August 10, 2014 Sparta Georgia First Visit
On August 10, 2014 Julie Gayner and I went down to photograph old churches in and around Sparta, GA. There are several churches within easy driving distance. I found most of them on a page devoted to the historic churches of Georgia.
Antioch Baptist Church, near Sparta
Detail of Antioch, built 1886
Powelton Methodist , Circa 1795
While we were doing our online research on the area, Julie found an amazing old abandoned home to photograph, so we went into downtown Sparta. The house is abandoned, badly run down but very photogenic.
The Old Courthouse - "Her Majesty"
While were shooting the old home, we met Hal Lawson, one of the local residents. While we were talking to him, we noticed an old jail house nearby, and mentioned that we would love to photography inside of it. He said he would check on it and left. He returned shortly with a business card from County Commissioner Teresa Keel, and said she was expecting our call. We called her and she said she thought she had a key to the jail at the courthouse and we arranged to meet her there.
The courthouse was absolutely beautiful. It was built in 1883, and was the center of town, physically and spiritually. Local residents referred to the courthouse as "Her Majesty" and it was obvious why.
Mrs. Kell didn't have the key she thought she did, but she found that Rick Joslyn, president of the Sparta-Hancock County Historical Society, did have a key and he offered to come show us around.
While we waited for him, she showed us around the courthouse and it's amazing courtroom, and we photographed everything. The courthouse was undergoing major renovations and there was some scaffolding up, so I didn't photograph the whole building. I did shoot the unique clock tower, and other details. Fortunately Julie shot a view of the whole building.
Photo by Julie Gayner
The Old Jail
We got to tour the old jail house which was built in 1905 and has been recently restored. This is a small jail with two cells downstairs, and two upstairs. There is a trap door on the second floor which may have been used for hangings.
Sparta Jail 1905 Downstairs cell
It was amazing how Hal Lawson, Teresa Kell and Rick Joslyn went out of their way for complete strangers. After the jail tour Commissioner Kell drove us all around town showing us interesting homes and businesses and sharing their history. Before moving on to some other towns and churches we had a great barbecue lunch with the Kells. As much as we enjoyed the photography, we enjoyed the people we met even more.
I broke one of my own Photography Rules
One of my rules is "When you see an interesting subject that would be a good picture, TAKE THE PICTURE NOW". Because you may not be able to get that shot later. I didn't shoot the whole courthouse, because I didn't like some of the construction scaffolding. I shot details with the intention of returning after the repairs were completed. But you just never know....
A Sad Phone Call
On the night of August 11, 2014 I got a call from Teresa Kell. I could hear her sadness as she told me that the courthouse had been totally destroyed by a fire the day after our visit. The outer walls of heavy masonry survived, but the clock tower and all of the interior walls and floors were totally destroyed. You can see the damage here.
The Power of Photography
In the next few weeks Julie and I were able to supply pictures that were used in displays showcasing the courthouse, "Her Majesty". I received several calls and literally hundreds of web visits as word spread that we were the last to photograph the courthouse before the fire. Some of our pictures were used to help show details for the rebuilding of the courthouse, but that's Part 2.