One of Georgia's most historic courthouses burned to the ground early Monday morning.
A nearby resident called 911 to report the Hancock County Courthouse, located in Sparta, was on fire around 3 a.m. When the all-volunteer fire department arrived, the structure was fully engulfed.
"It was a big blaze up there, and then the clock tower fell down!" exclaimed Telisa Brown, who lives across the street.
The courthouse, built in 1881, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
"It was the prettiest one (courthouse) in the state," said Sistie Hudson, choking back tears. Hudson serves as chair of the Hancock County Board of Commissioners.
She said the county had finally scraped together $150,000 for exterior renovations on the building.
Work had started last week, but she said she was confident the renovations did not lead to the fire.
"No, he didn't do anything to cause a fire. He was just building a wood scaffolding for two days," said Hudson.
As firefighters battled hotspots Monday, residents, many in shock, wandered by to snap pictures.
"We called her ‘Her Majesty'. She was just a grand ol' building," said Jane Ashley, a resident.
Many people were also concerned about county records and historic documents that may have been lost in the fire. It was not immediately known how many were backed up and what was lost.
Hudson said the courthouse was insured, and the county plans to rebuild. They even hope to salvage some of the exterior brick wall.
In the meantime, the county must find a temporary location to conduct business. A nearby technical college and an old hospital were both suggested Monday.
The State Fire Marshal's Office is investigating a cause, but Keith Webster, Chief of the Sparta Hancock Fire Department, said he did not immediately suspect foul play.
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