Walker County Courthouse
WALKER COUNTY COURTHOUSE
  A mostly forgotten story of embattled judges, sheriffs, and the county commissioners who went to jail for the cause.
Few county records survive prior to February 1883, when the courthouse at Lafayette was burned in at the hands of an unknown arsonist.
 
Another courthouse was quickly constructed. Over time, it was outgrown. A newspaper account from 1912 notes Judge Maddox’s remarks in an overcrowded courtroom stating that ‘Walker County needed a new court house – badly’.
 
The timeline of events:

March 26, 1915

Among many other improvements to roads and other infrastructure, the Grand Jury of Walker County recommends a new court house. Judge Moses Wright presiding.

April 9, 1915

On recommendation from the county grand jury meeting, the Walker County Board of Commissioners decides to erect the new courthouse. Voters of Walker County later approve the bond to fund it.

Walker County Commissioiners

The Commissioners

Beginning in 1883 the county was run by a five-member commission serving two-year terms. In 1916 the terms were expanded to four-years. In 1940 the form of government changed to sole commissioner.

Formally known as the The Roads and Revenue Commission, they sought to build a new courthouse at Lafayette, and levy a tax to pay for it.

1915-1916 term: J.C. Young, John .M. Ransom, J. D. McConnell, A. J. Wheeler and my great grandfather, S.P. Hall.

Those who opposed a new courthouse

Why was the new courthouse opposed? One newspaper article explained that the majority of opposition was from the north end of the county – and desired that the county seat would be moved to Chickamauga, or at least closer to Rossville & Chattanooga.

Don C. Harris, representative from Chickamauga, GA, and others who opposed the new courthouse brought a petition against the commissioners and multiple businesses involved with the new courthouse bid.

Judge Moses Wright of the Rome Circuit, had jurisdiction over Walker County, but the opposition knew they’d be unlikely to find support of an injunction with Wright. But, they had a plan; hiring an attorney in Chattanooga on contingency fee – Robert Wright, who was Judge Wright’s brother, thus creating what they hoped would be reason to disqualify Judge Wright.

The opposition instead took their petition to Judge A. W. Fite of the adjoining Cherokee Circuit; asking him to take on the case. Judge Fite decided that Wright was disqualified due to the Judge's brother ‘being a party to the case’ and assumed jurisdiction of the petition, granting a temporary restraining order against the commissioners.

Judge A W Fite

Judge Augustus Warren Fite (1852-1919)

Less than a year earlier, Judge A. W. Fite had imprisoned three Murray County commissioners and their attorney for nearly a month in the Murray County jail after issuing an order to stop the commissioners from erecting the new courthouse at Chatsworth. The State Supreme Court overturned Fite’s ruling twice – and the imprisoned parties were released.

"Of course, I am somewhat surprised at the decision of the Supreme Court, but it is not the first time that I have been reversed when I was right.”

SOURCE: Murray County Museum

Judge Moses Wright

Judge Moses Rochester Wright (1866-1925)

  • Served as Walker County Clerk of the Superior Court for 48 years.
  • Eighteen years - judge of the Superior Courts of the Rome Judicial Circuit.
  • Known as a great orator and spoke at many public events.
  • Married Elizabeth Berry, sister of Martha Berry - founder of Berry College.

"Beware of entrance to a quarrel; but, being in,
So bear it that the opposer may beware of thee."
1916  

APRIL 14, 1916

Board of Commissioners issues request for bids on new courthouse.

In the same newspaper , following that request, A notice from Judge Fite stating he has taken jurisdiction in the case from Judge Moses Wright of Rome, Ga. and demands no actions be taken towards the building of the courthouse.

May 26, 1916

Judge Fite issues a contempt of court rule against The County Board of Commissioners of Roads and Revenues and E. P. Hall, Jr. , publisher of the Walker County Messenger(and a distant cousin of mine). The actions in question were the publishing of request for bids on the ‘work contemplated by the board’.

Judge Wright intervenes and reasserts his rightful jurisdiction immediately with a blanket injunction against plaintiffs who oppose the courthouse. He also prohibits any Georgia county sheriffs or deputies from acting on orders of Judge Fite.

June 6, 1916

Commissioners award the construction contract to Little-Cleckler Construction Co. of Anniston AL – work to begin ‘at once’.

