Dougherty County's founding judges and county officials realized that a courthouse is critically important to establishing the rule of law. Within six weeks of the county's founding, they were already planning its first courthouse. Dougherty County was carved out of Baker County by the Georgia Legislature on December 15, 1853, and its inferior court met for the first time on January 30, 1854. Judges and county officials immediately began working towards building a courthouse. The first courthouse was in use by May 1855 and was fully completed by May 1856.
"A courthouse is critically important to establishing the rule of law."
Albany's first courthouse reflected the frontier town that it was in the plantation trace area of Georgia in the 1850s, when slavery was widespread. It was built with slave labor, and it stood through the Civil War and Reconstruction until it was replaced with a second courthouse in 1903. Then in 1911 the Post Office and Federal Courtroom was built on land that was formerly used as circus grounds.
The second courthouse was built forty-one years after the Emancipation Proclamation. This courthouse administered justice (or the lack thereof) during the era of Jim Crow. It stood through World War I, World War II, the Korean War and part of the Vietnam War. In 1940, shortly before World War II, it was severely damaged by a tornado. It was repaired and remained in use as the Albany Civil Rights movement began. The second courthouse suffered a fire in 1966 and was afterwards demolished to make way for a new courthouse.
The third courthouse, which is still in use, was built in 1968 during the explosion of conflict over the Vietnam War, the Cold War, civil rights, human rights and the youth culture. This courthouse was designed by architects Harry A. MacEwen and Edward Vason Jones.
Albany's Courthouses continue to reflect their community and times. During the creation of this digital history project, jury trials were suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The courthouse was central to the outbreak in Albany, as a juror in a murder trial spread the virus throughout the courthouse, ultimately infecting dozens of employees and resulting in the death of the Probate Judge, the Honorable Nancy S. Stephenson. The suspension of jury trials for months on end is an unprecedented turn of events. The way the Dougherty County Courthouse is affected by the Covid-19 pandemic is the most recent example of how it has always participated in national and local events and trends.