Date Built: 1934
Architectural Style: Colonial Revival
Designer: Dennis & Dennis
Other Information: The date of completion of Telfair County's first courthouse is not clear. In an act of Dec. 14, 1815, the legislature incorporated Jacksonville and directed the new town commissioners to assemble "at the court-house in said town" (Ga. Laws 1815, p. 68). However, in Dec. 1816, the legislature authorized Telfair County's inferior court to levy a special tax for building a courthouse and jail. In Dec. 1818, additional legislation was enacted authorizing the inferior court to levy a special tax and to continue it from year to year until a courthouse and jail were completed. So unless the first courthouse was built on borrowed money, it seems probable that it was not completed until around 1820.
Little is known about the fate of Telfair County's first courthouse and how many other courthouses were built during the following half century. A wooden, two-story courthouse was built in Jacksonville around 1860 (see photo). In 1871, the county seat moved from Jacksonville to McRae. In an act of Aug. 27, 1872, the legislature authorized Telfair County officials to borrow the necessary funds "and apply the proceeds to the completion of the new court-house now being erected in said county" (Ga. Laws 1872, p. 470). The new courthouse -- a large, two-story brick structure -- was completed in 1873 (see photo). This building, however, burned in the early 1930s. It was replaced by Telfair County's current courthouse, which was completed in 1934.
County History: Telfair County was created from Wilkinson County by an act of the General Assembly approved Dec. 10, 1807 (Ga. Laws 1807, p. 37). Georgia's 35th county was named for former governor and congressman Edward Telfair (1735-1807).
In 1812, the legislature transferred the portion of Telfair County between the Oconee and Little Ocmulgee rivers to Montgomery County. In 1819 and 1825, the legislature transferred respectively land lots 1 and 6 in Appling County to Telfair County (Ga. Laws 1819, p. 45 and 1825, p. 61). These transfers (see map) gave Telfair a substantial area of land south of the Ocmulgee River. However, in 1854, the legislature transferred this area to newly created Coffee County (Ga. Laws 1854, p. 294).
The last loss of land came in 1870, when areas of northern Telfair County were used to form Dodge County (Ga.Laws 1870, p. 18 ). However in 1872 and 1875, areas of Dodge County were transferred back to Telfair County (Ga. Laws 1872, p. 408 and 1875, p. 275). The last boundary adjustment came in 1877, when the lands of Bradley Harralson (land lots 265, 266, 272, and 273 in the 10th district) in Montgomery County were shifted Telfair County (Ga. Laws 1877, p. 277).
County Seat: The 1807 act creating Telfair County provided that courts and county business initially be conducted at the house of Jesse Bird. On Dec. 22, 1808, the legislature provided that effective immediately, county elections and other business would be held at the home of John Patterson (actually Peterson). An act of Dec. 8, 1810 repealed the 1808 act and authorized the justices of the inferior court to pick any site for a county seat, so long as it was in the 8th land district and on the Ocmulgee River. The act further directed that elections and other county business be conducted at the residence of Mark Pregon (actually Pridgen) in the 8th district until a courthouse could be built.
An act of Dec. 13, 1811 directed that the Telfair County courthouse and other public buildings be built on land lot 79 in the 8th district on the Ocmulgee River on land purchased from Jesse Wiggins, Jr. The justices of the inferior court were authorized to contract for the building of a courthouse and jail. Until a courthouse was completed, the legislation provided that court sessions, elections, and other county business take place in the house of Jesse Wiggins or such other place in land lot 79 as the inferior court should determine.
Still, nothing happened -- so in an act of Dec. 7, 1812, the legislature provided that the inferior court purchase between 50 and 202 acres of land for erecting a courthouse and other public buildings. The act directed that the site be within two miles of the center of the county and on or near the Ocmulgee River. [At that time, the Ocmulgee River flowed through the middle of Telfair County.] Until the courthouse was built, courts and elections were to be held at the house of Mark Pridgen.
Despite the acts of 1810, 1811, and 1812, Telfair County still did not have a courthouse or county seat. In Nov. 1813, the legislature passed a new act authorizing the inferior court to build a courthouse and jail on land lot 340 in the 8th district (Ga. Laws 1813, p. 76). The legislation further provided that as soon as a courthouse was built on lot 340, that site would become the permanent county seat of Telfair County.
For whatever reason, the inferior court failed to implement the 1810, 1811, 1812, or 1813 acts, so in 1814 state lawmakers passed another act confirming land lot 340 as the site for building a courthouse (Ga. Laws 1814, p. 53). However, rather than wait for completion of a courthouse, this act declared that land lot 340 henceforth was Telfair County's permanent county seat. Subsequently, the land lot was surveyed and subdivided. One lot was reserved for a courthouse and jail, with the other lots to be sold for settlement of a new town. On Nov. 25,1815, the General Assembly provided that Telfair County's new seat of government be named Jacksonville (Ga. Laws 1815, p. 126). In an act of Dec. 14, 1815, the legislature incorporated Jacksonville and directed the new town commissioners to assemble "at the court-house in said town" (Ga. Laws 1815, p. 68). As for the town's name, the legislation specifically noted that "the name of Jacksonville is here intended to perpetuate the name and memory of the late hero of New Orleans." That hero, of course, was Gen. Andrew Jackson, who on Dec. 8, 1815 had defeated British forces at the Battle of New Orleans.
After the southern half of Telfair County was transferred to newly created Coffee County in 1854, the county seat of Jacksonville no longer was in the center of the county. In fact, it was now just a few miles north of Telfair County's new southern boundary -- the Ocmulgee River. As a result, many Telfair County residents began calling for removal of the county seat to a more central location. In an act of March 3, 1856, the legislature authorized the inferior court to call an election on removing the county seat. The act further provided that if a majority of voters approved removal, the inferior court was to purchase at least twenty acres as near the center of the county as possible and lay out a new county seat, which was to be named Ridgley (Ga. Laws 1855-56, p. 481). It is not clear whether the inferior court ever called a referendum-- but if an election actually was held, supporters of removal lost. The outbreak of the Civil War brought a temporary end to efforts to move Telfair's county seat.
After the Civil War, the Macon & Brunswick Railroad was built through eastern Telfair County, bypassing Jacksonville by twenty miles (see map). This fact, plus Jacksonville's location near the southern boundary of the county, led to renewed agitation for removal of the county seat to a more central location In Oct.1870, the General Assembly passed legislation calling for an election on designating a new county seat and allowing Telfair County officials to levy a special tax for erecting of a suitable courthouse and jail (Ga. Laws 1870, p. 29).
The Oct. 1870 legislation did not authorize a referendum on whether or not to move the county seat. Rather it provided for election of five commissioners "whose duty it shall be to select a suitable site on the Macon & Brunswick Railroad, as near the center of said county as practicable, for the capital or county-site of said county of Telfair." The election took place on Dec. 20, 21, and 22 of 1870. It is not known how long the commissioners deliberated on selecting a new county seat -- but presumably they made their decision during the final week of 1870 or in early 1871.
The site selected as Telfair County's new county seat was the railroad station of McRae on the Macon & Brunswick Railroad. Before the Civil War, the McRaes and several other groups of Scottish Presbyterians from the Carolinas had emigrated to this area. Around 1870, track for the Macon & Brunswick was laid through the plantation of Daniel McRae. A railroad station was built here and named for the McRae clan. A town quickly sprung up, and the legislature incorporated McRae as a town on March 3, 1874 (Ga. Laws 1874, p. 157). According to that act, McRae's city limits included everything within one-half mile of the courthouse.