1898 Historic Courthouse

CourthouseThe Historic 1898 Butts County Courthouse is the centerpiece of the City of Jackson Downtown Square, occupying an elevated promontory on one acre of land. It is bordered on the North and South by Second and Third Streets and on the East and West by Mulberry and Oak Streets. It is the third permanent court building to be built in the 190 year span of Butts County.

The first permanent Butts County Courthouse was constructed in 1828 at a cost of $10,540.00 on the site of the present courthouse. The cost in today’s dollars using skilled labor would be approximately $6,460,000.00 to build. It served until November 17, 1864 when it was burned to the ground by the United States Army as they marched from Atlanta to Savannah. The second permanent courthouse was not constructed until 1872, some eight years later. No photographs of either courthouse are known to have survived to the present.

The third and current permanent courthouse was constructed in 1898 following a lengthy selection process and a failed referendum to move the County Seat of Butts County to the City of Flovilla. A wave of “New South” prosperity had begun a process whereby many Georgia counties desired grand, ostentatious courthouses that were reflective of the “progressive, prosperous and forward thinking” of her citizens and as each one was completed, neighboring counties would attempt to match or better it in their own design. Butts County was no different and to accomplish this, the prestigious Atlanta architectural firm of Bruce and Morgan was selected to design a building reflective of the times and the image Butts County wanted to project.

The original architectural drawing of the 1898 Courthouse by Bruce and Morgan of Atlanta, Georgia
The original architectural drawing of the 1898 Courthouse by Bruce and Morgan of Atlanta, Georgia

Bruce and Morgan were no strangers to Butts County, having designed some eighteen years earlier the famous Wigwam Hotel at Indian Springs, the largest wooden structure in Georgia at the time it was built. They were also engaged in two other major projects in Jackson at the same time as the Courthouse, these being the J.R. Carmichael House on McDonough Road and the Jackson Presbyterian Church just north of the downtown square.

They also designed a number of other buildings in Georgia including at least 10 Georgia courthouses still standing, as well as the original downtown Rich’s Department Store and the iconic Tech Tower on the campus of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. Over 21 of their architectural works are now featured on the National Register of Historic Places, including the existing Butts County Courthouse.

The Present Courthouse was completed and the keys turned over to Judge James F. Carmichael on September 22, 1898 at a total cost of $25,080.00, which equates to about $5,760,000 in today’s money using the value of skilled labor necessary to craft it. It should be noted that residents of the City of Flovilla made a $10k donation to the project, despite having lost a referendum bid to move the county seat to their city earlier. The Historic Courthouse has approximately 17,600 square feet of interior space currently in use. The building is unique in that it combines elements of neoclassical, greek revival and romanesque revival architecture into one harmonious design.

Centennial Celebration for the 100th Anniversary of Butts County, 1925
Centennial Celebration for the 100th Anniversary of Butts County, 1925

Throughout its 117+ year span, the existing courthouse has undergone a number of small to medium scale interior renovations and one significant exterior restoration which was completed in 1998 for the 100th anniversary of the building. The exterior renovation included a thorough cleaning and repointing of the brick facade of the building, repairs to decorative elements and brick where necessary and restoration of the clock tower steeple, most of which is constructed of white-painted tin metal over wood. Finally a new slate roof was installed. The clock tower uses an original Seth Thomas clockwork system, also restored in 1998, which strikes the time via the 1898 Vanduzen Bell Company tower bell, which can clearly be heard all over downtown Jackson.

The Historic Courthouse served as the center of county government or county seat until 2006 when these functions were relocated to the new Butts County Administration Building a few blocks west of the downtown square. The building has since continued to house the Superior, Probate and Juvenile courts, supported by an office suite directly across the street from the building. Although interior modifications have changed the appearance of the main level somewhat, much of the original architecture and design are still intact, especially in the unrestored courtroom on the second floor which appears much like it did in the early days of the courthouse.