BERRIEN COUNTY HISTORY
Berrien County is a community rich in history. Named after John Macpherson Berrien, a Savannah lawyer who later served as United States Attorney General under President Andrew Jackson, Berrien County was incorporated in 1856 as Georgia’s 116th county. It was formed out of portions of Coffee, Irwin, and Lowndes Counties by an act of the Georgia General Assembly. Berrien County has one of the state’s oldest post roads, the Coffee Road. It was opened in 1823 to channel settlers’ crops to Florida. Berrien County is also home to the very first Spirit of the American Doughboy sculpture, honoring WWI soldiers from Berrien County who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
The county seat of Berrien County is Nashville, which was incorporated in 1892 and serves as the business center of the county. Nashville, known as the “City of Dogwoods,” was named for General Francis Nash of North Carolina, a distinguished soldier of the Revolutionary War. Other incorporated towns in the County are Alapaha, Enigma, and Ray City.
The Town of Alapaha was incorporated in 1881 on the site of a Seminole village with the same name. Its name is believed to be the word Timucuan Indians used for “bear house.”
The Town of Enigma was incorporated in 1906 and the official history of the towns name is an “enigma.” Georgia writer Harry Crews used Enigma as the setting for his first novel, The Gospel Singer.
Ray City was incorporated in 1909 as Ray’s Mill. The settlement dates back to 1863 when locals knew it as Rays Pond. The current name was adopted in 1915 after the town was moved to the railroad junction.
A short drive around Berrien County will take you back in time. From the vast amounts of fields and woods, to the old barns and homes still scattering the countryside, Berrien County is rich in history. While many were built near the turn of the century, four buildings and one sculpture in Berrien County are on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Old Berrien County Courthouse (1898)
The Historic Berrien County Courthouse was built at a cost of $17,000 and was completed in 1898. It replaced the two-story wood structure that had served as the county’s courthouse from 1858 until around 1897. The wooden structure was purchased by Dr. William Bryan Goodman, who moved it to the northeast side of the square and converted it into the Hansell Hotel. Built from iron support beams, steel ceiling, metal doors and window frames, and cement floors both upstairs and downstairs, the building was virtually fireproof. According to local historians, the bricks used on the outside of the courthouse were shipped by rail from Macon to Alapaha, and many or all of the inside bricks were made locally by Reddick McKinnon, from Berrien County clay. An annex was added to the west side of the courthouse in 1938, through the Works Projects Administration (WPA), and in 1981, a complete renovation of the inside was made, preserving the original interiors and colors as much as possible.
The Old Berrien County Jail (1903)
The Berrien County Jail was built from 1901-1903. It was restored in 1976 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Gallows, located in the corner directly below the cupola, was only used two times before capital punishment ceased to be administered by the individual counties. Prisoners were housed upstairs mostly, while the Sheriff and his family lived in the downstairs portion. A small wooden shed was attached to the back of the brick structure to provide sleeping accommodations for the family. The jail was used until 1965, when a new jail was built, and the building was abandoned. After the restoration in 1976, the jail was used for offices of the Chamber of Commerce, and more recently by the Public Defenders’ Office. Tours may be available by contacting the Berrien Historical Foundation at the Old Courthouse on the Square.
The Harrison/Taylor Home (1904)
The William G. Harrison Home, also known as the Eulalie Taylor House is located at 313 S. Bartow Street in Nashville. The home was built in 1904 by William G. Harrison, a prominent local attorney and business man who owned the property from 1904 until his death in 1923. The house is a one-story frame Queen Anne cottage with Folk Victorian detailing, a style widespread in Georgia from the 1870s to the 1910s in both urban and rural areas.
The Spirit of the American Doughboy Statue (1921)
The Spirit of the American Doughboy memorial was, as description reads, “ERECTED IN HONOR OF THOSE WHO WENT FROM BERRIEN COUNTY TO SERVE OUR COUNTRY IN THE WORLD WAR 1917-1919—LEST WE FORGET.” The left side of the engraving is an Honor Roll of Otranto Victims, the 25 men from Berrien County lost when the Otranto ship sank off the coast of Scotland in October 1918. The right side of the memorial is an Honor Roll of 25 names of those lost due to other causes.
This memorial is the first Viquesney Doughboy manufactured. It was ordered in August of 1920 and was placed in the middle of Marion Avenue in late July or early August of 1921. It was unveiled in late 1923 and was moved to its current location in 1939.
The Alapaha Colored School (1924)
The Alapaha Colored School, built in 1924, was the only school for African-American children in Alapaha and the northern part of Berrien County from 1924-1954. In 1945, an addition was added to the rear of the building. The school closed in 1954 when Berrien County consolidated the African-American community schools into one school, Nashville High and Elementary School. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on July 11, 2002. It is one of the last surviving two-story wood-frame African-American school buildings in Georgia.
Information provided by the National Register of Historic Places.