A large number of citizens gathered for the opening of the bid award. Also in attendance was Sheriff Ward of Catoosa County, having received an order from Judge Fite to arrest O. M. Clemmons, clerk of the Superior court.

catoosa county sheriff

The Sheriff was presented with Judge Wright’s injunction orders. Ward asked Clemmons if he would voluntarily go with him to Ringgold. Clemmons declined. Sheriff Ward and other opposition contingents left town.

June 23, 1916

MOST SPECTACULAR PROCEEDINGS EVER KNOWN IN WALKER COUNTY

A series of incidents mark the clash between the courts, as to jurisdiction over Walker County’s new courthouse.

Commissioner J. D. McConnell was returning to Georgia after doing business in Chattanooga. He and 3 other associates arrived in Rossville around 3:30pm. A rope had been stretched across the ‘government road’. One member of a large crowd approached their car with a shotgun.

roadblock

Sheriff Ward and two deputies from Catoosa County, acting on orders from Judge Fite, had come to arrest those in contempt. McConnell refused to go voluntarily. Sheriff Ward said ‘well, we will have a showdown here and now’. He was dragged from the car and taken to Ringgold. J. S. Alsobrook and S. T. Carson assisted the Sheriff in the apprehension.

Around midnight – Sheriff Ward and deputies went to the home of S. P. Hall and John M. Ransom, two other commissioners – and by physical force arrested them. They were carried to Ringgold by car.

As you’ll recall – Judge Fite’s orders had been overruled by Judge Wright. Responding to the those actions, the next morning Sheriff R. S. Garmany (my 2nd great-uncle), went to Chickamauga and arrested S. T. Carson, and from there went to Rossville after J. S. Alsobrook. But upon arriving at Rossville. it was discovered that Alsobrook had traveled to the Tennessee side, where he could not arrest him.

June 30, 1916

A large crowd gathers in Ringgold, GA where Judge Fite tries the county commissioners McConnell, Hall, and Ransom with contempt of court. Judge Fite decides to let the commissioners give $1000 bonds each – and if they would revoke the courthouse contract, he would discharge them from the bonds. Fite stated if they didn’t make bond that day he would order them jailed in Catoosa County.

The commissioners refused to give bond.

Judge Fite shifted the responsibility to the Catoosa County Sheriff as he left the courtroom for a speaking engagement. The sheriff made no effort to take the men into custody and the commissioners returned to Lafayette.

Meanwhile – Judge Wright issued an order to Walker County Sheriff R. S. Garmany to provide ‘ample means for fully protecting members of the county board as well as the contractors working on the new courthouse.

Any one interfering with the court house construction work, Judge Wright announced, would be guilty of contempt of court, and punishment certainly would be imprisonment in the Walker county jail.

   

December 22, 1916

Georgia Supreme Court formally reverses Judge A. W. Fite restraining order on building the new court house.

1917  

April 2, 1917

Georgia Supreme Court settles the matter.

The court held that Judge Fite had no jurisdiction over the matter, it having previously held that Judge Wright was not disqualified, and his order adjudging the Walker County commissioners in contempt was vacated and set aside.

The court held that S. T. Carson was in contempt of Judge Wright’s order in helping Sheriff Ward of Catoosa County to make the arrests, and that the sheriff of Catoosa County had no right to serve such a paper in Walker County in any event.

1918  

April 23, 1918

New Courthouse is formally dedicated

The Board of Roads and Revenue formally accepted the new court house, making full settlement to the contractors.

The building, which cost $80,000, is 'the most magnificent edifice in the county', and as a courthouse has no equal in this section of the state.

Judge Moses Wright formally addresses the crowds gathered to celebrate.

Judge A. W. Fite did not attend.

The End

SOURCES:

  • Walker County Messenger, multiple dates, digitized for the Cherokee Regional Library System at the Georgia Historic Newspapers Archive LINK
  • Atlanta Constitution: 3/26/1916; 6/25,1916
  • The Lawyers Reports Annotated - 1917 Edition, Rich, Farnham, Parmele
  • Chattanooga Daily Times - 2/4/1883.

Three ancestors from this story...

