The Georgia Constitution of Feb. 5, 1777 created Liberty County from the parishes of St. John, St. Andrew and St. James, which had been set up in 1758. McIntosh County was part of Liberty County until 1793 and Long County until 1920.
The county seat was moved from Riceboro to Hinesville in 1837. The Liberty County Courthouse was also built in 1837. It was a two-story wooden building that had a courtroom on the first floor and the county offices on the second floor. Access was by outside stairs on either end of the building. Fireplaces kept the courtroom and the offices warm during the winter and nothing kept them cool in the summer.
There were no electric lights in the building until the last two years of its existence. Drinking water for county employees came from the spring about a block from the courthouse and later from an open well on the courthouse grounds. Outdoor toilets for those who worked in the courthouse and the public were in a wooded area just off courthouse square.
B.A. Way, a Hinesville attorney and farmer, lived just off the courthouse square and kept a small herd of goats that freely roamed about town. Each night, they slept in the courtroom. Sam Hargrove, the courthouse janitor, at least twice a year and on special occasions would shovel out the goat droppings and get the place ready for superior court, civic or social functions.
The courthouse became unsafe as it aged and by 1910 county officials were aware that a new courthouse was needed. The Georgia General Assembly on Aug. 18, 1911 authorized the commissioners to build a new courthouse. On March 3, 1913, the commission voted for a $100,000 bond issue to build a new courthouse, roads and bridges.
Eight months later, the commissioners ordered an election be held the following month to let Liberty County voters decide whether to approve the bond issue. However, the referendum was never held, neither were the next two set by the commissioners for the same purpose. Why?
Well, it seemed the residents of the western part of the county wanted the county seat moved to Ludowici. So they all pulled together with great determination and spirit and blocked the resolutions. After all, their part of the county was much bigger than Hinesville. They had more people and a larger variety of stores to meet their shopping needs.
The Rimes Brothers Department Store in Ludowici was advertised as “the biggest store between Waycross and Savannah” because it sold food, clothing and caskets. The store’s slogan was “We feed you, clothe you and bury you.” There were only three banks in Liberty County and two of them were in Ludowici. They were The Citizens Bank of Liberty County and Liberty Banking Company.
The citizens in the western part eventually convinced state officials to separate them from Liberty County and let them create their own county. On Nov. 2, 1920, Long County was created from 403.5 square miles of Liberty County land. It was named after Dr. Crawford W. Long who in 1842 pioneered use of anesthesia during surgery. In 1926, Long County citizens were proud of their new courthouse built in Ludowici. Long County took 30 percent of Liberty County’s population.
Ludowici had been called Johnstons Station until 1905. A German businessman named William Ludowici came to town and set up a red roofing tile factory that employed many people. This red tile was used extensively by roofers in Florida. Some of the homes in Ludowici today still have the red roof tiles. A good example of the tile is on the Ludowici Well Pavilion, built in 1907, which provided public drinking water for many years. The businessman promised a large sum of money to build a new high school for the county if they would name the city after him. They agreed and the new, beautiful school building was built. I wish that school had been preserved. To me, it was a fantastic- looking building. It was built in 1905 and already gone by 1953, but I do not know the exact year it was demolished.
So Ludowici residents were satisfied. Liberty County set up another bond referendum for April 20, 1920. But that was during the two-county transition and a lot of confusion and indecision resulted. This referendum was never held! Finally, in 1924, the referendum was held and the voters tuned the bond issue down. Frustrated, the commissioners decided to build a new courthouse whether the taxpayers liked it or not. Eventually, the bonds were issued for this purpose and approved by the voters.
Before the new courthouse was built, the county employees noticed the basement of the old building was always wet. An investigation revealed that the crumbling walls and floor were in the last stages of deterioration. The condition was caused by seepage over the years from underground springs. Hinesville was built on a network of such springs. Many barrels of records were damaged so badly they were hauled out and burned on the courthouse square.
The old wooden courthouse, built in 1837, was razed and a cornerstone for a new brick courthouse was laid in 1926. County records, offices and Superior Court were housed in the National Guard Armory while the construction was going on. The new courthouse was completed in 1927, a year after the one in Long County.
Because Liberty and Long counties were once one, there are many parts of history that overlap. When researching history, one has to look in both counties to get the information needed.