Appalachia

Returning to the Historic Union County Courthouse

historic union county courthouse

The Pressley Girls, Paul, and Tipper at the Historic Union County Courthouse

Over the years we’ve often performed at the Historic Union County Courthouse in Blairsville, GA. The courthouse hosts Friday night concerts throughout the summer months, but all events were cancelled during 2020.

Tonight, Friday June 11, is the first Friday night concert of 2021 and we are the featured performers.

It’s one of our favorite places to perform. Sam Ensley who manages the performances is a long time family friend. I never get tired of hearing him tell the story of the first time he heard Pap and his brother Ray singing. Sam thought they were The Louvin Brothers and hurried inside to discover it wasn’t the Louvins, but the Wilsons 🙂

Pap used to play with us at the courthouse so we have great memories from those days.

The room we usually warm up in before our performance might have been were the jury deliberated back in the day. Sometimes as we tune I wonder how many lives had been changed or even ended within those four walls.

We perform in the area where the judge would have been, so we have a full courtroom and balcony of people for an audience…and we have a “jury” audience sitting over to the side 🙂

The show tonight starts at 7:00 p.m.

Here’s a piece Ethelene Dyer Jones wrote about the historic courthouse.


“The Old Courthouse in Union County Georgia” written by Ethelene Dyer Jones

Drive into downtown Blairsville, Georgia and you can’t miss the imposing 1899 courthouse that dominates the square. Now known as the “old courthouse,” it is the home of the Union County Historical Society and is operated as a museum, with the old courtroom upstairs used for public gatherings. One especially appealing feature sponsored by the Historical Society is the Friday night musical programs that celebrate our heritage in mountain music with groups appearing that play and sing in the Appalachian style so characteristic of the area in which the old courthouse is located.

But a little history is in order about how the “old” courthouse came to be. Union County was formed from the large tract known as Cherokee by Act of the Georgia Legislature on December 3, 1832. The first county courthouse was built in 1835 and was constructed of logs. The exact site of that first log building has not been determined. The log courthouse served the pioneer county until that structure was destroyed by fire in 1859. When the second courthouse was built, it was located in the middle of the downtown square. It was a brick building, plain in design, much as the one that stands in the public square in Cleveland, Georgia in White County. That structure, too, met destruction by fire in 1898, and unfortunately most of the county’s legal records also went up in flames.

Then a controversy arose. With two fires having destroyed the first structures used to house the county’s legal entities, several of the leading citizens went on a campaign to move the courthouse out of town, a bit to the west, to an area known as Bunker Hill. A citizen named Mr. Stephen Major offered to donate a portion of his land known as Fairview in Coosa District for the new courthouse. After much contention, both offers were defeated. The county leaders then proposed a bond issue to build a new courthouse. The bond issue also failed. But despite the difficulties, the building still standing in the center of the town square was completed as a courthouse in 1899. The Board of Commissioners responsible for supervising its erection were J. W. Souther, J. A. Butt, W. W. Ervin, and the county ordinary, John T. Colwell. They decided to build on the old site where the second courthouse had stood and it was paid for by taxation. The federal style two-story brick edifice was designed by Architects Golucke and Stewart who were noted as public building architects throughout the south at that time. Contractor for the building was M. B. McCinty who submitted the lowest bid of $12,000. It seems amazing in our day that a building of that magnitude could have been erected for that amount of money.

There is a legend that a bone from pickled feet of hogs were placed over each door in the courthouse and covered over by masonry. This had been a custom of many people in Appalachia as they built their cabins—to put a hog’s foot bone over their doors. To do the same as the new courthouse took form was a sign that good fortune would come to the new building that would house the government and be the scene of spring and fall terms of court in the county.

In 1976, during America’s Bicentennial Year, the Union County Historical Society, Inc. was formed. One of the major tasks of the organization was to “save the old courthouse.” By then the county had built a new courthouse located just off Appalachian Highway 515. But restoring the old courthouse was a challenge. The building had been condemned, and much of its structure had to be reinforced. The Society exerted an aggressive campaign, soliciting the interest of various citizens, both those still living in Union County and those who had moved to other locations, joined in the effort. A memorial brick walkway helped with fundraising, as did various projects and grants. On September 18, 1980, the old Union County Courthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Its restored rooms now house valuable museum displays, and the walls of the old courtroom resound with the strains of happy and plaintive mountain music on Friday nights. Festivals and events sponsored by the Historical Society provide entertainment that draws crowds to the mountain town of Blairsville throughout the year. A well-appointed genealogy room also draws researchers who seek information about their ancestors who were early settlers in Union County. The Union County Jaycees restored the old clock and it keeps excellent time. Announced times for bell-ringing from the tower is an added feature, with the money raised for this memorial tolling used for old courthouse upkeep. Much credit for the courthouse restoration and programs is due to Maurice and Ann Farabee who gave many years to working on courthouse restoration and management of the museum.


The Blind Pig had some technical issues this morning—that’s why you’re getting this later in the day. Hopefully the issues are all worked out now 🙂


Tipper

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21 Comments

  • Reply
    SusieQ
    June 12, 2021 at 9:47 pm

    Imagine it was so nice to be back playing there after so long, especially with the sweet rememberings…. for us too it’s so good to be out to enjoy things that all last year were for all the covid reasons off limits. What a beautiful place to play, so enjoyed reading the history.

