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Volunteers hunt for old courthouse treasures

POSTED: April 4, 2009 12:35 a.m.
CLAIRE MILLER/Times regional staff

Members of the historic courthouse restoration committee packed up boxes of Georgia law books and other items found throughout the building for cataloging and storage purposes.

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JEFFERSON — Armed with rubber gloves, face masks and flashlights, members of the historic courthouse restoration committee braved the dark rooms and corridors of the old Jackson County courthouse last weekend in search of important documents and artifacts.

The weekend’s rainy weather and the lack of electricity inside the building did not deter the small team of committee members and other volunteers from going room to room, picking up any loose items and boxing them up for storage in the new county courthouse, located off Ga. 82 in Jefferson.

The building housed a random selection of items, from a microphone left on the witness stand in the courtroom to packed-away ballots from a 1952 special election.

"This is so neat, to be able to see inside the old courthouse," said Regina Parker, a Jefferson resident, as she packed up the microphone and other papers.

The historic courthouse was built in 1879 and had four major additions to the original structure between its completion in the 19th century and the present.

But once the new courthouse was completed in 2004 and the courts moved there, some documents, filing cabinets, furniture and other items were left behind.

After the group gets a chance to catalog all the items they found, the ones with historical value will be used for display when the building is renovated. Other items that won’t be used may be put up for auction, according to committee member Carol Holzhalb.

"We’ll use anything that’s usable for the restoration, and we’ll go from there," she said.

The committee also had to sift through and categorize everything to preserve important items from getting lost in the shuffle when the major interior renovations begin, Committee Chairwoman Charlotte Mealor added.

"We don’t want anything to happen to the items during the abatement process," she said, which is scheduled for this month. "And we want to keep everything that’s historically significant."

Linda Aaron, an archivist with the University of Georgia Library, came to help the committee determine what to do with any historical documents found.

"We’re putting them in alphabetical order so they can be used for research," she said.

The committee also had help from the sheriff’s department in "disengaging" the evidence left in the evidence room and from the county commission in approving their budget and proposed renovations.

Funding for the committee’s budget comes from the Series 2007A revenue bonds, which also helped pay for the new Jackson County Jail and fire training facility.

The budget is about $1.7 million and will pay for abatement and demolition, reconstruction and restoration of the courthouse building, with a $325,000 contingency fund factored in for unexpected costs that may occur during the process.

Mealor said the committee couldn’t get this work done and restore the courthouse properly without cooperation from the commission and the community.

"We’ve had good community support," Mealor said. "We see this as a countywide project ... and we just appreciate everybody who’s helped."



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