Ben Hill County
|Location||E. Central Ave. at S. Sheridan St., Fitzgerald|
|Architecture Style||Neoclassical Revival|
|Seat Information||The proposed constitutional amendment creating Ben Hill County specified Fitzgerald as the county seat. Fitzgerald was settled in 1895 as a colony for former Union soldiers and was named for Indianapolis, Ind. newspaper editor P. H. Fitzgerald, who was the guiding force behind creation of the colony. In an act of Dec. 2, 1896, the General Assembly incorporated the new colony as a city (Ga. Laws 1896, p. 157).|
|Courthouse Details||Ben Hill County's first and only courthouse was built in 1909. Originally, it had a domed clock tower rising from the center of the building. When the courthouse was renovated in the early 1950s, the clock tower was removed.|
|County Area||254.0 Square Miles|
On July 31, 1906, the General Assembly proposed a constitutional amendment to create Ben Hill County (Ga. Laws 1906, p. 28). In that year’s general election, voters ratified the constitutional amendment on Nov. 6, 1906, which is considered the date of Ben Hill County’s creation (even though a state historical marker on the courthouse square incorrectly cites the date of the legislature’s proposal of the amendment as the date of the county’s creation). Georgia’s 146th county was named for former Confederate and U.S. Senator Benjamin Hill (1823-1882).
Why was Ben Hill County created by constitutional amendment instead of an act of the General Assembly? In 1904, Georgia voters had approved a constitutional amendment limiting the number of counties in the state to 145. The next year, the General Assembly created eight new counties, bringing the total number to 145, the constitutional limit. Nevertheless, there was continuing pressure to create more counties. In 1906, lawmakers sought to create a new county from portions of Wilcox and Irwin counties. Because an act of the legislature cannot conflict with the state constitution, the only option was to amend the state constitution. The legislature could have proposed an amendment that raised the constitutional limit to 146 counties. For whatever reason, supporters of the new county chose another approach. Leave the 145-limit in the constitution and simply add an additional provision that said: “Provided, however, That in addition to the counties now provided for by this Constitution there shall be a new county laid out from the counties of Irwin and Wilcox, bounded as follows . . . .” Thus began the practice in Georgia of creating new counties by constitutional amendment.
By 1924, Georgia had 161 counties, 16 of which had been created by constitutional amendment. On Jan. 1, 1932, Milton and Campbell counties merged with Fulton, leaving 159 counties. In 1945, Georgia voters ratified a new constitution, one which provided an absolute limit of 159 counties, with an additional provision that no new country could be created except through consolidation of existing counties.
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|Legal Organ||The Herald-Leader|
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