  • Reply
    Darrell Keith Cook
    June 12, 2021 at 11:53 am

    Hi Tipper,
    Do you have a schedule of events planned this summer and fall? I enjoyed hearing you all at Vogel. I live several hours away and try to get to Blairsville once a month.

    • Reply
      Tipper
      June 12, 2021 at 6:12 pm

      Darrell-Corie puts the dates on thepressleygirls.com website. Although I think she’s a little behind 🙂 I’ll tell her to update the page so you can see where we’ll be this summer!

    • Reply
      Tipper
      June 14, 2021 at 4:15 pm

      Darrell-we do-visit thepressleygirls.com for upcoming dates!

  • Reply
    Donald Wells
    June 11, 2021 at 5:40 pm

    The history on the old Union County Court House was interesting, and the good memories you shared of Pap and the rest of the family performing at the Courthouse in past years,sounds like some great times with good friends. Have a safe trip there and back home and I hope all goes well.God Bless

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    June 11, 2021 at 3:43 pm

    Of all the places you all play this one reminds me the most of Pap. I don’t really know why it always brings Pap to my mind. I’m sure you will have a great performance…you aoways do!

  • Reply
    frank
    June 11, 2021 at 3:39 pm

    Hi Tipper, I have an off topic comment for you regarding your host server… Earlier this morning, say around 0930ish, I attempted to read one of your posts and got a server error message, either 590 or 509, stating that there is a server bandwidth error. Not sure if anyone else has mentioned it to you but, wanted to let you know so you can pass it along to your service provider… Frank

    • Reply
      Tipper
      June 11, 2021 at 3:46 pm

      Frank-thank you! Hopefully the hosting got it fixed for good 🙂

  • Reply
    Rooney Floyd
    June 11, 2021 at 2:42 pm

    Break A Leg

  • Reply
    betty stephenson
    June 11, 2021 at 2:22 pm

    have an awesome concert people its saturday morning her 6 20 am 12 th june as we are a day ahead because of the time difference hope all goes well have a lovely weekend

  • Reply
    Jerry Wright
    June 11, 2021 at 1:59 pm

    I work the night shift so I just got home. Usually when I get home there are already 20 or more comments to your blog. This time there were none. Perfect for my schedule but not not for others. Someday I hope to get out your way and hear the girls sing and play.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    June 11, 2021 at 12:57 pm

    The Old Courthouse here in Burke County, NC came into operation in 1837. Union soldiers vandalized it on April 17, 1865 during Stoneman’s Raid. April 17th was 8 days after Lee surrendered at Appomattox. They plundered the town and destroyed records at the courthouse. Neither were military targets but they hit them anyway. I don’t know for sure that they tried to burn the courthouse. Maybe they saw that it was built of stone and decided that their efforts would be futile.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burke_County_Courthouse_(North_Carolina)
    Although a new courthouse went into operation in 1976 the NC Supreme Court met in the historic Courthouse in 2015. That is 178 years of service in the same building.

  • Reply
    Sammy
    June 11, 2021 at 12:13 pm

    Great blog. So much interesting stuff. Y’all are great musicians and singers. God Bless

  • Reply
    Gene Smith
    June 11, 2021 at 12:01 pm

    Glad people have the gumption to save such old structures. Love old photos too! Break a leg tonight.

  • Reply
    Margie G for a GOOD evening
    June 11, 2021 at 12:01 pm

    I really enjoyed the old courthouse history- hog foot bones above doors for good luck, a cost of 12 G to construct, the fires and the whole shebang!!! Southern folks always weave interesting histories for sure and I liked reading about it. You Wilson’s and Pressleys are going to have a good time tonight and I’m sure so will all the folks who come to watch. I hope you post the show or snippets for us BP & A gawkers to see! God bless you all tonight!!!

  • Reply
    Pastor Lon
    June 11, 2021 at 11:41 am

    Wish we were closer, we would love to attend the concert tonight. Maybe you can film/record some of it and share on your YouTube channel! Thanks for sharing that about the history of the old courthouse, I’m a history nut and love watching, reading, listening & talking anything about our history or all history as far as that goes. ☀️ Praying all goes well tonight!

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    June 11, 2021 at 11:30 am

    Glad to see you are up and running again, both here and at Union County tonight. We miss you and worry that something has happened if we don’t see your post bright and early.

    As for the courthouse, how could a building with an architect named “Golucke” not be lucky? I would like to know more about the hog foot in the wall though. Never heard that one before.

    Hope everybody has a grand time tonight. I have a feeling everybody there will be enjoying returning to near-normal again. And they couldn’t do it with a better group.

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    June 11, 2021 at 11:23 am

    Love the history of old buildings. We should preserve more of them

  • Reply
    Alice Somich
    June 11, 2021 at 11:15 am

    I would love to hear the Pressley family perform! Great story about the courthouse!!

  • Reply
    Randy
    June 11, 2021 at 11:10 am

    I wish I was able to come and see all of you tonight. I like to go to you tube and listen to the BP&A songs.

  • Reply
    Ron Pries†
    June 11, 2021 at 10:55 am

    I wish Sally and I could be there we will miss seeing you all at the courthouse. At least the stage lights I put up a few years ago will illuminate your performance.

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