MOREHEAD CITY — Residents, community leaders and elected officials past and present came together Tuesday evening to celebrate the dedication of Morehead City’s new city hall building on Bridges Street, marking the culmination of more than a decade’s worth of planning and effort on the part of staff and the city council.
The Morehead City Council convened for its monthly meeting at 5:30 p.m. in the council chambers of the municipal building at 202 S. 8th St. The crowd was larger than usual and featured several notable Morehead City residents, including former city council members and managers, who came to bid farewell to the building that has served as the hub of town government since it was built in 1928.
“It is a kind of a retirement of this municipal building. She has served us well over the past 93 years,” Mayor Jerry Jones said in his opening remarks Tuesday. “All business of Morehead City has gone through this building, whether it be elected officials, appointed officials or volunteers, everything that’s ever happened, decision that’s been made, has gone through this building for the past 93 years.”
Mr. Jones also noted the recent death of Morehead City Police Officer Jim Vaselovic, who died Sunday in Chapel Hill after a month-long battle with COVID-19. There was a moment of silence held for the officer, who many have noted was a beloved community member.
After the moment of silence and a presentation of the colors by Scout Troop 130, Mr. Jones shared with the crowd a brief history of Morehead City. According to documents, the town was founded in 1857 and officially incorporated in 1861. Bridges Arendell, who many may recognize today as the namesake of two major roadways through Morehead City, was its first mayor, elected the same year the town was incorporated.
However, only about a year later, Morehead City was occupied by Union troops in the Civil War and record-keeping fell by the wayside for several years. The first recorded council minutes, a copy of which Mr. Jones had in hand Tuesday, were from a meeting May 4, 1903. He read off the names of the council members present for that meeting, noting those in attendance Tuesday would similarly go down in the proverbial history books.
Mr. Jones continued that based on records, it’s believed Morehead City’s original city hall was located at 810 Evans St., just around the corner from the existing municipal building.
“It was built back in the early 1900s for $170,” Mr. Jones said. “They were building sidewalks and infrastructure and streets, we had a fire department, we had a police department and we had a court. And it was all held in that building.”
Morehead City continued to grow through the early 1900s, and so the municipal building was constructed in the 1920s and has been in operation ever since. In 1981, the city purchased the former U.S. Post Office building at 706 Arendell St. to use as a city hall in addition to the municipal building. For the past 40 years, government functions have been split between the two, only coming together again under one roof with the completion of the new city hall.
The fresh structure is located on the site of the former Charles Wallace building on Bridges Street, which the city purchased in 2006 with the intent of renovating for use as a new municipal building. However, the project stalled for many years and the building sat largely vacant, leading to rapid deterioration and the ultimate decision by the council to demolish it and build anew.
Not only did the Charles Wallace building house Morehead City High School from when it was constructed in the 1920s until the school closed in 1964, it also served as a distinct landmark on Bridges Street with its looming brick façade and tall, vertical windows. The new city hall borrows many design elements of the building it replaces.
After the short opening ceremony, the council recessed the meeting and, guided by Morehead City police officers, processed to the new city hall at 1100 Bridges St.
Partially shaded from the late afternoon sun by two towering live oaks, an even larger crowd greeted the council on the lawn of the new building. After some more remarks from Mr. Jones, including a second moment of silence for Officer Vaselovic, the council cut the ceremonial ribbon, officially dedicating the new building.
The crowd then made its way to the new council chambers and overflow area, where the city council reconvened for its inaugural meeting in the new council chambers. The regular agenda was short and largely ceremonial, with three presentations, approval of the consent agenda and no new business items to consider. A reception with light refreshments and tours of the new building followed.
Bob Guthrie, Rodney Kemp and Dee Lewis with the Morehead City Historic Preservation Society were among the special presenters Tuesday. The society had been a strong advocate for preserving the former Charles Wallace building, and, once it was decided to demolish it, pushed the council and architects to incorporate elements that pay homage to the storied school building.
“We three and many others that I have heard from are incredibly pleased with what we see here, ‘elated’ may even be the word I need to say,” Mr. Guthrie said. “This new building pays homage, greatly, to its predecessor and we are very, very happy to be able to say that.”
On behalf of the historic society, Mr. Guthrie presented Mr. Jones a gavel made of red cherry wood, which he later used to adjourn the meeting with a resounding thwack.
The council also recognized Morehead City Police Department Lieutenant Kelly Guthrie upon her retirement from the police department after 27 years, and it heard from the organizers of the 35th annual N.C. Seafood Festival, who presented a copy of this year’s official festival artwork.
Council member David Horton was absent, but members Diane Warrender, George Ballou, Bill Taylor and Keri McCann all noted the significance of the day in their council comments toward the end of the meeting.
“Thank you all for being here and helping write another chapter in Morehead City history books to archive for our future generations,” Mr. Jones said in conclusion. “This is very special to all of us, and remember that we’re here because of you and all those that came before us.”
Contact Elise Clouser at email@example.com; by phone at 252-726-7081 ext. 229; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.