Update from Hancock County

during firefence line blocked street

As we reported last week, the fire continued to burn for another week due to a deposit of coal in the basement of the courthouse. Hancock County officials, architects, and disaster recovery experts completed initial damage assessments last week.

  • The modern steel elevator doors and other hollow steel doors melted completely away, indicating that the fire temperature exceeded 1000 degrees.
  • The debris will be treated as contaminated and abatement has begun.
  • Abatement professionals will try to salvage historic architectural features and clock parts.
  • Document recovery experts estimate 279 cu. ft. of records may be saved.
  • Recent messages from the architect said the salvaged fireproof safes and cabinets contained piles of ash when opened, though they were found tightly closed.
  • Plans have been drawn for stabilization of the structure and work has begun and should be completed by Friday.
  • Discussions have begun with architects on the new floor plans of the courthouse. Most of the structure will be restored to its original configuration. The Courtroom level will be redesigned meet the modern needs of today’s Judicial System requirements.


We will continue to monitor the situation.  At this time, there is no need for HERA volunteers.

Christine Wiseman and Tina Seetoo

HERA Co-Chairs

Update on Hancock Courthouse Fire, 8/14/2014

From HERA Co-Chair Christine Wiseman–

Good Afternoon:

Kim Norman of the Georgia Archives spoke to Sistie Hudson (Hancock County Commission Chair) today and learned that the reason the fire has not been extinguished is because coal stored inthe basement from an old furnace continues to burn. The coal will continue to burn with or without water dousing the site.  Moreover, burning coal can produce toxic fumes.  The state Fire Marshal has erected the fence line and closed the road until the walls of the structure are braced. The building cannot be structurally secured until the fire is out. So, it could be days or another week.

Chairman Hudson also reported that the state fire marshal has said the cause is yet undetermined. ATF officials visited the site without comment and will be submitting their findings. There is one vault at the courthouse with two opposing entries; both vault doors were open at the time of the fire. The fire marshal also said that three levels in the courthouse have pancaked down, creating debris layers and making it impossible to see what might remain.

Unfortunately, this does not bode well for the potential salvage of records.   Nevertheless, Chairman Hudson was very grateful to hear from Kim and formally requested assistance from the Georgia Archives to conduct an assessment once the building has been cleared for entry.

I will send a separate message to the potential volunteers with a list of supplies to gather, just in case they are needed.

Will post further updates as received.

Christine Wiseman, HERA Co-Chair

Hancock County Courthouse Fire

Hancock County Courthouse c. 2012

We regret to report a fire has destroyed the interior of the historic 1881 Hancock County Court House in Sparta, GA. The brick exterior remains standing, but GA DOT has given them 10 days to stabilize the walls as it is on a State highway. Historical and current records were stored in two vaults in the lower level the building. The site has not been deemed safe, so no one has been able to gain access.

At this point, no recovery assistance has been sought by Hancock County officials. However, we are requesting that anyone willing to help on a potential recovery team contact Christine Wiseman, cwiseman at auctr(dot)edu.

More information from Kim Norman at the Georgia Archives: