New book commemorates Georgia courthouses

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, Ross King wanted to do something noteworthy that would celebrate not just the organization but all of the state’s 159 counties.

As King, the executive director of the organization, thought about the idea, he noted that nothing represents each county better than its courthouse: most of the buildings across the state have stood for ages, and nearly all of them are located near the historic center of town.

“Not only did we want to embrace the accomplishments of (the association), but we also wanted to celebrate these significant structures,” King said. “These are the people’s buildings.”

Indeed, for longtime residents of Georgia counties, a courthouse could contain documents that chronicle a person’s entire life, King noted.

“There are birth certificates and death certificates and quite a lot in between,” he said. “They contain the glorious parts of life and some parts that are painful.”

King said he became driven to go forth with the project, which became a coffee-table book that has just been released called “Courthouses of Georgia.”

Published by the University of Georgia Press, the book contains photos of all 159 courthouses shot by well-known Australian photographer Greg Newington, who owns a studio in Atlanta.

In the book, the state is divided among nine regions that group several counties together. Each county is given two pages: on one side is the location, architectural details and a history of both the courthouse and the county, while on the other side is a full-page portrait of the courthouse.

“(Newington) is very well thought of,” King said. “I wanted someone with a fresh perspective of the state whom I knew could take a different look at the courthouses.”

King asked former state Rep. Larry Walker of Perry, a former Speaker of the House, to write the book’s introduction. Rather than just write a straight-out essay relating to the book, Walker not only shared his recollections of the Houston County Courthouse in Perry but also enlisted several other Georgians -- including judges, politicians and others -- to share their thoughts about the impact of the courthouses on the state.

“I was surprised when Ross King asked me to do it,” Walker said. “For my introduction, I wanted something more personal, so I got some good friends who have a lot of experience in and around courthouses to write about their experiences. I wrote some and compiled the rest.”

Among those who contributed to Walker’s introduction was former state representative and judge Bryant Culpepper, who now practices law in Macon. Culpepper wrote: “As the state grew and counties were formed, courthouses were built. Some were rough and ugly and some were palaces. All had the same purpose. All were built with the aspiration of the furtherance and maintenance of justice within the county boundaries.”

Former Gov. Roy Barnes also contributed to the introduction.

“I love every courthouse in Georgia,” he wrote. “It is where the business of the people is transacted in public view and gives transparency and confidence to all citizens.”

Walker noted that some of the people who contributed to his introduction wrote how the courthouses symbolize both the best and worst of state residents.

“That is so true,” he wrote. “The courthouse is where couples are married and where divorces are granted. It’s where bought land is registered and where lawsuits over ‘family inherited land’ are settled. It’s where one gets a gun permit and it’s where murder trials are held. When there is a birth, a record is made, and when there is a death someone registers that also, often in the same office. The courthouse is where one pays taxes and where one might be ordered to pay other debts to society.”

King, who has been to every courthouse in the state, diplomatically declined to pick one as his favorite.

“They all have a way of expressing their community and sense of community,” he said.

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.