Walking the streets near the old downtown in Lawrenceville, Georgia, it is hard to imagine that time and again unusual events bring this present-day Atlanta suburb into the limelight over the last 180 years. Legal documents creating Lawrenceville pass through both state houses on December 15, 1821, three years to the day after the creation of Gwinnett County. The town center is located on land purchased by Elisha Winn for $200.00 from John Breedlove earlier that year. The county builds a wooden courthouse on a square in the center of town, in much the same manner as other county seats of the time.
Captain James Lawrence's dying words, "Don't give up the ship" as commander of the frigate Chesapeake during a battle with H. M. S Shannon on June 1, 1813, off the coast near Boston, Massachusetts, so endear him to Gwinnett resident William Maltbie that he suggests naming the town in his honor.
In 1826 humorist Bill Arp, whose real name is Charles H. Smith, is born in Lawrenceville. As a young lawyer in the city, Smith leaves his mark by building a fence around the courthouse to stop animals from entering during trials. In return he, along with three other lawyers who helped him, are allowed to build offices on the corners of the courthouse square. His career as a humorist begins about the same time as the Civil War and he spends significant amounts of time in Rome, Macon, Athens and Cartersville, where he dies in 1903 after a career that pokes fun at life in American through homespun Georgia eyes.
In its first 10 years Lawrenceville becomes deeply embroiled in the Cherokee land grab that would end in "The Trail of Tears." The absence of Georgia courts in the Cherokee Nation forces the state to expand the jurisdiction of small local courts on the frontier. Gwinnett County's court in Lawrenceville plays a major role in the affair. The Lawrenceville court hears the first round of Worcester vs. Georgia, in which Samuel Worcester challenges the laws of the state of Georgia.
Tied around the neck and forced by the Georgia Guard to walk barefoot from Talking Rock to Lawrenceville, the missionary known as "The Messenger" and others arrested with him encounter courtesy and "the warmest of sympathy" once they arrive in Lawrenceville. Reverend Wilson and Dr. Alexander, two prominent locals, personally secure the release of the missionaries from the brutal Guard. The case ends in the Supreme Court, with our highest court granting sovereignty to the Cherokee Nation.
Mostly an agricultural economy, the resulting boom-bust cycle affects the growth and population of the town. Near the center of Lawrenceville are ferriers and a tannery, indicating the agrarian nature of the community. Most of the grist mills are in outlying areas. After an initial boom during the 1820's and early 1830's, the Panic of 1837 takes a heavy toll on the city. A number of major businesses close and some smaller farmers are bought out by larger ones. During the 1830's the population of the agricultural based county seat falls.
|Ezzard "Mack" Charles|
Born in Lawrenceville, Georgia, in 1921. Charles astonishing career saw him win two Golden Gloves crowns (Welterweight, 1938; Middleweight, 1939). He begins his professional career in 1940 and 9 years later beats Jersey Joe Walcott for the National Boxing Association title. A year later (September, 1950) he defeats Joe Lewis for the heavyweight crown, a title he would hold for less than a year. Jersey Joe Walcott defeated him in July, 1951.
Over the next 3 years he struggled to regain the crown on three occasions, losing to Walcott again in 1952 and Rocky Marciano twice in 1954.
Over the next twenty years the institution of slavery abounds in Gwinnett County. Slaves are common in the streets of Lawrenceville. As war dawns upon the horizon, men from the city form some of the first units to go north. Fighting only briefly touches the city, once during "Garrard's Raid" and again during William Tecumseh Sherman's March to the Sea. The city, according to legend, is the site of the first Negro lynching after the war, ironically committed by Union soldiers.
In 1871 disaster strikes the town when the courthouse is purposely set on fire. According to some, it is an attempt by a brotherhood of white males to destroy records in the building. Although many records burn, the ones of concern to the brotherhood are in a sheriff's house at the time. Another permanent courthouse is built on the square in 1885. The bell tower is added in 1908 and the building expanded in 1935. Around the square the city expands and contracts based on agricultural conditions of the surrounding county.
Ezzard "Mack" Charles knocks out the Brown Bomber Joe Lewis on September 27, 1950. Charles, born in Lawrenceville in July 1921, loses the title the following year to Jersey Joe Walcott. A monument to the boxer stands downtown.
1968 brought additional attention to the city when Florida heiress Barbara Mackle was kidnapped and buried alive in Gwinnett County. The city served as headquarters for a vast array of police and reporters who waited for word from the kidnappers after a $500,000.00 ransom was paid. Mackle, who was buried in a box only slightly larger than a coffin, had a tube for air and a little food and stayed in the box for 81 hours. After freeing the young lady police captured the kidnappers.
She became known as "The Girl in the Box
In 1978, Larry Flynt, self-avowed free speech advocate and publisher of Hustler Magazine, is gunned downed on the steps of the courthouse allegedly by Joseph Paul Franklin. Franklin, a northern racist, is later convicted of a number of crimes including the attempted murder of Vernon Jordon, President Clinton's close personal friend and driving force in the Clinton Administration.
|Joseph Paul Franklin|
Inset:Larry Flynt, publisher of pornographic Hustler Magazine
A unique monument in downtown Lawrenceville on the old courthouse square is dedicated to Confederate Veterans from Gwinnett County. Erected in 1993 the monument joins a number of other statuary in the immediate area.