized payment to Henry LIGGETT innkeeper for "boarding GUENTHER
when draughting plan of Old Courthouse". Augustus O. FISHER son of Jacob FISHER was
born October 14, 1809. His grandfather had emigrated from Holland to Pennsylvania and his
father from there to Fincastle and later to Evansham (Wytheville) Virginia where A.O. was
born and reared. He came from a family of craftsmen and artists. His father, Jacob, was a
carpenter and builder, his brother, Flaviou Josephus, became a noted artist of Washington,
D.C., and other members of the family became instrumental in the success of
Underwood-Fisher typewriters. A.O. as a boy was an apprentice to his father and at age 21
he became a journeyman. The FISHERS were very active in the building trade in the vicinity
of Southwest Virginia. In 1835 A.O. migrated with his father to Athens, Tennessee in the
Hiwassee District newly created from Cherokee Lands. He remained with his father's firm of
Fisher & Rider for a few years but began to take jobs upon himself earning a good
reputation. Noted builder and contractor Thomas CRUTCHFIELD employed A.O. to build
"Old College" and East and West Halls of the parent institution of the
University of Tennessee. Early East Tennessee institutional buildings - Blount College
(extinct), Mouse Creek Academy (heavily modified), and the Roane County Courthouse -
conceived in Federal and Greek Revival idioms but totally regional in application
illustrate interesting similarities. FISHER'S role in the design of all this is not
altogether certain. In the later 40's FISHER removed to Roane County. At first he built
and managed an iron foundry. In the 50's he was in partnership with John D. LOWERY in
general carpentry and undertaking. However in 1860 he listed himself as architect and
carpenter in Mitchel's Directory and he was evidently involved in some degree of design
work. Little is presently known of his later life. He died in Chattanooga April 22, 1877.
Frederick B. GUENTHER, a native of Dresden Germany, came to Morgan County, Tennessee as an agent of a New York land and immigration company in 1844. He was one of the founders of the town of Wartburg, Tennessee and is responsible for the town plot. Many early buildings were erected there by him including a court house and jail built at company expense, not public, in order to entice the county to make it the center of justice, commercial, and social activity. He was known as "a generally amiable and honest person who unfortunately was more of a theoritician than a practician." Yet he was well respected among immigrants and natives alike for his attempts to improve that mountainous region for habitation. When the German and Swiss emigrees arrived with their funds totally expended, he gave them loans from the company purse. When shareholders received no profits pressure was brought to bare and GUENTHER resigned. Working with him in Morgan County were such young men as Charles ROTHE, Richard GRAF, and A.E. GREDIG who were destined to make substantial architectural contributions to Tennessee cities in the later 19th and early 20th Centuries.
Prepared by Joseph L. Herndon, Team Historian, Historic American Building Survey, September, 1974.