As a native Atlantan, I have lived all over the metropolitan area. As a child, I grew up in DeKalb County and, after a 20-year hiatus in Gwinnett, returned to DeKalb for another 20 years before heading out to Forsyth County. In both of my DeKalb residencies, I proudly served several times on a jury in the county seat of Decatur, Georgia.
In Decatur, Georgia, I drew a felony murder trial in my last jury duty, which kept me commuting back to the city for a week. Jury trials started at 9 am and being an early riser left me several hours between dawn and when I had to report for duty. As a photographer, this was like a dream come true as Decatur, Georgia, has some old and interesting architecture.
As any American history student knows, there are no truly "old' buildings in Atlanta, even compared to the regular youth of any American building. After visiting Europe, it's hard to call a building even 200 years of age-old, much less the ones built in Atlanta after it was burned to the ground in the Civil War.
The 'new' courthouse is a modern marble and glass horror, but just adjacent to it in the Decatur, Georgia square lies the 'old' courthouse. And I spent more than a few hours that week wandering around it and photographing it from all angles and of every detail. I only wish I had the opportunity to take advantage of one of the offered walking tours to shoot the inside. The venue is now only used for private events, which costs anywhere from $950 to $3,900 and up, plus amenities.
But, fortunately for me, the outside is free and beautiful.
This is actually the fourth of now five courthouses that have occupied the square in downtown Decatur, Georgia. The first, built-in 1823, was a simple wooden structure that only lasted six years. This was replaced by a nicer wood courthouse in 1829, but it burned to the ground in 1842.
Following the advice of the Three Little Pigs, the third version was built of bricks in a Greek Revival style. This one even survived Sherman's march to the sea but was torn down a few years after the war to make room for the current 'old version. This one was built of Georgia granite and featured many modern conveniences, including indoor plumbing.
Disaster struck once again in 1916 when this building caught fire, but while the interior was destroyed, the Lithonia granite withstood the flames, as did the fireproof safes where all country records were kept. It continued to serve Decatur, Georgia, and DeKalb County until 1967, when they built the current courthouse.
It was almost destroyed anyway when a group of local businesses declared it obsolete and wanted to remove the entire square as it impeded traffic. Cooler heads prevailed, and the massive Neoclassical granite courthouse stands today.
The original square was destroyed to make room for MARTA, Atlanta's rapid rail system, but a new promenade extends down what was Sycamore Street, allowing for events and pedestrian traffic. This has brought a revival to old Decatur, and many events are held there annually, including a Fine Arts Festival, which spans the entire city.
If you have the opportunity to visit Decatur, Georgia, spend some time around the old courthouse and soak in some history. Then head down the new promenade past some fun and funky shops and restaurants. You'll end up on Sycamore and Church Street, where you can visit the old Decatur Presbyterian Church and the DeKalb County Library, both very old and beautiful buildings.
As a photographer, I love old architecture, and the beautiful, historic courthouse in Decatur, Georgia, is worth a few hours of your time.