Georgetown County Courthouse an antebellum ornament

georgetown-court-house

As South Carolina’s third-oldest city, Georgetown bristles with history, from the famed Prince George Winyah Episcopal Church to the Old Market Building to Mansfield Plantation.

It’s fitting then that critical Georgetown County matters are still settled in a nearly 200-year-old courthouse that was designed by the state’s most famous architect.

The Georgetown County Courthouse, drawn up by South Carolina native Robert Mills, the man who also designed the Washington Monument, was built in 1823-1824 for approximately $12,000.

Designed in a Classical Revival style, the structure replaced a previous courthouse that had been damaged by two destructive hurricanes.

Until about four years ago, the structure had continued to serve as the judicial hub for the county, despite being outdated in a number of respects.

Mrs. Cotton Boll, a South Carolina attorney, recalled being involved in a case in the antiquated edifice approximately eight years ago in the middle of a sweltering summer day when the judge stopped the proceedings in order to remove his robe. Fortunately, he was appropriately clothed beneath his judicial garb.

For the past few years, the courthouse has been undergoing an extensive renovation, receiving new carpet and paint throughout, having its ceiling and ductwork replaced, being rewired, and having its heating and cooling system updated.

Robert Mills, famed 19th century architect.

Robert Mills, famed 19th century architect.

While the county’s courts have been relocated to a new judicial center, County Council will still meet in the venerable building, as will aspects of the county’s public services department.

Mills (1781-1855) left his mark not only across South Carolina, but all along the East Coast.

Besides designing the Washington Monument, he also assisted James Hoban with the construction of the White House.

Mills also drew up plans for the Department of Treasury building, the US Patent Office Building and the General Post Office in Washington, and courthouses in at least 18 South Carolina counties, several of which survive.

Other Mills’ structures can be found in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Cincinnati, New Bedford and Newburyport, Mass., and Richmond, Va., where he designed the White House of the Confederacy, where Confederate President Jefferson Davis lived during the War Between the States.

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15 thoughts on “Georgetown County Courthouse an antebellum ornament

      • Perhaps that is because when the “government” proposes to build anything the “conservatives” come out in force and decry any building as a “Taj Mahal” and declare any such use of taxpayer funds as “waste”.

        Can you imagine the outcry if any government agency in this state proposed to bring in a world renowned architect to design and build a municipal building?

      • One does have to balance cost and resources. I’m not sure a world-renown architect is needed for the typical municipal building, at least if the architect is going to charge what he can get in a major metro city. But that doesn’t mean a “lesser” architect can’t design something attractive and functional.

      • “One does have to balance cost and resources. I’m not sure a world-renown architect is needed for the typical municipal building”

        You are missing, or perhaps ignoring, my point. Municipal buildings, especially ones such as courthouses and schools, were once considered a point of pride with communities. As such people were willing to back the construction of buildings designed to reflect that pride.

        Consider this, if our statehouse had never been constructed can you imagine the outcry from conservatives and libertarians if the state proposed to construct one like the one that exists today? It would be front page of every blog in the state that the legislators were trying to build themselves a palace.

      • No, I agree with your point about the statehouse. I’ve often thought that the magnificent buildings we have in our nation’s capital would never be allowed to be constructed today, either. However, I don’t know that it is just conservatives and libertarians who would decry such “lavish” expenditures. Some on the other side would likely assert that such money would be better spent on social services rather than impressive structures. I, for one, am grateful that we have the statehouse we do. It reflects well on South Carolina.

        I also wouldn’t want to be a politician in today’s world attempting to construct a municipal building of any stature, where no matter what your goal, someone on one side or the other is going to question your motives.

  1. I think it’s important to keep beautiful buildings up to date by refurbishment or restoration. They become part of our history and provide examples and proof of past folk who have either designed, resided or passed through them.

    • You’re so right, Jenny. There’s nothing more depressing than seeing an antiquated structure that’s been allowed to deteriorate beyond repair. I know you have to pick and choose what you restore, depending on financial resources, but often a town or region’s identity is closely aligned with its past, and how it recognizes its past.

  2. I enjoy Southern buildings particularly in our country. I feel they show character, tradition and beauty. The butter cream or lemon color is one of my favorites of all time. The details with cornices and shutters painted white is pretty. I love the humor in the judge story, always nice to leave readers smiling, ha ha!

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