‘Crown jewel’: 1869 Courthouse celebrates 150th anniversary

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For Sam Franklin Jr., strolling through the 1869 Courthouse building is a trip down memory lane. Currently housing the Bartow History Museum, the historic structure was home to Henshaw & Franklin Furniture Co. in the mid-1900s.

“I went to work there when I was 13 years old,” said Franklin, who has served as the president and co-owner — with his wife, Debra — of Sam Franklin’s Home Furnishing Center for more than 35 years. “They paid me $1 an hour, and I thought that was pretty good money. I did a little bit of everything — delivered, cleaned up, cut grass out front when it needed mowing.”

A radio repairman in World War II, Franklin’s father returned to Cartersville after the war and started fixing televisions as one half of Henshaw & Franklin Furniture Co. in 1956.

Operating in the former courthouse, they later dissolved the partnership in 1968. Sam Franklin’s Home Furnishing Center was formed later that year, with its first location at 20 S. Wall St. Still situated in the heart of downtown Cartersville, Franklin’s furniture business has served the community at 144 W. Main St. since 1986.

As the 1869 Courthouse building celebrates its sesquicentennial, Henshaw & Franklin Furniture Co. is stepping into the limelight once again. The former store is one component of the museum’s special exhibit, “One Building, Many Stories: The 150th Anniversary of the 1869 Courthouse,” which will close Feb. 29. Along with the structure’s formation and renovation, the featured display highlights the various establishments that have called the building home.

“I was really impressed with the way the building’s [renovations] turned out and the way the exhibit turned out. Debra and I just recently donated a picture window table, which as far as I know is the only piece of furniture we have that came from Henshaw & Franklin,” he said, referring to their contribution to the BHM’s special exhibit. “My dad gave it to my mother as an anniversary present. I remember it sat for years in our picture window.”

Serving as Bartow’s courthouse from 1869 to 1902, the two-story brick building was utilized for a variety of purposes in the 1900s, some of which included a roller skating rink, grocery store and warehouse.

“The moving of court and county government from the building was not the end of the story for this structure,” Bartow History Museum Director Trey Gaines said. “For 80 more years, it housed numerous business enterprises, including manufacturing, grocery, furniture, warehousing and more. One of the more unique uses of the building occurred in the late 1940s when it was the home of a roller skating rink.

“Throughout these years of use, the building experienced a number of changes and alterations depending on the needs of the particular occupant at the time. For example, the large beams seen on the first floor of the building were installed in the early 1900s to provide support for large manufacturing equipment installed on the second floor. Also, at one time a mezzanine level and an additional showroom were built in and in front of the building to display furniture.”

After sitting vacant for 12 years, the structure was acquired by the city of Cartersville in 1995 and later renovated by Pennant Construction Management — now known as McWhorter Goss General Contractors  — with $1.7 million in Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax funds.

“I have been a part of the renovation of 70-plus buildings over the past two decades,” said Cartersville resident Ron Goss Jr., president of McWhorter Goss General Contractors. “Each project is special and has its own stories. However, when the city that you grew up in calls you to partake in a once-in-a-lifetime task, it is truly an honor.

“I believe this sense of pride was shared by each of the local tradesmen that partook in the restoration. I appreciate the faith that the city of Cartersville had in selecting me for this task.”

While overseeing the restoration project, Goss discovered he had various ties to some of the building’s former occupants.

“Two fathers of my Cartersville High School classmates, Joseph Bazelmans and Tony Martin, operated businesses in the building,” he said. “I also found that my very first employer, Shellhorse Furniture, was located in the 1869 Courthouse prior to moving to Main Street. It was satisfying to see former business owners and the former owner of the building reconnect during the open house in the renovated courthouse.”

Referring to the building’s restoration, Goss underscored the importance of stabilizing the structure and protecting its historic integrity.

“Several historic photos along with remaining artifacts from the building were used to recreate its historic appearance,” he said. “The historic staircases and the original roof had long been removed with little knowledge of what existed. Found buried in the building’s crawl space were sections of the original slate roof as well as a number of stair pieces.

“The slate was used to select the matching contemporary roof that was installed on the building during the renovation. A new staircase was milled by craftsmen using the historic parts as a guide. The original pickets found in the crawl space can be seen on display in the building’s lower hall.”

Formed in 1987, BHM’s gift shop, multi-purpose room, and permanent and temporary exhibits were relocated to the 1869 Courthouse — 4 E. Church St. in Cartersville, under the Church Street bridge — December 2010. Divided into six galleries, the permanent exhibits include “A Sense of Place,” “Bartow Beginnings,” “Community Champions,” “People at Work,” “The Coming War” and “Toward New Horizons.”

“While it took many years, the efforts and support of many museum employees, city officials and the community paid off with the completion of the building restoration in 2010,” Gaines said. “It was very rewarding to be part of the team that brought the 1869 Courthouse back to life and reopened as the new home of the museum.

“The saving and revitalization of this building is also a testament to the community’s desire to preserve historic structures whenever possible, and I believe the building is a great home for the museum since it is very much a part of the history all around us. For 150 years now, the 1869 Courthouse has stood in downtown Cartersville and has played a role in the lives of the people of Bartow County and beyond.”

Agreeing with the BHM promotional materials’ description of the 1869 Courthouse, Goss believes the structure serves as a “crown jewel” for Bartow as well as the state of Georgia.

“It is one of the few remaining Italianate-style courthouses remaining in the state,” Goss said. “Its position bookending one of the quadrants in Cartersville’s downtown square tells of a way of life within this community 150 years ago. The fact that it has survived 150 years is amazing in itself.

“The list of existing properties in Cartersville that have celebrated 150 years is a short one. The great thing about this building is with its rehabilitation, the courthouse may celebrate another 150 years.”

In commending the community for its care and support of the 1869 building, Goss shared portions of a recent discussion between himself and a neighbor.

“Our conversation was that a person may hold title on a historic property, but legal ownership is nothing more than short-term stewardship in the life of a historic property,” he said. “It is really the community who is the true owner of these wonderful historic treasures.

“Bartow County is fortunate that the series of owners have cared enough for the 1869 Courthouse to keep it standing for 150 years. We are additionally blessed to live in a town where the local government understands the value in these properties and makes the effort and sacrifice to protect our community’s history.”

Along with touring the museum’s "One Building, Many Stories: The 150th Anniversary of the 1869 Courthouse" exhibit, those interested in the building’s history are invited to attend BHM’s Lunch and Learn program Wednesday. Ongoing from noon to 1 p.m., Gaines will deliver a presentation titled “From Legal to Regal: The 1869 Courthouse — a Jewel in Historic Downtown Cartersville.”

For more information about the BHM and its exhibits and programs, call 770-387-2774 or visit http://bartowhistorymuseum.org.