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Current courthouse is county’s 5th

Editor’s note: A Tues., Dec. 19, ceremony, set for 10 a.m., marks the 100th anniversary of the courthouse. Local author Wiley Ward shared this history.

Covington County, Ala., has had five courthouses throughout its history. The first courthouse was located in the village of Montezuma, and the other four were located in the present city of Andalusia, Ala. The first three courthouses were destroyed by fire, and the fourth was torn down after the fifth courthouse was constructed.

The First County Courthouse was constructed at the county seat in 1822, on the eastern banks of the Conecuh River, about one-half mile south of the Falls in the river. This courthouse was constructed of logs, but nothing more is known about its structure. This courthouse was located on an 80-acre tract of Federal land (Wl/2 of NW1/4, Sll, T3, R15), which was granted to the widow Sarah Frances Chottard on Nov. 23, 1823, two weeks before the first public auction for land in Covington County, Ala. The county was never able to purchase this land, and the courthouse, with all the county records, was destroyed by fire in the Spring of 1839.

A new 40-acre county site was purchased and selected by the state legislature as the county site on Jan. 15, 1844, and it was given the name of Andalusia. This new county site (SEl/4 of SEl/4, S18, T4, R16) was located on the top of a hill on the Three Notch Federal Road, near the center of the county.

About 16 acres in the southeast corner of the county site, 40-acre tract, was surveyed and divided into 26 lots, plus a one-acre lot on the top of the hill for the county courthouse. These lots had well defined streets on all sides within the 40-acre tract. The surveying of these lots, the construction of a new courthouse, the sale of all 26 lots, and a new Post Office with the name of Andalusia were completed by 1845.

The remaining 24 acres in the courthouse forty was divided into 26 additional lots, and these lots were given numbers, but not surveyed and no street were reserved, therefore the dimensions of these lots were always questionable. One of these lots (Lot 5NW) was either given or sold to the Andalusia Baptist Church around 1852, and a church house and cemetery were located on this lot before 1855. The other 25 lots were all sold to individuals before 1862.

The Second County Courthouse was located at the new county site in the center of the one acre courthouse lot in the town of Andalusia, and it was a framed (lumber), two story, square, structure, measuring about 40 feet on each side, with four large rooms on each floor, with windows, internal stairs, and wide hallways. It had a bungalow type roof, probably made with split pine shingles.

This courthouse was totally destroyed by fire with all its contents, on the night of Jan. 13, 1878, and all evidence indicated that the fire was deliberately set. However, no one was ever charged with arson.

The Third County Courthouse house was constructed in 1881 in the center of the one-acre courthouse lot, in the town of Andalusia, and it was very similar in structure to the second courthouse, except that it included four limestone rock chimneys, probably with fireplaces in each of its eight rooms.

Around 2:30 o’clock on Thursday morning, Aug. 22,1895, a fire was set in the office of Circuit Court Clerk, William J. Mosely, in the county courthouse. But the fire was discovered and extinguished without causing much damage. Mosely, who was a member of the Populist Party, was quickly charged by the Democrats with setting this fire, and soon thereafter he left town to get treatment for a terminal cancer at Pensacola, Fla.

On Wednesday night, Oct. 2, 1895, while Mosley was in Florida, the county courthouse was burnt to the ground, destroying most of its contents, except all but one of the land deed books, which were in a fire proof safe. This fire was investigated by the County Grand Jury which convened on Nov. 11, 1895, but no one was charged for setting the fire. This fire was further investigated by the 1896 Grand Jury which convened on June 5,1896, but again no one was charged for setting the fire.

The Covington County Commission quickly moved to erect the Fourth County Courthouse in Andalusia immediately after the third courthouse was destroyed by fire on Oct. 2,1895. At a meeting on Oct. 18,1895, the commission decided to build a larger, two-story, brick courthouse. Requirements were developed for the new courthouse and bidders for its construction were invited.

An article in the Covington Times on Dec. 13, 1895, stated that “Green and Williams of Atlanta got the contract for the building of the brick, two story courthouse for $11,750, the building is to be completed by next October.”

An article in the Covington Times on Dec. 6,1895, stated that “Messrs Davis and Moore tore down and removed the old rock chimneys, the last remained of the court house, this week.” Another article in the Covington Times on Jan. 17, 1896, stated that, “We understand that the contractors for the brick courthouse will be here tonight, preparatory to commencing work.”

The work on the new courthouse progressed smoothly for the next nine months, and an article in the Covington Times on Oct. 9, 1896, states that, “Next Wednesday (Oct. 14,1896) is the day set apart for the laying of the corner stone of the new court house.” Another article in the Covington Times on Oct. 23, 1896, states that, “Work on the court house has commenced again, having been stopped for a few days on account of scarcity of materials. It will probably be completed by the 1st of January.”

The following article was published in the Covington Times on Nov. 13, 1896. It stated that, “After our court house gets finished, a person entering town, before he gets on the streets would think he was entering a modem Rome, or some other large city. But when he gets in to the heart of town and looks at the conditions of the streets, views the stores and dwellings, he quickly changes his opinion and decides that Andalusia is only a small town with brilliant prospects for a future…”

Around 1897 the L&N Railroad Company decided that it would extend it tracks from Georgiana in Butler County, across the timber lands in south Alabama to northwest Florida. On Aug. 23, 1898, the L&N Railroad Company incorporated a totally owned subsidiary company and named it for the former Alabama and Florida Railroad Company. William Nichol, the principal owner of the L&N Railroad, named his grandson, Elijah L. More, as president of the newly incorporated railroad. This railroad was completed to the town of Andalusia in 1899 and by that time, the Central of Georgia Railroad had extended its tracks to the town of Andalusia. Thus the Town of Andalusia became a boom town, and this prosperity continued for the next 20 years.

With all its money, the Covington County Commission decided in 1914 that it would build a more elaborate courthouse, on the north side of the courthouse square, on privately owned lots (Lots 5NE and 1NW) plus the dividing 55-foot wide street (Pigeon Creek) between these two lots. These lots were 76 feet wide east and west and 150 long, north and south. At that time Dr. Louis E. and Mary Belle (Henderson) Broughton owned the west 46 feet of lot 5NE, and the heirs of Malachi Riley owned the east 50 feet of Lot 1NW. On Nov. 7, 1914, Louis E. and Mary B. Broughton sold their lot to Covington County for $6,500 (DB 39-464), and on Nov. 17, 1914, the heirs of Malachi Riley sold their lot to Covington County for $11,000 (DB 39-466). Thus Covington County now owned a large lot on the north side of the public square measuring 150 feet north and south and 151 feet east and west.

All of the above lots had buildings on them when they were sold to the county, and all of these buildings had to be torn down before a new courthouse could be constructed. These buildings were apparently torn down in 1915 and the Fifth County Courthouse was constructed in 1916 and 1917.

On the west side of the new courthouse lot was a 25-foot wide parking lot owned by the Andalusia Baptist Church, and on east side was a 30-foot wide lot owned by the Masonic Lodge. But soon after the courthouse building was completed, the Masonic Lodge was reportedly destroyed by fire, and on March 11, 1918, they sold their lot to Covington County for $5,000 (DB 51-61). With this purchase the county owned a single lot measuring 181 feet, east and west, and 150 feet, north and south, with a 25-foot wide parking lot, owned by the Andalusia Baptist Church, on its west side.

The exact date when the Fourth County Courthouse was torn down is unknown, but it was sometime in l918 or l919, and this one-acre lot was made into a park similar to what it is today (2017).

 

Wyley Ward is a Covington County native who has researched and authored a number of books on the county’s history.