Preservation Success: Hancock County Courthouse

Hancock County Courthouse HABS 1971

As The Georgia Trust marks its 50th anniversary, we take a moment to celebrate one of the most remarkable preservation successes in the state—the restoration of the Hancock County Courthouse in Sparta, Georgia. This iconic structure, locally known as “Her Majesty,” has a storied history dating back to its construction in 1883. Designed by the renowned Atlanta architecture firm Parkins and Bruce in the Second Empire style, this courthouse held a special place in the hearts of the local community.

Over the years, the Hancock County Courthouse had faced challenges, primarily stemming from a lack of funding for maintenance. In 2013, it was designated as a “Place in Peril.” Recognizing the urgency of the situation, the county initiated $150,000 worth of exterior renovations in a bid to preserve this historic gem.

However, tragedy struck on August 11, 2014, when a devastating fire engulfed the courthouse, reducing its majestic clock tower to ashes and gutting the entire building. The fire raged for nearly three weeks, reaching temperatures high enough to melt the 800-pound bell housed in the clock tower. Heartbreakingly, this event led to the courthouse’s re-listing as a “Place in Peril” in 2015.

In times of adversity, it often takes remarkable individuals to rise above the challenges. Hancock County Commission Chairwoman Sistie Hudson, a woman of determination and political will, played a pivotal role in ensuring the courthouse’s revival. Additionally, a robust insurance policy purchased through the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia provided the necessary financial support to kick-start the reconstruction efforts immediately after the fire.

In just a month, steel reinforcements were placed against the courthouse’s exterior walls, which were found to be structurally sound. Architectural plans, which had been borrowed by neighboring Watkins County in the 1990s, were returned to guide the restoration. Remarkably, this sister to the Hancock County Courthouse, located in Monroe, was also designed by Parkins and Bruce.

The reconstruction effort came with a substantial price tag, totaling $7.5 million, including the meticulous restoration of the iconic clock tower, a half-million-dollar endeavor. The Hancock County Courthouse was reconstructed from the inside out, a labor of love and a testament to the enduring spirit of historic preservation. Throughout this challenging journey, The Georgia Trust played a pivotal role, making numerous visits and offering unwavering support.

The culmination of years of dedication and hard work came in August 2016, when the Hancock County Courthouse in Sparta, Georgia, was rededicated. It was a moment of triumph and pride for the community and all those who had contributed to this remarkable restoration effort. The courthouse had risen from the ashes, stronger and more splendid than ever before.

In recognition of the remarkable determination and community effort that led to the resurrection of this historic building, the Hancock County Courthouse received the prestigious Marguerite Williams Award from The Georgia Trust in the following year. This award, presented annually to the project with the greatest impact on preservation in the state, symbolized the triumph of heritage preservation against all odds.

The restoration of the Hancock County Courthouse in Sparta, Georgia, stands as a shining example of what can be achieved when determination, political will, and community support come together. As we celebrate The Georgia Trust’s 50th anniversary, we also celebrate the legacy of preservation that this project represents. The Hancock County Courthouse, once a “Place in Peril,” now stands proudly as a symbol of our commitment to safeguarding Georgia’s rich architectural heritage for generations to come.

Support the work of the Georgia Trust and programs like Places in Peril by Becoming a Member today!

See more about the history of the Georgia Trust on our 50th Anniversary blog Celebrating 50.