Old Clarke County Jail
Backstory and Context
Col. Leon Henry Charbonnier designed the Old Clarke County Jail and Courthouse in 1875. Charbonnier, who founded the school of engineering at the University of Georgia, also designed other buildings in the Athens area, such as Moore College. Charbonnier was also a professor of civil engineering and professor of physics. He was a native Frenchman and had a background of military training.
Eaves, McGinty, & Company built the courthouse and jail in 1876. This building is architecturally significant as it is the only surviving element of the county government complex built during 1875-1876, which was at the end of the Reconstruction Era. It was uncommon in this period of Georgia history for an entire complex to be built from scratch at one time. However, when the county seat was moved to Athens from Watkinsville in 1871, there was a need for a courthouse, jail, and other structures.
The jail is a two-story rectangular brick building with the exterior finish stuccoed and scored to look like stone. The roof originally had tin covered eyebrow dormers, which are wavy dormers that protrude through a slope on the roof that contains a window. As the lower floor of the jail is flush with the ground, it has no exposed foundation. The jail has five chimneys that are all at different heights and angles. The interior consists of I-beam framework with bowed ribbed iron vaults and the floor is poured-concrete. Both of these choices make the interior less susceptible to fires. The walls and partitions in the upper floor of the jail have been removed, leaving it completely open. This was done to keep up the integrity of this aging building. The hanging trap door, however, remains intact.
After the construction of the current Clarke County Courthouse in 1913 and the jails closing in the 1950’s, the vacant property was divided and sold. The Courthouse and jailer’s house were demolished, but the old jail remained as a warehouse. The Clarke County Jail is listed on the National Register of Historic Places since May 29, 1980. It has also been designated as a Historic Landmark since January 8, 1991.
The only plaque at this location recognizes this building as The Phinizy Spalding Building, Old Clarke County Jail. Phinizy Spalding was among the first residents of Clarke County to restore a home, which sparked the historic preservation movement in the city of Athens in 1969. Spalding and his wife restored dozens of builds and he established the Historic Cobbham Foundation, which focused on restoration of the residential area in which he lived. The Athens Regional Medical Center acquired the land on which the Old Clarke County Jail resides in 1991 and donated the building and a portion of the area to the Historic Cobbham Foundation in 1995.
Kenyon, Jane. Department History. Department of Physics and Astronomy. . 2019. https://www.physast.uga.edu/department-history.
History. Cobbham Historic District. . 2019. http://www.historiccobbhamfoundation.org/history-2/.
Athens Historical Society Papers. Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library. ms2306. Athens History, Box 1. 2019.