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Chatham County

Date Built1978
Architecture StyleModern
Seat InformationIn creating Chatham County, the Constitution of 1777 made no provision for a county seat. However, Savannah clearly was the seat of government -- except for the period of British occupation from December 1778 to 1782. A Feb. 26, 1784 act of the General Assembly specifically designated Savannah as county seat of Chatham County.
Courthouse DetailsSavannah was the site of Georgia's first settlement in 1733. In Peter Gordon's 1734 engraving of Savannah, a one-room building is shown that is identified in the legend as the "Tabernacle & Court House". A variety of other facilities in Savannah and Frederica served as courthouses during the Trustee period. After the Trustees gave up their charter in 1752, Georgia became a royal colony. Subsequently, a courthouse was built, though the date of its construction is not recorded. In 1764, the colonial House of Assembly named commissioners with responsibility for rebuilding the colonial courthouse in Savannah. The next year, Peter Tondee and Joseph Dunlap began construction of the building, which was located on the western half of Trust Lot H in Percival Ward. This courthouse, which was finally completed in 1773, was a 34 x 60-foot red brick building facing Wright Square.With the outbreak of the American Revolution, royal officials left Georgia, and the new brick building became Chatham County's first courthouse. In December 1778, British forces captured Savannah, beginning an occupation that lasted most of the rest of the war. During this time, the brick courthouse was used as barracks for British troops. After the Revolution, the courthouse was repaired and again placed into use by Chatham County. Apparently, the building had been damaged extensively during the war, for the legislature in 1791 named commissioners to build a courthouse and jail. However, nothing came of this legislation, and the brick courthouse continued in use. In 1796, a great fire destroyed much of Savannah, including the interior of the courthouse. For several years, court sessions were held in various buildings, including Savannah's theater and silk filature. In 1804, the legislature authorized a lottery for rebuilding Chatham County's courthouse, and the building was subsequently used until 1830. By 1829, the justices of Chatham County's inferior court had decided a new courthouse was needed, and in 1830 they advertised for bids. The winning proposal for $27,484 was awarded in September 1830. The old brick courthouse was torn down in October 1830, and construction soon began on a new building at the same site. During 1831 and early 1832, Savannah's City Exchange served as temporary courthouse. Completed in May 1832, the new Greek Revival courthouse was a two-story brick building covered with plaster and painted white(see photo)-->. The 110 x 46 -foot building occupied an entire block. The 1832 courthouse survived Sherman's occupation of Savannah in late 1864 and early 1865. In 1885, the legislature authorized a referendum for Chatham County to borrow $50,000 to expand and improve the courthouse. However, instead of renovating the old structure, Chatham County in 1888 decided to build a new courthouse. In 1889, the old courthouse was demolished and a new Romanesque Revival building erected in its place. By the 1970s, Chatham County joined a growing number of Georgia counties who found their current courthouse inadequate to serve the judicial, administrative, and legislative branches of county government -- but did not want to tear the historic building down. In 1978, Chatham County built a new six-story courthouse/judicial center, while converting the old courthouse for use as the administrative and legislative offices. In the 1980s, the county spent $4.3 million in renovating the old courthouse.
County Data
Population 2000232,048
Population Growth14.3
County SeatSavannah
County Area646.3 Square Miles
Location MapChatham County Location Map

The land that would form Chatham County was ceded to the English by the Creeks in the Treaty of Savannah on May 21, 1733, confirmed and expanded by agreements of 1735 and 1736. In 1741, the Trustees of Georgia divided the colony into two counties, Savannah and Frederica. 

The County of Savannah included all of present-day Chatham County southward to the Ogeechee River. This division only lasted a year, as the Trustees in 1742 named William Stephens as president of the entire colony. After the Trustees surrendered their charter in 1752, Georgia became a royal colony. By an act of March 15, 1758, the colonial legislature created seven parishes. With the outbreak of the American Revolution, Whig forces took control of government in Georgia. 

On Feb. 5, 1777, they adopted the state’s first constitution, the Constitution of 1777. Art. IV of that document transformed the existing colonial parishes into seven counties, with Indian ceded lands forming an eighth county. Chatham County, which was fifth on the list and thus is considered Georgia’s fifth county, consisted of all of Christ Church Parish and that part of Saint Philip Parish south of the Canoochee River. The county was named in honor of William Pitt, the first Earl of Chatham. Pitt (1708-1778) was British Prime Minister during the French and Indian War. Later, he opposed the Stamp Act and was a popular figure in the American counties. 

In 1793, the legislature created Bryan County from the western portion of Chatham County. In 1850, land from Effingham County was annexed to Chatham.

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Legal OrganSavannah Morning News
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Historical Population
2010 265,128
2000 232,048
1990 216,935
1980 202,226
1970 187,816
1960 188,299
1950 151,481
1940 117,970
1930 105,431
1920 100,032
1910 79,690
1900 71,239
1890 57,740
1880 45,023
1870 41,279
1860 31,043
1850 23,901
1840 18,801
1830 14,127
1820 14,737
1810 13,540
1800 12,946
1790 10,769