EDITOR’S NOTE: As part of a celebration of the Times-Enterprise’s 125th year, this is the fourth in a year-long series of Sunday stories about important people, places and things in the area. The next one will be published March 9.
To put the Thomas County Courthouse in perspective, the War Between the States erupted three years after the building was constructed, the structure had no indoor plumbing or electricity, and it would be more than three decades before two weekly newspapers merged to establish the daily Thomasville Times-Enterprise.
Two years after the courthouse was constructed, the Thomas County census show the county’s population at 10,766.
Most adult Thomas County men were farmers. The 1860 census showed 600 farm families.
Thomasville, the county seat, claimed 14 lawyers, but not unlike most of Georgia at the time, had no public school system.
The community had two dentists and two newspapers, Wiregrass Reporter and The Southern Enterprise.
Thomas County had three druggists, two harness-makers, five blacksmiths, a buggy manufacturer, two saddlers and a livery stable.
A master mechanic was John Wind, a 40-year-old naturalized Englishman best known as an architect. His work included the then-new Thomas County Courthouse.
Thomasville, founded in 1826 and chartered several years later, was drawn off into squares, with the courthouse square being the smallest among the city’s 490 acres.
The first courthouse was built on the site — 225 N. Broad St. — in 1827, two years after Thomas County was chartered. The pine-log structure was destroyed by a storm.
In 1847, a brick courthouse was constructed and severely damaged by an 1853 storm.
Enter the current courthouse with 30-inch-thick exterior walls. The building, which began to fall into disrepair in 1887, was remodeled in 1888.
The Southern Enterprise took county government to task about a jail “that will not hold criminals committed to its vaults, and a courthouse, the woodwork of which is decayed and barely hanging together and whose basement passages are a general rendezvous for goats. ...”
A tax was levied in 1887 to raise the $4,000 needed for county office hub repairs.
Built by Bowen Brothers at a cost of $14,990, Wind’s Classical Revival courthouse during the Victorian era to Victorian Renaissance Revival. The annex, added in the 1930s, is Classical Revival.
The building was to have three fronts — on Broad, Madison and Jefferson streets.
Columns on the Jefferson Street side fell during construction, killing a laborer and a mason. Jefferson Street columns were nixed. Columns on the Broad Street side were removed during a remodeling project in the late 1880s.
The third-floor courtroom has been returned to its original grandeur after many remodeling ventures.
The room, which serves as county commission chambers, is rich. The space is simple, traditional and elegant. It most likely looks similar to the way it did in 1858, before so-called improvements chipped away at its dignity.
The remainder of the third floor in the courthouse reflects the same richness and tradition as the former courtroom turned commission chambers. A long, handsome table in a conference room adjoining commission chambers is made from lumber salvaged from the old Golden Bros. Co. feed and seed store that stood on Smith Avenue near Smith's intersection with South Broad Street.
Walls throughout most of the building are tongue-and-groove beneath chair rail. Most ceilings are tongue-and-groove.
Pine floors throughout most of the restored building are made from lumber cut in Georgia 138 years ago and shipped to Maryland. The wood was salvaged in Maryland and returned to Thomas County for use in the courthouse.
The courthouse was the oldest in continuous use in Georgia until it closed several years ago for restoration and renovation.
The new Thomas County Judicial Center — across Madison street from the courthouse — houses three courtrooms, judicial offices and several other county offices.
Twink Monahan, county clerk, has worked for county government for 34 years. She has done two stints in the historic courthouse.
“I look at this beautiful, remodeled building and think of all the changes that have happened during the past 34 years,” Monahan said. “I started in 1980, when on first floor of the historic courthouse was the tax commissioner, clerk of court, probate judge and registrars.”
The second floor housed the sheriff’s office, tax assessors and the tax receiver.
The building had a lot of offices in small spaces in those days.
While the courthouse was undergoing renovation and restoration, the commission office was housed elsewhere.
“Between the memories of all the offices and staff, many of whom are now friends, and some who have left the county, I’d say it is hard not to see all their faces as I walk through this beautiful building,” Monahan said.
Once employees returned to the courthouse when renovation and restoration were completed in mid-2013, personnel heard noises.
“The elevator bell kept ‘dinging.’ No one there — spooky. Of course, it was discovered the hydraulics needed adjusting to keep the elevator in its proper position. So much for the ghosts going from the second to the third floor of the annex,” Monahan quipped.
A vault installed on the courthouse first floor in 1917 continues to hold records. The vault has a combination passed down to certain employees through the years.
The courthouse has seen a number of fences through the decades — from iron to wood picket. An ornate iron fence was erected at the building in late 2013.
A concrete marker at the northwest corner of courthouse property is said to be the point from which local streets and roads were laid out.
Maybe it is for that reason that all roads seem to lead to the majestic, stately old building that is Thomas County’s centerpiece.