Exactly two years after a fire destroyed the Hancock County courthouse, a historic landmark locals affectionately call “Her Majesty,” hundreds celebrated her rise from the ashes.
Flames devoured the 1883 Second Empire-style building early on the morning of Aug. 11, 2014. Several feet of ash filled the gutted space of the charred brick building, which was the first glimpse of Sparta that many travelers saw when entering town from the north.
At the time, downtown wasn’t looking so hot and “the courthouse, it was almost like it was the last thing keeping it together,” County Commissioner Steve Hill said Thursday. “When it burned down, people were just devastated.”
Local, state and federal fire investigators called the building a total loss.
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The courthouse, which sits in the center of a downtown traffic circle, housed the county commissioners’ office, Probate Court, Superior Court and the elections office, which were all temporarily relocated.
Two years and more than $6 million later, Hill said about 400 people gathered Thursday to celebrate the complete restoration of the courthouse.
“To bring it back, it gives you hope, you know,” Hill said. “It’s sort of the centerpiece of the town.”
The courthouse renovation included the addition of handicap accessibility and safety features which the original courthouse didn’t have. Major changes include the addition of a third floor in place of the former second floor courtroom’s 25-foot ceiling. The goal during construction was to maintain as much of the building’s character as possible.
“We gained about 5,000 square feet of floor space,” Hill said. “I’m impressed they could put it back like it was in two years time.”
The Association County Commissioners of Georgia recently remodeled its headquarters in Atlanta and offered the county a deal on old furniture.
“We pretty much (have a) turnkey building, furnished and everything” Hill said. “The only thing we lack right now is just a little landscaping.”
Offices were expected to be completely moved back into the building by Thursday evening after temporarily operating out of Oconee Fall Line College.