Previously filled with worshippers of various denominations, former church buildings have received a new lease on life in the hands of Bartow County government, as well as the municipalities of Emerson and Euharlee. Along with a museum and welcome center, the structures now are used for a wide range of operations, such as Magistrate Court, city hall and a police department.
Bartow County government
In the heart of downtown Cartersville, Bartow County government oversees a pair of former church buildings.
“The old First Baptist Church dates to 1904, with additions added in 1920 and 1970 per the Tax Assessor’s records,” said Bartow County Administrator Peter Olson, referring to the Bartow County Annex Building at 112 W. Cherokee Ave. “By the early 2000s, First Baptist wanted to move out to the west side and no longer desired to occupy this site. The church offered the property to the county and Commissioner [Clarence] Brown made a deal to purchase it in 2004 for $1 million.
“The county was in need of additional space for courts and so Magistrate Court was moved to the former education wing building. The building also houses [the] county’s Information Technology Department as well as [drug court] programs. ... The old main sanctuary has been renovated into a courtroom and [is being] used for Probate Court cases.”
The former First Baptist Church building is situated on about 1 acre and features a 15,000-square-foot education wing and a church wing, encompassing around 12,000 square feet.
“As the county has grown, Probate Court’s traffic court has gotten very busy and so we had upwards of 200 people in the halls of the west wing of the courthouse awaiting arraignment and trial on court days. The State Fire Marshal advised us that having so many people in the hall was a fire code violation and so we had to find a larger facility to have traffic court. The [former] courtroom only [held] 30 or 40 persons and the new courtroom [holds] at least 200.
“… The building also has a parking lot on the side and rear. With the approval of the 2020 SPLOST [Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax], the county intends to build a small parking deck in the back parking area to increase parking for the downtown area and the occupants of the building. Magistrate Court will be relocated to the main, expanded 1992 courthouse and the Public Defender will move into their space. The Public Defender’s old building will be demolished for additional parking.”
Acquired for $245,000 from the Cartersville Church of God in 1983, the second former church building operated by the county is located at 10 Elizabeth St.
“The church was built in 1950, and contains a main sanctuary floor, a few offices and a basement,” Olson said. “The county’s minutes from that time reflect that the need was a second Superior Court courtroom to handle a growing case volume. Keep in mind, in 1983, the county was still operating from the 1903 Courthouse along with a few houses in the vicinity, such as the house that currently houses the Sam Jones [Memorial United Methodist Church] youth center and the house that was in the spot where the Sam Jones Family Life building is located now.
“Over time, the Elizabeth Street building housed the first 911 operations center when it was under the commissioner’s office — it is now under the sheriff and the 911 center is located in the sheriff’s office — and it also housed the first Emergency Management Agency office. It still houses the EMA office and Emergency Operations Center, though it is not used for court anymore.”
He continued, “It was used by the elections office until a few years ago when we moved the elections office to the Old State Patrol barracks on Joe Frank Harris Parkway. The county plans to build an office building as an emergency services headquarters with the next SPLOST next to Station One, and the EMA and Emergency Operations Center will [relocate] to the basement of that building. We will see what purpose we find for the church then.”
Currently housing the city of Emerson’s operations, the former Emerson Baptist Church building was constructed in the 1950s.
“In the late 1990s, the church, which was then Emerson Baptist Church — about that same time it changed to First Baptist Church Emerson — was looking for a new location as they were landlocked and needed room to grow,” Emerson Mayor Al Pallone said. “The city of Emerson was also in a situation where they needed a larger building centrally located in the city.
“The church location was perfect as it had enough room for the city to grow and parking that was desperately needed and not available at the existing locations. An agreement was reached with the city to exchange 1.5 acres of church property, including the two buildings, with undeveloped property on US-41 on the south end of the city.”
After taking ownership of the structure at 700 Highway 293, the city of Emerson revamped the building to better suit its needs. Improvements included installing an internal stairway in the fellowship hall.
“The church moved out of the old church building when construction of the new church building was completed in 2001,” Pallone said. “Once the church building was vacated in March 2001, remodeling of what was previously the church fellowship hall downstairs and Sunday school rooms upstairs [began]. … In 2002, the city moved out of the old administrative building, which was in the house located next to the current Emerson Post Office and the police department moved out of what is now our community center.
“The administrative portion was located downstairs and the police upstairs. After moving in, the area behind what was the sanctuary was remodeled and became the location for the police department and court administration. Once the police department was moved, the city administration expanded onto the second floor. The mayor's office as well as city manager, assistant city manager and a meeting room are now located upstairs.”
In the old sanctuary, refinished hardwoods and pews tie back to the site’s beginnings.
“The sanctuary was also modified to become the council chambers/planning and zoning/courtroom, which [included] primarily installing a place for seating,” Pallone said. “… The pews from the church remain intact as they provided great seating capacity. They also serve as a reminder of the building's history.
“The old church building has served the city very well over the past 15 years. Although the growth coming to Emerson may cause us to outgrow this facility, it is still able to serve the community in a convenient and efficient manner for some years to come.”
Once serving as the home for the Euharlee Presbyterian Church, the sanctuary and its annex building now are operating as a special events venue and headquarters for the Euharlee Welcome Center & History Museum, respectively.
“The Euharlee Presbyterian Church was established in 1853, just as Euharlee was first incorporated,” said Katie O. Gobbi, director of the Euharlee Welcome Center & History Museum, which is operated by the city of Euharlee and Euharlee Historical Society. “The building was completed in 1855 by master builders John Clayton and Stephen Glazner, who also built Stilesboro Academy and other historic buildings in southwest Bartow County.
“Along with Euharlee Baptist Church, the Presbyterian church was the center of social and religious activity in Euharlee. By 1896, the church sponsored the creation of the Euharlee Presbyterian Institute, located where Euharlee City Hall is today. In its various iterations, this school educated most of [Euharlee's] students up through the 1950s. The school was eventually included in the county school system as the Bartow Rural High School, then later Euharlee School.”
Following the church’s closing, the city of Euharlee acquired the Euharlee Presbyterian’s properties spanning 10.01 acres on Covered Bridge Road in 2014.
“By 2011, the size of the congregation was not large enough, and the church closed,” Gobbi said. “In October 2014, the cemetery trust contributed the properties to the city of Euharlee. ... This includes the sanctuary, the education annex, the church cemetery and half of the adjacent Black Pioneer Cemetery.
“The Euharlee History Museum relocated to the former annex in 2015 as the Euharlee Welcome Center & History Museum. This facility is much larger than our previous ones, allowing for expanded services and dedicated areas for services we were already providing. The EWCHM has more space for a welcome center, gift shop, research and reference areas, temporary exhibitions, dedicated collections storage, expanded programming and more. The sanctuary is now a venue available for rent for weddings and other events. We have launched a website for this venue — www.euharleeweddings.com.”