By Ed Brock
Lillie Suder remembers well when the old Clayton County courthouse in Jonesboro was "a vital thing."
"This room, I believe, is where we voted," said 74-year-old Suder, standing in the Clayton County voter registration office where she now works.
Her mother once worked in the courthouse, too, and next door to it there was once an exhibition hall where basketball games were held. All things governmental were held at the courthouse, Suder said.
Built in 1869 on McDonough Street, the Jonesboro courthouse and the equally historic Henry County Courthouse in McDonough have now been immortalized in film.
"Temples of Justice: The Courthouses of Georgia," a documentary by Alan Pogue with Starsville Pictures, features the two buildings along with several other courthouses around the state in a film that studies the ongoing importance of such structures around the state. The Association of County Commissioners of Georgia showed a premiere of the video at the Georgia Archives building in Morrow on Monday night.
"We are very pleased about the final product," said Association of County Commissioners spokesman Ross King. "We are going to be disseminating it to counties with cable access channels."
Georgia Public Television is also "very interested" in the video.
"Maybe school history teachers can use it," King said.
Narrated by U.S. Congressman Ben Jones who played "Cooter" on the "Dukes of Hazzard" television show, the documentary is just under an hour long and took seven years to make.
"It's something we've been working on for a long time," said the association's Executive Director Jerry Griffin of Jonesboro, adding he is personally a fan of historic buildings. "I featured the old Clayton County courthouse on my Christmas cards. Courthouses have been the center of communities, communities have grown up around them, for years."
The film briefly shows the recent renovation of the old Jonesboro courthouse in which the addition that was built in front of the old building in 1963 was torn down and the surrounding property was reconstructed to resemble its late 19th century appearance.
"It's so much more beautiful now than it was," said 64-year-old Gwen Grayson.
Grayson came to work in the courthouse when she was 19 in 1959, and she remembers that at that time the courthouse was drafty and showing its age. Now it continues to house several county offices and a ceremonial courtroom in modern comfort.
The video also features a section on James W. Golucke, the architect who designed the courthouse in McDonough that was built in 1897 at a cost of $13,789.
"He designed a lot of courthouses," said Henry County historian Gene Morris.
Morris hasn't seen "Temples of Justice" but he is pleased that the video, along with books like Wilbur Caldwell's "The Courthouse and Depot in Georgia, 1833-1910: The Architecture of Hope in an Age of Despair," are keeping up interest in the buildings.
Though a fan of history, Morris is not adverse to change. He points out that the Henry County courthouse used to be a brick building in the middle of what is now McDonough Square. If they hadn't torn that one down all those years ago the square with its Confederate memorial and towering trees would never have been built.
"Things change but if each generation builds the best that it can then future generations will have something to be proud of," said Morris, who is also the author of "True Southerners: A Pictorial History of Henry County."
Jim Henderson, 80, of Hampton, has a strong family connection to the Henry County courthouse. His grandfather, Arthur James Henderson, took a major role in getting it built.
"He was not involved in politics in any way shape or form, but he owned a large business there," Henderson said.
After working from a young age in the railroad business Arthur James Henderson opened a general store in McDonough, then began opening factories to make the products for the store. That grew into his company, Henderson Manufacturing.
"Because of the records that needed to be kept he had some influence on the courthouse," Henderson said.
For information on obtaining a copy of the "Temples of Justice" video call King at (404) 522-5022.