Dawson County Courthouse and Jail
Originally settled by the Cherokee Indians at about the time of the American Revolution, Dawsonville, an historic North Georgia mountain community, is home to an historic downtown square with an old jail, prison cell, and former living quarters of the county sheriff, in addition to the oldest working courthouse in the state!
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, both the Dawson County Jail and Courthouse were among the first structures built in Dawsonville’s downtown square, and both buildings have undergone extensive renovations to restore their original appearances.
With its High Country trails, rolling hills, pastoral valleys, long-range mountain views, and clear trout streams all within minutes of an historic downtown square dotted with old storefronts and wood frame residences, the rural countryside of Dawsonville is a great destination for a short visit or a full day driving tour.
Dawson County’s Historic Courthouse, housing 5 offices and a courtroom, is a reminder of a bygone era of Appalachian culture and tradition, gold mining, moonshine running, backwoods racing and motorsports glory that all define the history of Dawsonville. The current courthouse structure in the downtown square opened in 1980, replacing the original structure that was built in 1858.
Originally, in May of 1858, plans were underway to contract Wesley McGuire and John Hockenhull, and Anderson Wilson to build a 50 ft. by 30 ft. wooden structure with four gables, windowsills, and steps. Then in August of 1858, by orders of a grand jury, the plans were changed to enlarge the building to 54 ft. by 38 ft. with two gables constructed with brick, granite, soapstone, and marble.
The Old Jail, originally built in 1859—but destroyed by fire soon after a failed escape—is located off Dawsonville’s historic Downtown Square—across the road from the courthouse.
Following the fire of the original structure, the county was without a jail until 1881, when the current historic structure was completed. In the interim, when the county did not have a jail, prisoners had to be taken to jails in adjacent counties.
No longer used as a jail, the 1881 historic red brick building now houses Dawsonville’s Welcome Center and Chamber of Commerce. Visitors are welcome to tour the jail cells and local memorabilia displays located on the second floor.
Dawson County History . . .
The historic mountain community of Dawsonville—county seat of Dawson County—was incorporated on December 10, 1859 and named for William C. Dawson, a commander of a brigade in the Creek Indian War of 1836, who served in both houses of the state legislature and in congress before the Civil War.
And although Dawson County—Georgia’s 119th county—was created nearly twenty years after the Trail of Tears, the northwestern portion of the county was still home to many Cherokees when the county was created and numerous gold prospectors and settlers occupied the area through Georgia land lotteries.
Though Dawson County remained an agricultural community for most of its early existence, due to its lack of major highways and railroads, it became a significant producer and source of “moonshine” during the prohibition era. Bootleggers evaded being caught by the police for their illicit operations by modifying their cars for high speeds and better handling—a trend that continued after the prohibition, when still owners and distributors began evading state revenue agents, high-speed pursuits which lead to the birth of modern stock car racing and NASCAR.
Today, NASCAR’s 16-time winner of the Most Popular Driver Award, “Awesome Bill from Dawsonville” Bill Elliot—who has won 44 NASCAR races, two Dayton 500’s and the 1988 NASCAR Winston Cup championship—is a resident of Dawsonville.
It was in 1957, with the rerouting of the Appalachian Trail and the creation of Lake Lanier at the southern end of Dawson County, that increasing numbers of hikers and recreational visitors began to visit the area.
Then, with the construction of the Georgia 400 highway in the 1980’s Dawson County soon began to make its transition from a rugged mountain and agrarian community to one of Georgia’s fastest growing communities.
Local restaurants and shops with local crafts, art, and memorabilia are located throughout Dawsonville and the nearby countryside.
For more information on the Dawson County Courthouse, and The Old Jail, phone the Dawson County Convention Center and Visitors Bureau, phone 706.265.6278. Or visit http://www.dawson.org/
Directions: GA Hwy. 400 North to GA Hwy 53 west From GA 400 south take a left on Hwy 53 heading west. Go 7 miles
Hours: Mon. – Fri. 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Address: 54 GA Hwy. 53
Dawsonville, GA 30534