100+ year-old courthouse facelift underway - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

100+ year-old courthouse facelift underway

August 23, 2004

Dawson-- Courthouses are the heartbeat of many small, South Georgia towns. Some of them are centuries old and rich in history, and they are often the centerpieces of thriving downtowns. Such is the hope for the deteriorating Terrell County courthouse.

It's not easy tearing up more than a century's worth of history. "We know from experience where communities have taken their courthouse and restored them and it has been a great economic boom to the town around them," says Steve Highsmith, a member of the Terrell County Historic Society.

But before the boom, comes the bust-- the busting up of rotted wood and old floors inside the Terrell County Courthouse. It's renovation that is long overdue, "As badly has any place ever needed to be renovated!" Renovations forced Chief Judge Joe Bishop out of the courthouse and into the Old National Guard Armory.

But his heart is a few blocks away, "I started practicing law here in Dawson so that is where I had my first case, my first trial and just where I learned to practice law so it has great personal sentiment to me."

Great personal sentiment for Highsmith, too. He's a Dawson businessman who helped hatch the restoration project nearly a decade ago, "Architecturally if you look at each face of the courthouse you see a different architecture style there, so there is a great deal of uniqueness there."

Also unique is the clock tower--reaching heights that Highsmith says makes it the tallest historic courthouse in the state, "Back in the thirties it was electrified, a lot of the movement was lost there, but as we have it restored it will be weight driven, it will tick again, it will strike not only the hour but the quarter hour."

Gazing at the 112-year-old courthouse, time seems to standstill, but progress can't be slowed, "This is just really the anchor, when done, we think will be the crowning jewel for our downtown area." A jewel that will polish up nicely.

It's likely to take more than three years to finish the courthouse. The three million dollar project will be paid for with sales tax money.

Posted at 4:31 p.m. by melissa.kill@walb.com