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