I originally stumbled upon this story when researching family history/genealogy, as both sides of my family include early settlers of Walker County.

S. P. Hall

My great grandfather, Samuel Parks Hall Sr. operated a general store at Kensington from 1900-1957. As a county commissioner, his name appears on a marker at the courthouse entrance.

S P Hall

E. P. Hall

Edmund Pleasant Hall; a distant cousin and publisher of the Walker County Messenger beginning in 1915. The Hall family maintained ownership until 1977.

E P Hall

R. S. Garmany

Robert Sidney Garmany, my 2nd great uncle, was a brother-in-law to S. P. Hall, and was Sheriff of Walker County at the time of this incident.

R S Garmany

Walker County Georgia Commissioners

SOURCE: NorthwestGeorgiaNews.com

Walker County’s two-year commissions and their members were:


Years served Names
1883-1886 L.K. Dickey, J.B. Rogers, William McWilliams, J.F. Smith, and N.G. Warthen
1887-1888 William McWilliams, J.F. Smith, J.B. Rogers, B.I. Glenn, and A.J. Caldwell
1889-1890 J.F. Smith, J.B. Rogers, A.J. Caldwell, William McWilliams, and B.I. Glenn
1891-1892 J.T. Alsobrook C.A. Cameron, O.R. Henderson, T.N. Jones, and J.T. Suttle
1893-1894 J.F. Smith, R.B. Neal, T.J. Alsobrook, J.F. Bonds, and Jasper Love
1895-1896 J.F. Bonds, T.J. Alsobrook, Jasper Love, R.B. Neal, and N.C. Napier
1897-1898 R.B. Neal, N.C. Napier, T.J. Alsobrook, C.W. Evitt, and Jasper Love
1899-1900 R.B. Neal, James Weaver, J.M. Ransom, R.B. Shaw, and Gordon Lee
1901-1902 R.B. Neal, B.F. Thurman, James Weaver, R.B. Shaw, and W.A. Horton
1903-1904 J.B. Hall, R.B. Shaw, J.C. Young, W.A. Horton, and James Weaver
1905-1906 J.H. Hammond, R.B. Shaw, J.C. Young, T.F. McFarland, and James Weaver
1907-1908 James Weaver, R.B. Shaw, J.C. Young, John B. Henderson, and T.J. Bandy
1909-1910 John B. Henderson, R.B. Shaw, J.C. Young, T.J. Bandy, and J.M. Ransom
1911-1912 John B. Henderson, R.B. Shaw, J.C. Young, J.V. Johnson, and J.M. Ransom
1913-1914 R.B. Shaw, J.M. Ransom, J.V. Johnson, J.D. McConnell, and J.C. Young
1915-1916 J.C. Young, J.M. Ransom, J.D. McConnell, A.J. Wheeler, (R.B. Shaw resigned), S.P. Hall.

Starting in 1917, commission members were elected to four-year terms. Those terms and commissioners were:


1917-1920 S.T. Carson, Claude Clements, R.V. Thurman, T.C. Coulter, (J.B. Henderson resigned), and James R. McFarland
1921-1924 Claude Clements, M.A. McConnell, S.P. Hall, W.S. Abercrombie, and J.R. McFarland
1925-1928 J.H. Kilgore, C.M. Thurman, Clark Tucker, L.P. Keith, and G.R. Morgan
1929-1932 L.P. Keith, F.M. Shaw, J.H. Kilgore, W.R. Morgan, and C.A. Chambers
1933-1936 W.A. Loach, W.P. Blackwell, J.M. Baker, W.L. Johnson, and J.H. Williams (elected in Democratic Primary March 5, 1932)
1937-1940 W.W. Garmany, Joe M. Baker, G.R. Morgan, R.D. Cubine, and W.P. Blackwell.

After Walker County residents voted to change the county form of government to sole commissioner in 1940, those commissioners and their terms were:


1940-1952 Fay Murphey, 3 terms
1953-1960 Roland Mosely, 2 terms
1961-1964 Albert Campbell, 1 term
1965-1972 Bill Quinn, 2 terms
1973-1996 Roy Parrish, 6 terms
1997-2000 Buddy Chapman, 1 term
2001-2016 Bebe Heiskell, 4 terms
2017-present Shannon Whitfield
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