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Couple sitting on bench in front of Suwannee County Courthouse

Suwannee County Courthouse

On November 3, 1903, the Board of County Commissioners ordered that a new Courthouse be built to replace the one constructed thirty years before, “which has outlived its usefulness,” according to the minutes of the meeting. The Board accepted the Courthouse architectural plans prepared by Benjamin B. Smith of Montgomery, Alabama for the new building. Smith, a noted architect of the time, would also superintend the building of the new Courthouse and receive a compensation of 5% of the total cost. On December 10, 1903, the Board of County Commissioners awarded the Courthouse construction bid to R. Hugger and Brother (also of Montgomery, Alabama) for $41,300 (over $1.04 million today). At the December 17th meeting, the Board decided that the site of the new Courthouse would be on the same Courthouse lot as their current wooden Courthouse (the Parshley lot). The old wooden Courthouse would be given to the estate of John F. White upon condition that they move it and allow the County to use the building until the new Courthouse was completed; it was moved a few hundred feet to the corner of Pine Avenue and Wilbur Street. The Courthouse Vault was given to Conner Bryson, under the condition that he erect a new brick building on his own lot for use by the Clerk of the Circuit Court until the new Courthouse was completed. The “Closet” was given to the City Marshal to be erected on a site that he chose. The County Commissioners ordered that all Masonic lodges in the County be invited to be present and take charge of the ceremony to lay the cornerstone for the new brick Courthouse on February 29, 1904. After a rather smooth construction, the Board of County Commissioners accepted the new Courthouse from Hugger and Brother Construction Company on August 1, 1904. A $350 contract for electrical wiring in the new Courthouse was awarded to J. C. Lyle the next day to complete the building.

The new Suwannee County Courthouse was an architectural gem to the area. As the tallest building in Live Oak, its clock tower must have been seen and heard from any point within the city limits of the time. The fancy brick courthouse was a welcome change from the rather mundane wooden buildings that had been in use for not only the Suwannee County Courthouse, but also the courthouses of the surrounding counties as well. As Live Oak was at this time one of the largest cities in the State of Florida, it only made sense to build a courthouse rivaling other large cities in the South.

There were minor repairs and renovations to the 1904 brick Courthouse over the ensuing sixty years, but eventually there was a need for a major modernization and addition. For a time, there was actually talk of tearing down the brick Courthouse and replacing it with a more modern structure as was done with many other buildings in Suwannee County during that period; fortunately, cooler heads prevailed. In May of 1963, the Board asked Harry Burns and Associates to prepare plans and specifications for renovations and additions to the Courthouse. On July 2, 1963, the Board of County Commissioners proposed to discuss the additions and alterations to the existing Courthouse at the next meeting. On August 6, they adopted a resolution determining the necessity of making these additions and alterations, and it was again affirmed on August 17. In the meantime, the Commissioners were requesting State and Federal assistance to perform the renovations and additions.

On April 16, 1964, the contract for repairs and rebuilding (aka additions and alterations) to the Courthouse was awarded to R. B. Gay Construction Company, Inc. of Jacksonville. On June 20, the Board decided that the renovations and addition required the removal of all County offices from the Courthouse to the Ratliff Motor Company building on East Howard Street until everything was complete, and a contract was signed to that effect. Court would be held in City Hall on North Ohio Avenue until renovations were complete. In September of 1964, Hurricane Dora came through Live Oak and flooded much of the downtown area. Construction resumed after the waters subsided, presumably without much damage to the incomplete addition. By April 6, 1965, the Board was asking for revised insurance amounts for the Courthouse. On May 4, R. B. Gay Construction Company submitted photos showing the Courthouse renovations and construction to be 100% complete. The County Commissioners accepted the work and moved their offices into the much larger Suwannee County Courthouse.

Since then, the Suwannee County Courthouse has been renovated several times, most recently in 2000 when many major changes were made to the 1904 portion of the complex. Thus renovated, the Courthouse continues to serve Suwannee County as one of the oldest courthouses in Florida still used as such. The Courthouse also draws visitors to the downtown area of Live Oak and is a building of which the citizens of the County can be proud.

Suwannee County Courthouse

Eric Musgrove, Author

About the Author

Eric Musgrove is a seventh-generation native of Suwannee County, Florida. Growing up on the family’s country homestead, he quickly developed a love for history that has remained strong throughout his life.

The 1996 salutatorian of Suwannee High School, Eric was also a December 1997 valedictorian of Montgomery, Alabama’s Faulkner University, where he received a Bachelor of Science degree in history at the age of nineteen. Returning home to Suwannee County in 1998, Eric began working for the Suwannee County Clerk of the Court. He remains there today as historian and records manager, among many other duties.

Eric has been the youngest member of the Suwannee County Historical Commission since he was appointed to it in 2003. He was treasurer from 2008 to 2014 and since October 2014 has served as its chairman. Eric is a frequent presenter of local history and has been mentioned in the New York Times, Washington Post and Chicago Tribune, among hundreds of other prominent national and international newspapers. In early 2012, Eric was awarded the 2011 Trailblazer Award by the Suwannee County Chamber of Commerce in recognition of his work in preserving and presenting local history. Since 2013, he has also published a weekly historical column for one of Suwannee County’s local newspapers, the Suwannee Democrat.

Eric married his college sweetheart, Sarah, in 1998, and they live near Live Oak on part of the old family homestead with their two children, Alex and Abby. Eric has authored five published books: Reflections of Suwannee County, Suwannee Memories, There Let Me Live and Die, Images of America: Suwannee County, and Lost Suwannee County.

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