MACON TELEGRAPH, FRIDAY MORNING, FEBRUARY , 1901
All the county records were destroyed and there is liable to be some serious complications.
JEFFERSONVILLE, GA – Feb. 7 – The county court house here was burned last night, together with all the county records, dockets, furniture and everything. Fire was seen coming through the roof about 2 o’clock by Pate Harrell, the negro janitor, who lives at the jail. The structure being a frame building, before he could give the alarm, the fire had made such rapid progress and got so hot it was impossible even to make an effort to save any of the records or furniture.
Col. Shannon did save his folding desk. His office was on the first floor and on the opposite side from where the fire started, and by a close scratch he saved his desk.
The building was perhaps about sixty years old, first erected in old Marion, then the county seat of Twiggs, and afterward moved here by reason of the county seat being changed to this place, perhaps about 1868, or just after the close of the Confederate war. It was a two-story building, very tall and roomy. Constructed of very heavy timbers from bottom to top, perhaps one of the strongest wooden buildings in the country anywhere. About two years ago the building was overhauled inside and out and three or four coats of paint put on.
The first floor was composed of the court room, board of commissioner’s and sheriff’s office. Col. L. D. Shannon is advisory counsel for the board of commissioner’s. His office was connected with the Sheriff’s.
Col. W. C. Nottingham is clerk for the board of commissioner’s and his office was in their office. The second floor was composed of the clerk’s office, ordinary’s office, county school commissioner’s office and grand jury room. Col. M. J. Carswell had his office in the county school commissioner’s office. The building was carpeted, bottom and top floor, and the offices all nicely furnished, especially the lawyer’s offices. The loss falls heavily on them as well as the county. There were two large iron safes in the building, one in the ordinary’s office and one in the board of commissioner’s office, but the fire is too hot yet to ascertain if their contents are safe.
The most valuable records were in the clerk’s office and had no protection. It will be almost impossible to establish these records. No insurance on the building or furniture. The origin of the fire is unknown.
The fire was plainly visible from Macon, and was seen by a number of people, who happened to be on the streets at that hour, but on account of its great distance, being twenty one miles, it could not be located, and was supposed to be somewhere on the hills, near Bond’s store.
The fact that the court house and all of the court records were destroyed is not without local interest; because Jeffersonville has furnished quite a number of prominent citizens to Macon, and some of Macon’s business men are directly interested in the records of Twiggs County.
Within the last few years the old court house has been the scene of some fierce legal combats, two of which grew out of the Nobles case and the train wrecking case against Shaw and Criswell.
Mr. Walter B. Chapman, who was reared in the community of Jeffersonville and Old Marion, remembers when the court house was erected. His step-father, Mr. William S. Kelley, constructed it, and in speaking to a Telegraph reporter last night, Mr. Chapman said: "It was an old building before it was moved from Old Marion. My step-father moved it in 1867, when the county seat was changed to Jeffersonville. It was expensive in those days to tear down and rebuild houses, but he did the work, and also constructed the big log jail, which burned a few years ago. I have always contended that he did not get a cent for it. In fact, I instituted suit against the county for the value of the building, and was represented by Messr’s. A. O. Bacon and T. J. Simmons, but after a long and tedious litigation I lost my case. I do not remember how it happened, but I know I never felt satisfied that I had received justice. The story of the court house reminds me of Old Marion’s past glory" continued Mr. Chapman, growing reminiscent, "before the court house was removed, there was about 1,500 citizens in Old Marion, but after the war they commenced to desert it like rats from a barn and went down until now you can hardly tell where it stood. Old Man Peck, a big merchant, made, I suppose a million dollars there, and afterward moved north".
Many complications will very likely arise because of the destruction of the records of Twiggs Superior Court, and many suggestions were heard among the lawyers yesterday as to what would have to be done about it. The next court is to convene in March and the question has been asked; "Will the destruction of the records prevent the holding of the court?" In the opinion of many, the court will be just as able to proceed in March as it will be at a later date, for, if the records have been burned they are gone, and can be re-established only by slow degrees.
It is said that the suits will have to begin de-novo, or from the very start, and new records will have to be made. It is thought that if a party has a deed which was recorded, but the original has been lost, he will have to have to undertake to get a new deed. This may be a difficult task in some cases. As a matter of fact, many things in the future will cause Twiggs County people and others having business in Twiggs County to remember the fire which occurred Wednesday night.
Copyright 2002 Tonya H. Crosby