Appalachia

The Old Courthouse In Union County Georgia

Today’s guest post was written by Ethelene Dyer Jones.

Historical Courthouse in Blairsville GA

Photo courtesy of the Union County Historical Society

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.

——————–

I hoped you enjoyed Ethelene’s post about the old courthouse-and if you live in the area-be sure to come out and see The Blind Pig Gang this Friday night at 7:00pm

I’ve never heard of putting a hog bone over the door for good luck have you?

Tipper

 

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18 Comments

  • Reply
    susie swanson
    August 22, 2012 at 8:14 pm

    Thank you both so much for sharing this..I love that old courthouse, it is a landmark for sure.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    August 21, 2012 at 9:52 pm

    Thanks, All you Blind Pig Readers. I greatly appreciate your comments and glad you liked the history of the Old Courthouse in Union County. I enjoyed researching and writing it–but there’s more I could have told. Space precluded a longer post, so I concentrated on the “bare bones” (no pun intended, since pigs’ feet bones supposedly went above the doors!). I’m sure those had turned to dust by the 1970’s-80’s when the restoration was taking place! And as to Chitter’s seeing a ghost who looked like General Robert E. Lee–I haven’t uncovered a story of sightings yet (except hers), but I’m wondering if, instead of General Lee, it was one of the Union County boys who lost his life in the Civil War–maybe a lawyer or someone who had been on trial either at the first or second courthouse, as the one pictured was erected after the Civil War. Interesting…

  • Reply
    B. ruth
    August 21, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    Tipper,
    and Ethelene…thanks for a wonderful post…
    Sometimes facts or stranger than fiction. Our old courthouse in Roane county has a few weird histories of its own.
    That would make for a great book.
    “Old Southern Courthouse Mysteries of Fact and Fiction”
    Corner stones, etc..bones buried over the doors, time capsules of sorts…interesting.
    The brick in ours was suppposed to be made by slaves..and hangings were told to take place in the bell tower. Later it was told on the upstairs steps…How do you hang someone on the steps??
    No going thru security scanners back then. Although I am sure there were many a nortorious gun totin’ friend or family member around at the trial of the prisoner or prosecutor…As well as a few bottles of whiskey being hidden around in the boots and back pockets on election days…
    Thanks Tipper. No bones in our courthouse? not sure but Ethelene
    you should investigate other Georgia courthouses for more facts, fictions and mysteries…very interesting.

  • Reply
    Brenda Kay Ledford
    August 21, 2012 at 4:24 pm

    Excellent article about the Union County Courthouse by Ethlene. I enjoyed it very much.

  • Reply
    Stephen Ammons
    August 21, 2012 at 4:20 pm

    Tipper and Ed this is what I found dealing with the “Act of the Georgia legislator”.”Created primarily as an emergency measure, the original county served the temporary purpose of holding the territory together under Georgia’s laws while the survey was being made and while a more permanent arrangement could be worked out for its disposition into Counties of normal size. In an act of the Georgia state legislature approved December 3, 1832, the original Cherokee County was divided into ten counties: Cherokee, Cass (now Bartow), Cobb, Floyd, Forsyth, Gilmer, Lumpkin, Murray, Paulding and Union. Later divisions of these eleven counties have increased the total number of counties made from the original Cherokee to twenty-two”.
    Oh and by the way if there is anymore spirits seen I would be very happy to hear about them.I might just want to visit and see for myself. I have visited many so called haunted locations but have yet to see any hants. But am still open minded about them. Maybe I am more scary to them than they are to me. Have a great time keep us informed 🙂

  • Reply
    Brian Blake
    August 21, 2012 at 1:14 pm

    Rather than simple “good luck,” as with a horseshoe, cementing a hog’s foot bone over cabin doors is more likely to have invited fat prosperity. Thanks again to Tipper and the Blind Pig for adding another snippet of Appalachian lore to my book, “Under Brilliant Stars”!

  • Reply
    Rush
    August 21, 2012 at 10:32 am

    Enjoyed this article very much. I have always loved the study of architecture, furniture . . . okay anything to do with the arts! I hope to make it over to see/meet you in Blairsville. If the weather holds, it should be a beautiful drive over. Safe travels 🙂

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    August 21, 2012 at 10:17 am

    interesting facts. My daughter and son-in-law are doing some renovations/additions to their cabin in NC. I must share with them the hog bone story!

  • Reply
    Ethel
    August 21, 2012 at 10:07 am

    Thank you Ethelene, I love your writing and your guest posts are always a treat!
    I have never heard of hog foot bones over a doorway, these old superstitions are always interesting.
    Of course the genealogist in me cringed when I read about the courthouse fire of 1898. It seems like every small-town locality has such a tragedy in its history, yet we persist!
    This has been a very enjoyable read, with much research behind it. Thanks for posting!

  • Reply
    Ken
    August 21, 2012 at 9:50 am

    Tipper,
    I’ve never heard of the hog bone
    thing either. But I do enjoy
    reading anything Ethelene writes
    about. She’s always so thorough!
    Many years ago I was married in
    that very building by a Justice
    of the Peace, so it has some
    memories for me too…Ken

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    August 21, 2012 at 9:16 am

    Lucky Hog Foot Bones like Lucky Rabbit’s Feet doesn’t make a lot of sense to me since in both cases the original owners of the “Lucky Icons” weren’t to lucky as they ended up dead. This isn’t indicative of a lot of luck and they had multiples of the body parts.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    August 21, 2012 at 9:05 am

    Interesting. It is a beautiful building.

  • Reply
    dolores barton
    August 21, 2012 at 8:59 am

    A very interesting post! We visit that area each year in September, but I never knew the history. Thanks for posting and sharing it!

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    August 21, 2012 at 8:17 am

    I have never heard of putting a hog bone over a door only a horse shoe.
    Interesting story about the building.

  • Reply
    Jean
    August 21, 2012 at 8:10 am

    Hi Tipper, 1:40 am here in Hi,not been sleeping to good lately.I think Johnny Cash is the reason,I got his CD of him reading the New Testament,its Great.Last 3 morning I have read your blog by 2:00 am.I so enjoy our daily visits,wish I could be there in Ga the 24th.Wishing you and yours a fun,happy and Blessed trip to the old Court house.Can’t wait to read about it. God bless, Jean

  • Reply
    Eva Nell Mull Wike, Ph.D.
    August 21, 2012 at 8:02 am

    Ethelene & Tipper: Thank you very much for sharing such meaningful historical details regarding ‘the old court house’ in Blairsville! I will now be able to share ‘factual’ details to folks who want to know more about the beautiful structure.
    Regards,
    Eva Nell

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    August 21, 2012 at 7:57 am

    I wish Ms. Jones would expound on the
    “Act of the Georgia Legislature on December 3, 1832.” I would be interested to learn what all it entailed. Perhaps the apparition seen by Miss Chitter was that of a Native American soul who, separated from its earthly flesh in a strange land, had managed to find its way home and is eternally engaged in a fruitless search for family and friends.

  • Reply
    LINDA L. KERLIN
    August 21, 2012 at 7:31 am

    I too, have never heard of a hog bone going above the doors or when we restored our olde log cabin I would have put one there and chinked over it as well—and I found that post by Ethelene of much interest—thanks for sharing.

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