Carnesville isn’t well-known outside the area, and is one of the smaller county seats in Georgia, with between 500-600 residents. As county seats should, it sits smack dab in the middle of Franklin County, which was the first county in the state established after the Revolutionary War [much larger at the time, encompassing multiple modern counties]. While the location of Franklin County’s first seat of government is lost to history, Carnesville gained that designation in 1807.
It was named for Thomas Petters Carnes (1762-5 May 1822), whose service as a colonel in the Maryland Line during the Revolutionary War earned him a land bounty in Franklin County. He served in the Georgia House of Representatives, as a state court judge, Attorney General of Georgia, and in the U. S. House of Representatives, from 1793-1795, representing Athens [located at that time in Franklin County].
Union Ground was organized in 1902 by Erastus Lamar Shellnut. The following background comes from Scott Harp’s excellent overview of the “Pioneer Preacher”, as Shellnut was sometimes known.
In 1902 the “Pioneer Preacher” again returned to his favorite work. He accepted the appointment from the Woman’s Society of Georgia Mission as an evangelist. Because of failing health he resigned that work after six and on half months. He organized two churches, Unity in Jackson County and Union Ground in Franklin County, while working under the auspices of the Woman’s Society of Georgia Missions.
During Mr. Shelnutt’s work in Franklin County he encountered opposition on the part of the Baptists. He was locked out of the community school building, was falsely accused, arrested and stood trial, although he was not convicted of any charge. Rev. Shelnutt, possessing a kind spirit, tried to come to some understanding with the Baptists, went to their worship services, but no reconciliation was made. He gives an interesting account of his Franklin County experiences in a pamphlet entitled, Encountering Opposition. He vividly describes the Baptist worship service he attended during his visit in the community: “The preacher, of the blonde type, read from the third chapter of Exodus of the ‘burning bush’, and took as his text II Pet. ii. 1-3. The sermon was harsh and sectarian in its conception and argument, and mad and abusive in its deliver. The preacher’s denunciations of the ‘Campbellites,’ as he called them ‘though’ he said, ‘they want to be ‘Christian’ and his expositions of the ‘damnable doctrine’, as he called it, directed the minds and eyes of quite a number in the audience toward me. He told them that the devil was loose in the community, and advised the people more than once not to hear me (the devil referred to) preach my ‘doctrine born of hell,’ that I would ‘decoy them and their children and lead them to hell for ever and ever.’ He further advised his people not to let me have food and shelter in their homes. If they did, they would be partakers with me in propagating the false doctrine. I quietly sat before him and pitied him for his ignorance and lack of the spirit of Christ and remembered that vengeance belongs to God (Rom. xii, 19) and that he will one day settle with him for his wicked words.”
In spite of the unpleasant conditions under which Mr. Shelnutt labored, he was successful in organizing the church with twenty-seven charter members. The building was begun and the name chosen for the church-Union Ground Christian Church, September 16, 1902.
This is one of two courthouses in Georgia designed by the Knoxville, Tennessee, architectural firm of W. Chamberlain & Company. The other is in Berrien County. Franklin County was one of the first counties created in Georgia after the Revolutionary War, dating to 1784. Carnesville has been the county seat since 1806.
The first part of this house was built circa 1840 as a residence and tavern and in 1860 was purchased by Jeremiah Ayers. He joined the original part of the house and an adjacent post office with a breezeway. Ayers was a merchant and tanner and upon his death in 1885 his widow Louisa and their daughter Lizzie began taking in boarders to help support themselves. They lived in the basement and rented the upper rooms. Lizzie married Robert Little in 1901. They raised their children here and continued to take in boarders. Around 1930 they renovated and slightly expanded the boarding house and opened a coffee shop in the dining room. After Mr. Little’s death in 1943, Lizzie continued operating the business. In 1949, she became editor of the Carnesville Herald. She died in 1963.