Old Courthouse

Old Courthouse

When Hernando Desoto marched through what is now eastern Gordon County in 1540, he found a rich land teeming with life. Rangel, a chronicler of the Spanish expedition through the Southeast, said this land was “one of the best and most abundant provinces” that was found. “In the barbacoas (corncribs) and fields there was a great quantity of maize and beans”, said Elvas, another chronicler. It was a charming and fertile land, with good cultivated fields stretching along the rivers. Gordon County was then the heart of what was called the Coosa chiefdom, which controlled a territory stretching from Tennessee to Alabama and dominated the native politics of Northwest Georgia. Desoto’s expedition changed all that, however. A smallpox epidemic brought by the Europeans decimated the native population, wiping out approximately 90 percent of the inhabitants. The survivors migrated southwest to escape the plague and became the tribe known today as the Creek Indians, abandoning Northwest Georgia to the Cherokee Indians.

The Cherokee Indians originally occupied all lands that would become Gordon County. The Gordon County area was home to New Echota, capital of the Cherokee Nation from 1825 to 1835. New Echota was the birthplace of the written Cherokee language and newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix. Even while Cherokees remained on their homeland, the Georgia General Assembly enacted legislation in December 1830 that provided for surveying the Cherokee Nation and dividing it into sections, districts, and land lots. Subsequently, the Georgia legislature identified this entire area as ”Cherokee County” (even though it never functioned as a county). An act of the General Assembly on December 3, 1832 divided the Cherokee lands into ten new counties – Cass (later renamed Bartow), Cherokee, Cobb, Floyd, Forsyth, Gilmer, Lumpkin, Murray, Paulding, and Union. Cherokee lands were distributed to whites in a land lottery, but the Georgia legislature temporarily prohibited whites from taking possession of lots on which Cherokees still lived.

It was not until December 29, 1835 that Georgia had an official basis for claiming the unceded Cherokee lands that included the future location of Gordon County. In the Treaty of New Echota, a faction of the Cherokees agreed to give up all Cherokee claims to land in Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, and North Carolina and move west in return for $5,000,000. Though a majority of Cherokees opposed the treaty and refused to leave, the United States and Georgia governments considered it binding. In 1838, U.S. Army troops rounded up the last of the 15,000 Cherokees in Georgia and forced them to march west in what came to be known as the infamous “Trail of Tears.”

Gordon County was created on February 13, 1850 by an act of the Georgia General Assembly. Gordon County was formed from portions of Cass County (later renamed Bartow County) and Floyd County. Gordon County’s original 1850 boundaries were changed numerous times between 1852 and 1877 during which time the Georgia legislature transferred portions of Cass (later Bartow), Floyd, Murray, Pickens, and Walker counties to Gordon County while transferring land from Gordon to Floyd and Murray counties.

Georgia’s 94th county as well as the City of Gordon located in Wilkinson County, Georgia were named for William Washington Gordon (1796-1842), the first Georgian to graduate from West Point Military Academy, the founder and president of Georgia’s first railroad, the Central Railroad and Banking Company, later known as the Central of Georgia Railroad, and grandfather to Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Lowe. A monument that commemorates William Washington Gordon is located on Wright Square in Savannah. The monument was designed by architects Henry Van Brunt and Frank M. Howe and was completed in 1883.

The act creating Gordon County provided that an election of county officers would be held on the first Monday in February 1851, after which the new justices of the inferior court would be authorized to select a site for the county seat, purchase land, and contract for construction of county buildings. In the late 1840s a settlement, known as Dawsonville (named for the owner of an early general store), developed along the Western & Atlantic Railroad that was located in the area that would become Gordon County. Dawsonville was renamed Calhoun following the death of U.S. Senator John C. Calhoun in 1850. Rather than designate the location of the county seat, Gordon County’s inferior court called an election to allow the voters to choose between Calhoun as the county seat or a site more centrally located in the county. Voters chose Calhoun so the inferior court designated Calhoun as the county seat in 1851. The Georgia General Assembly incorporated Calhoun as a city on January 12, 1852.

Gordon County constructed its first courthouse in 1852. The two story brick courthouse was destroyed by a severe storm in 1888. A new two story brick courthouse with a clock tower was built in 1889 and it lasted until it was torn down in 1961. The present courthouse was built in 1961.