It is hard to find anyone who can become emotionally enthused when you speak of the current Laurens County Courthouse. But, since she turns fifty this year, I figured I might as well try to find something kind to say about the ol' gal whose lack of makeup and adornment has drawn nothing but unavoidable apathetic glances during her half century's reign in the center of downtown Dublin. This pathetic relic of the modern architecture of the Sixties doesn't get a second notice from the hopeless romantics who admire the grand dames of our distant past.
It was in the early 1960s, when everything was supposed to be modern and new, that the decision was made to build a new courthouse. The choice was not made out of desire to sweep away the grand courthouse of 1895, but arose from a compromise between those traditionalists who wanted the new courthouse to remain in the center of the city, those who wanted it located on a larger site with ample parking and those who plainly wanted to keep the old beautiful brick courthouse right where it had been for nearly seventy years.
After those who were against the construction of a new courthouse on Telfair Street or just in general defeated a bond issue to raise the funds, county leaders sought out and obtained a Federal grant through the aid of Congressman Carl Vinson of Milledgeville, who had served in Congress for more than a half century and for three decades had provided Dublin with a naval hospital, a POW camp to aid farmers in World War II, Interstate Highway 16 and nearly succeeded in the establishment of the U.S. Air Force Academy, a B-52 bomber base and a jet fighter base in Laurens County.
It would be the first time in the history of the United States that the funding of the construction of a county courthouse was made by the Federal government, which chipped in approximately fifty percent of the cost.
Construction, under the supervision of contractors Isadore and Harry Torch, began in the winter of 1963-64, but was delayed at first when heavy rains filled in the excavation with several feet of water, further adding to the mockery of the new building.
Architects John Cunningham and Roy Forehand, ran into a dilemma from the very beginning. How could they design a three story (with room to add a fourth in the future) building with a jail underneath on a traffic island. The City of Dublin, which handsomely profited from the sale of natural gas, pushed the use of gas for heating and cooling. The architects, however, went with the conventional electric design. Their concept was to circulate the warm air from the upper floors to the basement in the colder months and the cooler air from the lower floors upward to the top of the building during the warmer months. Needless to say the plan failed miserably. Ask anyone who worked in the courthouse from the 1960s through the 1980s.
Designed in a time when racial segregation was still predominant in the country, one can still see the remnants of that bygone era when separate was considered equal. The spacious, air-conditioned for the first time, courtroom was designed with a gallery section in the balcony to seat "colored" citizens upstairs in a manner similar to the way pre-Civil War churches segregated its slave members.
On the second floor there are two sets of bathrooms. The first and largest set is located on both sides of the elevator was designated as "white only," while the other set, located at the far end of the hall adjoining the stairwell is much smaller and was designated "colored."
By the 1980s, the offices in the courthouse were becoming overwhelmingly crowded and bursting at the gerters. The Laurens County Board of Education and the Department of Family and Children Services had to move out to separate facilities to meet the ever expanding needs of the courts. The County Commissioners left soon after that to offices across the street. By the early 2000s, the offices of the Tax Commissioner, the Registrar and a part of the Clerk's office moved into a new annex north of the courthouse.
Almost every courthouse you ever have seen had a front door. Our courthouse has one, but entrants had to use the two side doors and the back door unless they wanted to walk through the courtroom to get to their destination. The only adornments are the state seal on the north side and a simple federal seal on the south side. On a positive note, the efforts of the various garden clubs and veterans' organizations have given the square elements of beauty and heritage.
The county commissioners officially designated the new building as the county courthouse on July 21, 1964, which meant that the courthouse was no longer located in the Federal Building and the old Post Office.
On July 23, 1964, the first order of business was an invocation by the Rev. C.E. Vines. The first case on the motion day calendar was the validation of the City of Dudley's water and sewerage revenue bonds. After the conclusion of calendar call, a picture of the Dublin bar, judges, court officials, county officers and other employees was taken in the new, brighter, roomier and I might say cooler courtroom. Gone were the electric fans and creaky wooden benches and chairs. In were the stylish, now highly collectible, multi-colored plastic chairs throughout the courtroom.
The official dedication of the courthouse was held on October 15, 1964 (50 years ago tomorrow) under the direction of county commissioners S.A. Lewis, J.W. Robertson and R.A. Register, who invited Congressmen Carl Vinson and Elliot Hagan along with Georgia governor Carl Sanders and the United States Secretary of Commerce and former Governor of North Carolina, Luther Hodges to speak at the occasion. All of the speakers pointed to Dublin's growth with its new courthouse, library and post office - all completed within a few months of each other. I point out here that the praised progress began a process of the systematic destruction of much of the eastern end of Bellevue Avenue.
With a half century of service and the move toward annexes, regretfully it appears that our courthouse will easily break the 67-year record of her predecessor and will be sitting on her nest in the center of town as the ugly duckling of East Central Georgia courthouses for a long, long time.
Well, I guess I couldn't find anything good to say about our courthouse, except that it is cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter than back in a time when we used hand fans and wood burning heaters. And, like the architects promised, there is more room than there used to be.