Historic Coweta County Courthouse opens this weekend

The wait is over. And those attending the opening of the historic 1904 Coweta County Courthouse this weekend in downtown Newnan will see nothing less than a work of art that brought the century-old structure back to its original beauty.

“This has been a community project from the beginning,” said Patricia Palmer, Coweta County Public Affairs Director. “It was approved by the citizens as a SPLOST (1-cent sales tax) project, the municipalities supported it, and we all have watched as the courthouse emerged even more striking and beautiful that we could have imagined.”

The festivities surrounding the opening will begin on Saturday with a ticketed event and continue Sunday with public ceremonies that include the ribbon cutting followed by self-guided tours.

The Coweta County Courthouse Citizens Committee is spearheading these events with the assistance of the Newnan-Coweta Historical Society and, of course, the Coweta County Commissioners, Palmer said.

Palmer in noting the sequence of weekend events said that on Saturday the Citizens Committee will host “Preserve, Preview, Promenade” to raise funds for the restoration and maintenance of the historical artifacts and monuments inside and on the grounds of the courthouse.

“The monuments, paintings and statue were all cleaned during the renovation and this fund will help cover those costs and, hopefully, pay for any future needs. This black-tie optional event is limited to 200 tickets and includes dinner at a downtown restaurant, dessert at the courthouse, a limited edition commemorative item featuring the original copper from the courthouse dome, music and a preview tour enhanced by storytellers in period character and costume,” said Palmer.

Tickets are $100 per person and may be purchased at the Coweta County Visitors Center at 100 Walt Sanders Memorial Drive or by calling 770-254-2629.

“After a 7 p.m. dinner, ticket holders will come to the courthouse for dessert and coffee on the courthouse grounds,” Palmer said. “Ticket holders will enjoy music played from the balconies and preview the courthouse while interacting with the storytellers throughout the evening.”

On Sunday at 1:30 p.m. there will be a short ceremony featuring the debut of the county flag and a ribbon cutting signifying the reopening of the courthouse after which the courthouse will be open for self-guided tours, said Palmer.

“At 4 p.m., with the help of the Newnan-Coweta Historical Society, there will be a lecture in the courtroom on Georgia Governors (and Coweta County residents) Ellis Gibbs Arnall and William Yates Atkinson by retired history professor and author Harold Henderson,” said Palmer. “At the conclusion of the lecture, the group will move outside onto the grounds for the dedication of the newest monument on the courthouse grounds - a plaque remembering the works of Governor William Yates Atkinson. This monument is being placed as part of an effort by the Georgia Historical Society to commemorate Georgia Governors in their home communities. Locally this effort was supported by the Newnan-Coweta Historical Society, the Genealogical Society and the family of Governor Atkinson. Governor Arnall will not be eligible for a plaque of this kind for several years.”

And on Monday the courthouse will open with the Visitors Center and the Convention and Visitors Bureau operating there. The Coweta County Probate Court will move in later in October, Palmer said. Probate offices will be downstairs with court held in the ornate second floor courtroom.

Palmer said pavers will be available to be engraved and placed on the courthouse grounds. The pavers will be $50 each and can be ordered beginning Sept. 19 at the opening festivities. The pavers will be individually engraved and will be placed, as a group, beginning on the west side of courthouse.

The idea of rehabilitating the 1904 courthouse began several years ago, said Palmer. With the anticipation of the vacancy at the courthouse in 2005 and the need for renovation work, the Coweta County Courthouse Citizens Committee was appointed to help identify what offices should be housed in the courthouse and to provide feedback on the many decisions that needed to be made on the work at the courthouse.

The courthouse has been vacant since 2006 when Superior Court moved to the newly completed Justice Center. Also in 2006, Coweta voters approved the sixth SPLOST that included the renovation of the courthouse as a listed project. With the support of Coweta voters and all the county’s municipalities, construction began on the $7.5 million project in 2008, said Palmer.

The first floor of the building will house the Convention and Visitors Bureau and Coweta County Probate Court. The large courtroom on the second floor will be used for Probate Court proceedings and might be used for other selected occasions, Palmer said.

The floorplan of the building remains essentially the same as it was more than 100 years ago, but with the addition of an elevator and additional restrooms. Original octagon tile covers the first floor hallways and the pine floors in other areas were worked to bring them back to the original finish. The walls in some of the office areas underwent major needed rehab and were restored with structural foam. Meantime, upstairs in the courtroom the floor was outfitted with cork tile, as it was over 100 years ago.

The courtroom is huge and is itself a work of art. Similar to what appears on the first and second floors to be intricate cornice and molding is actually plaster from chair level to the ceiling.

Palmer said a conservator took finish samples of the plaster and trim in the courtroom and the hallways and was able to determine the original colors of those locations. The palette for the hallway included an off white/cream for the ceiling, a golden brown for the top of the wall and a milk chocolate brown for the lower part of the wall. The palette for the courtroom included the same off white/cream for the ceiling and the brown for the lower part of the wall, but with a warm green for the top of the wall and a brighter gold for the plaster trim. 

Seating in the courtroom features the same type chairs in use just after the turn of the 20th century. The chairs are theater style with metal frames and wooden seats and backs. The balcony, which along with large storage rooms and a new catering kitchen is part of the third floor, is outfitted with a variety of 8-foot to 26-foot benches like those from 100 years ago. And in the grand jury room visitors will find the large original horseshoe-shaped table.

Further up into the building are several levels ascending to the top of the bell tower. Amazing in detail, the entire bell tower assemblage is a structural engineer’s dream. And the exterior of the tower is accentuated in a blaze of copper that no one in passing through downtown will miss. Though hard to distinguish from ground level, all the copper and much of the wood supports required replacement. Also missing from the ground view is the intricate work that went into the tower and dome.

All said, the historic Coweta County Courthouse is an amazing work and one well worth visiting.

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