Their Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Blairsville, Union’s county seat

In 1926, W. L. Benson, evidently hired by the state of Georgia to do surveys and reports on counties and county seat towns, reported on Blairsville and Union County in the "Combined Agricultural-Industrial Report.

In that report, Mr. Benson stated that Blairsville was named for "Franklin P. Blair who was an ardent supporter of Andrew Jackson."

Mr. Benson gave a wrong first name for the person for whom Blairsville, county seat of Union County, was named. His report should have noted that it was "Francis Preston Blair," namesake of the town of Blairsville, incorporated by an act of the Georgia Legislature on December 26, 1835. Mr. Benson was correct in stating that Mr. Blair was "an ardent supporter of Andrew Jackson," for that he was. Let us look briefly at what we know about this man for whom Blairsville was named.

President Jackson appointed Francis Preston Blair as first editor of The Washington Globe in 1830. The publication was definitely an administration journal, promoting the views and positions of Andrew Jackson, and of his successor as president, Martin Van Buren. When James K. Polk became president, Francis Preston Blair was forced out of his longtime editorship of The Globe, and went back to Kentucky to farm, to support the Free Soil party and to oppose slavery. He joined the Republican Party and went to the Chicago convention and supported the nomination of President Lincoln in 1860.

Francis Preston Blair (1791-1876), Blairsville's namesake

Looking for a representative and idealistic person for whom to name Union's county seat town in 1835, three years after the county was formed, the name of Francis Preston Blair, noted journalist and supporter of Jackson, was suggested and adopted. All that was needed was to add "ville" after his last name, and the town of Blairsville was born. The town's namesake died in 1876 after a long and involved political career.

And now to the court houses in Blairsville, the county seat town. Where the government met prior to the naming of the county seat town in 1835, is, to this writer's knowledge, unrecorded. Common sense imagines that it was in a store building or maybe even in one of the existing post offices near what became Blairsville.

Official pamphlet # 113 about Union County states that the public buildings were laid out in 1835 (not in 1832 when the county was formed). The first was a log courthouse. This served the county until a fire destroyed it in 1859.

The second courthouse was a two story structure, on the architectural style of the plain Federal made with hand-fashioned bricks fired in a kiln. This courthouse stood "on the square" in Blairsville and served the populace well until 1898. Mr. W. L. Benson fails to mention in his report of 1925 how the second courthouse met its end. Perhaps the brick structure burned, too, as had the first log courthouse.

In 1899 the third courthouse was erected. It was more elaborate and boasted a clock tower, as well as two sturdy stories and even attic areas with windows on the third story. This proud edifice was "saved" by the Union County Historical Society and is now on the National Register of Historic Places. Its service as the Union County Historical Museum is re-telling the story of the past to interested visitors from far and wide whose genealogical roots rest in the hills and valleys of Union County.

Presently, Union County has a sole commissioner, Mr. Lamar Paris, who, himself, is interested in and works to preserve Union's rich history. But back in 1899 when the "courthouse on the square" was built, the county was governed by a Board of Commissioners and an Ordinary.

Jesse Washington Souther, County Board of Commissioners, 1899

The Board of County Commissioners in 1899 was composed of these elected leaders: Jesse Washington Souther, James A. Butt, Sr., W. W. Ervin, and Ordinary John T. Colwell. As we look at the restored courthouse on the square, it is hard for us in the twenty first century to imagine that the cost of building it in 1899 was $12,000.

With the willing work and cooperation of the Board of Commissioners, the task of building the courthouse in 1899 was not without its problems.

The commissioners agreed that the best way to finance the proposed courthouse was to have the county vote bonds. But when that proposal was brought before the people, it was defeated.

They also wanted to relocate the building slightly to the southwest and purchase a lot for which the owners were asking $800.00. But they could not get that measure passed.

A generous offer was made by a Mr. Stephen Major, citizen of the Fairview section of Union County in the Coosa District. He wanted to donate land for the courthouse and other public buildings and move the location of the county seat to Coosa.

Again, a petition circulated and a referendum was called. But the proposal was defeated because it did not get a 2/3 majority of the voters. (One wonders, if this had happened, would the county seat have been called Coosaville, or maybe just Fairview?)

With these hurdles over, the Commissioners buckled down and made a decision to increase taxes to pay for the new courthouse and to build it on the same site as the first and second edifices. Amazingly, within one year of increased taxes, the $12,000 cost was raised. But it was not an easy task. In 1899, farmers (the major occupation of the populace) did not have much money. When taxes came due, some of them had to sell the family milk cow to get enough money to pay their increased levy.

A young boy named Richard Miller (called "Dick") was an errand boy during the building of the courthouse. His work netted him thirty cents a day. Several of the men of the county gave free labor as carpenters and brick layer helpers.

Throughout its history, the old courthouse has been a favorite gathering place. At first, farmers brought their wares to trade or sell during spring and fall terms of court. And court was nearly always a drawing card for crowds who came to hear arguments about landlines and other disputes, thefts, and, to top the agenda, murders. When court was not in session, the courtroom became an auditorium for Sacred Harp singing conventions; Grand Ole Opry stars appearances and fiddling contests. Even weddings and family reunions have been conducted within the confines of the stately old courthouse.

Today, Union County has a spacious, fairly new, modern building in which to carry on county business, located just off APD Highway 515 on the west side of town. But most of us who grew up in Union still think of "the old courthouse on the square" when we hear a reference to the Union County Courthouse.

Edgar A. Guest wrote in one of his poems: "It takes a lot o' livin' in a house to make it home." We could paraphrase the poet's words and say "The old courthouse in Blairsville has seen a lot o' livin' in its 109- year history."

c 2008 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published June 12, 2008 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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