Georgia County Government - February 2008 - (Page 37)

Georgia’s Grand Old Courthouses The Walker County Courthouse at LaFayette Built in 1883, Demolished in 1922 By Wilber W. Caldwell The Walker County Courthouse at LaFayette. J. B. Patton, builder/architect (attributed). Photo courtesy of the Georgia Department of Archives and History. O riginally containing all of present-day Dade and Catoosa County as well as parts of Whitfield and Chattooga, Walker County was created in 1833, and a brick courthouse was erected on the square at LaFayette in 1838. Although this fiercely independent mountainous region had opposed succession in 1861, the old Walker County Courthouse was ironically one of only a few court buildings in Georgia to see action in the Civil War. In June of 1864, Confederate troops repeatedly stormed the old courthouse in an unsuccessful attempt to dislodge its Yankee defenders. The old building survived this violence only to burn to the ground 18 years later. It was replaced by a larger brick building in 1883. As Sir John Summerson so accurately observed, “The use of the term ‘vernacular’ by historians is a confession of ignorance.” Indeed, we know little of the 1883 Walker County Courthouse, and our ignorance temps us to call the structure vernacular. Despite its simple unadorned lines, records survive that may place the building in the realm of formal architecture. To be sure, the structure had a formal plan, for in March of 1883, a notice in the Walker County Messenger invited prospective contractors to view drawings in the office of the County Ordinary. The winning contractor was J. B. Patton of Rome. The Messenger informs readers that a building committee appointed by the county commissioners had visited Center, Ala., where a new courthouse was nearing completion, in order to “investigate and suggest plans for a new courthouse” at LaFayette. Inquires in Center reveal that indeed, the Cherokee County Alabama Courthouse burned in 1882 and was replaced in that year. Although no architect is referenced in connection with the construction at Center, we find that the builder was the same J. B. Patton of Rome. Although Patton’s courthouse at Center burned in 1896 and no photographs survive, the obvious inference is that the 1883 Walker County Courthouse was a copy of, or a variation on, the earlier builder-designed court building erected in Alabama. As to whether Patton’s skills as a designer lift the building up and out of the vernacular and into a more self-conscious realm is perhaps more a matter of taste than of history. Only five years after the completion of Walker County’s new courthouse, the Chattanooga, Rome and Columbus Railroad arrived in LaFayette. As we have seen, the power of steel rails to inspire New South zeal in the poor mountainous regions of the state was not so great as it was in the Piedmont. Although the growing of cotton had begun to impact Walker County’s economy by the turn of the century, cotton was never king here. In these broad valleys, it was “King Corn,” and large portions of area agriculture remained at subsistence levels well in the new century. Likewise, the boom of what little New South progress LaFayette was to enjoy came late. With her population below 350 when the railroad arrived in 1888, and despite the appearance of a locally funded cotton mill only two years later, the town continued to languish, counting only 491 residents in 1900. After the turn of the century, some progress was finally realized, but it was of a modest sort. It was not until 1917 that Walker County began to feel the need for a new courthouse, and by this time the era of New South mythmaking was over. The new age was at last arriving, and most were beginning to realize that it was to be nothing like the great age of Southern progress and prosperity that Henry Grady and so many others had envisioned. In 1918, the great Beaux-Arts facade of Chattanooga architect, C. E. Bearden’s, Walker County courthouse rose just a block off the square to announce the stern realities of the modern era. Here is further suggestion that Georgia’s courthouses built after 1910 were no longer lavish symbols of individualism and hope. They had become monumental celebrations of growing bureaucracies. The South had always been slow to embrace national architectural trends, but by 1920, she was beginning to accept the new northern styles, and their aggressively materialistic national symbolism. As for the old 1883 Walker County Courthouse, it remained on the square at LaFayette until 1922, when it was demolished owing to its rundown condition. Eventually, even the old square itself would be removed to make way for a highway. ■ 37 FEBRUARY 2008

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Georgia County Government - February 2008

Georgia County Government - February 2008
President's Message
County Matters
Regional Focus on the Georgia Mountains: Rabun, Habersham and Stephens Counties
DNR Commissioner Noel Holcomb
Solid Waste Management in Georgia: New Challenges Ahead
Essential Elements of Negotiating Professional Service Firm Contracts
The Walker County Courthouse at LaFayette
Extension News: Partnerships are Key to Conservation Education
Research Corner: Interns: An Asset to Every County
NACo News: Counties and Climate Change FAQs
Georgia Flag to Travel to All 159 Georgia Counties
State Announces Regional Recycling Hub Grant Awards
Abraham Joins ACCG Support Staff
County Parade
ACCG Launches e-Magazine
Index of Advertisers

Georgia County Government - February 2008