Thomasville Times Enterprise

March 26, 2014

Lilly discusses courthouse history


CNHI

THOMASVILLE — The Thomasville Chapter NSDAR recently heard local attorney Roy Lilly Jr. discuss the remodeling of the old Thomas County Courthouse.

He is married to Eleanor Lilly and they have two grown children and a grandchild.

Lilly began his program by telling why the courthouse is located where it is.  Thomas County was formed because a group of people did not like traveling to Irwinville to transact their business.

They had enough influence with the legislature to get a bill passed creating the new Thomas County. In December of 1825, the bill establishing the new Thomas County designated the Kingsley homestead as the location where the Superior Court would sit temporarily and where elections would be held to determine the county officers who would organize the new county government.

The Kingsley home was located on the part of the Old Coffee Road that ran through what's now the St. Thomas's Episcopal Church parking lot. The Kingsley home place was actually the first of our six courthouses.

A committee was formed later to select a new site for the Courthouse. They chose Land Lot 39 of the Thirteenth Land District and formed the Duncanville Road running on down to the Thomasville area. So Land Lot 39 was purchased by the Justices of the Inferior Court to be the nucleus of the new county seat, Thomasville. The Superior Court met for the first time in a "real" courthouse on the present courthouse square in 1827.

A new brick third courthouse building replaced that second courthouse.What is fascinating about that brick building was seeing its intact foundations found during the present renovation work when they dug out the floors to in stall the new air conditioning ductwork. Unfortunately, they no longer exist. They were removed. This courthouse did not last long because it deteriorated fast. It's said to have become home to three or four dozen hogs that rooted the foundation. And at night, several cows and calves bedded down there, too. It was badly damaged by a storm in 1853.

John Wind,well known for building several local Thomas County plantations, was asked to design and build a courthouse for the county. Wind's original specs had called for a concrete floor. But it was changed during construction to brick, due to a moisture problem. It was laid in a herringbone pattern.The courtroom was on the second floor and ran parallel to Broad Street. A pulley was provided in the center of the ceiling for a chandelier. Two side stairways led to the Grand and Petite Jury Rooms on the third floor. It was topped with a rather delicate open cupola.

In 1909, the clock was added. The original lamp standards on the exterior stairway newells were lit by gas. The lamps were removed probably in the 1930's when the courthouse received a huge makeover. The fountain came from the Mitchell House Hotel after it closed. The Confederate Monument was moved to the courthouse grounds from the middle of Broad and Remington in the late 1940's, actually for its own safety since so many cars had begun hitting it.

In 1937 major changes were made again. Prince Jinright designed the Classic Revival Annex to the rear with Brewton and Sons as contractors.

By the 1970's, Marguerite Williams had moved back to town and started trying to bring back some dignity to the building. She had Thomasville Landmarks and the Thomas County Commission hire Russell Wright to study the courthouse and make recommendations for its improvements.

Lilly acknowledged the work of architect Robert Jinright, Prince Jinright's son

"Frankly, I believe we owe solely to him (Robert Jinright) whatever was preserved of its (Thomas County Courthouse) historic feel before the present reworking. The remodeled "old" courthouse looks more now like it did in the 1930's,” said Lilly.

Lilly stated that "In its present form, the old building has been completely rethought as offices only, with no court functions at all." The newest courthouse is now located across Madison Street.