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A majestic court
The classical arches and marble walls add to the history of Gainesvilles federal courthouse
The Federal Building in Gainesville housed the U.S. Courthouse and an addition to the building housed the U.S. Post Office during the 1930s when this photo was taken.

One of Gainesville's most precious architectural jewels, which once housed a U.S. post office and now the U.S. Federal Court, sits right off the downtown square.

The building was erected in 1909 as a post office, and postmaster Helen D. Longstreet was the driving force that ensured the building's construction.

"Mrs. Longstreet, the wife of Gen. Longstreet, was the postmaster," said Garland Reynolds Jr., a Gainesville architect and local historian. "She was a personal friend of President Theodore Roosevelt, and she was able to get this tiny town in North Georgia a marble specially designed post office Federal building by the architect for the U.S. Treasury, and it was just unheard of."

The building, at 126 Washington St. in Gainesville, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

The original building, which is 48,113 square feet, had an addition built onto it in 1934 that continued the Classical Revival style, according to files with the National Register of Historic Places.

The files also state the foundation is made of granite with three two-story arched openings that accentuate the main entrance. Flanking the arches are flat coupled columns with Iconic capitals.

The post office was enlarged in 1936 after the Federal Building was complete, according to the National Register of Historic Places file. The basic plan for the interior has not changed very much, but there have been renovations through the years.

Both courtrooms - the U.S. magistrate and the U.S. district court - have high ceilings, full-length windows, leather encased double doors and detailed mouldings and ceilings. There is marble trim around many doors instead of the typical wood trim.

In the foyer there are bright blue and gold terra-cotta tiles on the ceiling and four freestanding pillars in the center. A painting hangs near the entrance of the U.S. magistrate court called "Morgan Raiders," by American artist Daniel Boza.

The mural is part of the Fine Arts Collection of the General Services Administration. The painting depicts the Morgan Raiders, who were rouge Confederate soldiers who raided parts of Ohio and ended with the Battle of Buffington Island.

Reynolds added that Longstreet also was able to get an interesting statue placed on the site.

"She was able to get a statue of one of her great supporters, Col. Sanders, out on the corner of Green Street," he said. "It was very unusual and I would say that it was remarkable."

The Col. C.C. Sanders statue was the only monument to a Confederate soldier on federal property.

The statue stood on the corner at Green and Washington streets until the 1936 tornado destroyed it. Parts of the monument are housed a the Northeast Georgia History Center at Brenau University.

Sgt. Chris Robinson of the Gainesville Police Department found one of the pillars of the statue a few years back and stumbled across one of the columns behind a house at Prior and Spring streets.

"(Col. Sanders) was sitting on a chair on this round platform, without any real structural support at all," Reynolds said.

Garland, who put together the 1999 "Inventory of Notable Historic Structures Remaining in Hall County," said the courthouse was a landmark and a zenith of architectural style.

Local attorney Arturo Corso said walking into the courthouse adds another layer of etiquette.

"Those courtrooms in the federal courthouse are very grand," said Corso, who has been practicing law in the courthouse for more than five years. "There is a real presence when you are in that courtroom that demands decorum and I think sometimes in more modern courtrooms - not in Hall County but in other counties that I practice - you see lawyers kind of drop decorum and formality. But anyone that walks into the federal building courtrooms is immediately met with a sense of majesty."

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