The gavel came down for the last time Aug. 7 at the Butts County Courthouse as court was adjourned by Judge William A. Fears.
County officials, local attorneys, judges and court staff gathered in the 121-year-old courtroom for a closing ceremony as renovations are set to soon begin at the building, which was constructed in just seven months in 1898.
“It’s never wavered from its original mission as a house of justice, as a seat of governance and as a shelter to the history of our county back in its humble beginnings in 1825,” said Butts County Deputy Administrator J. Michael Brewer, noting the building’s use as a repository for county records.
According to Brewer, who led the closing ceremonies last week, the courthouse was built for $24,480 in 1898. The building was wired for electricity in 1911.
Among the work that will be undertaken to renovate the building is a complete overhaul of the electrical system, some of which appears to date back to the original installation. In addition to the electrical work, commissioners have approved up to $2.98 million for plumbing and heating and air upgrades, a new elevator and sprinklers. The work will finish out the basement and first floor of the courthouse but leave the second floor, where the courtroom is located, unfinished.
The Butt County Development Authority, along with the Butts County Chamber of Commerce and visitor’s center, are expected to relocate from the Administration Building to the historic courthouse when the first phase of the renovation is complete near the end of 2020. The second phase of renovations, which would finish the courtroom area, has not yet been funded or approved by commissioners.
During the renovations, the Butts County Probate Court and Juvenile Court will be relocated to the former 4-H building on South Mulberry Street, known as the Butts County Annex. The annex has been under renovation itself in recent weeks.
Court sessions are expected to be held in the auditorium of the Butts County Administration Building and at the Jackson Municipal Court building. Ultimately, commissioners plan to construct an addition to the Administration Building to house county government offices and to renovate the existing portion of the building, at 625 West Third St., to consolidate all of the county’s courts.
Fears said he will be relocating his courthouse office temporarily to Lamar County.
Speaking before the crowd last week in the courtroom, Fears recalled a project to renovate the courthouse in the late 1960s, when his father was a county commissioner. The project then was said to be expected to keep the building functional for another 50 years, Fears said.
“This is not the end. It’s really just the beginning,” Fears said. “It’s going to be a journey and it’s going to be a process.”
Superior Court Chief Judge Thomas H. Wilson, who also spoke at the ceremony, shared remembrances of unusual occurrences in the courtroom, including several pre-sentence escapes.
He said he’s witnessed nothing but noble work undertaken under the roof of the courthouse.
“As long as I’ve been in this circuit, I can say truthfully that I have never seen prosecutors, judges, or anybody else that wasn’t trying to do their best,” Wilson said. “I’ve never seen where somebody was trying to pull shenanigans on anybody, that I can recall. And that’s a great memory to have for this courthouse.”