Athens Brewing Co. revitalizes old county building

William Pierce, wearing red, has big plans for the old Henderson County annex building being remodeled by Bob Hurst. It will house the Athens Brewing Co., a microbrewery that will soon add a restaurant and bar. Photo by Jeff Riggs, Athens Daily Review

ATHENS (TNS) - Like some other buildings in Athens, the three-story Henderson County Courthouse Annex building has a rich history, and has served several purposes.

It will soon become a working brewery, restaurant and bar to enliven the downtown square.

William Pierce, of the Athens Brewing Co., the company operating the facility, said during a "soft opening," beer only will be sold with light snacks. That will begin about April, Pierce said.

Other items, such as food, could also be served soon, with second floor seating available. Pierce said his sister in California, Brittany Pierce, has done home brewing for about five years, and was one of his great inspirations for the project.

She is the brewmaster for the project, and has helped create the recipes that the business has been working with.

Bob Hurst, of Hurst Designs, who is heading the remodeling project, said that when complete, the structure will have a bar on the ground floor, with restaurant seating on the first and second floors. Some of the furniture will consist of industrial pipe with wood seats. At most locations in the bar and restaurant areas, there will be beer fermenting tanks viewable as the tanks process their products.

Pierce said he can confirm that Spencer Hardware was one of the oldest businesses at the location in the 1880s. It was rebuilt in 1925 after a fire destroyed the original structure.

Hurst said one of his company's greatest goals with the Athens Brewing Company is to restore and display its historical value.

"With our renovations, I seek to keep that building with a historical facade," he said.

According to an article written in the Athens Daily Review in 1986, the structure was originally an office building, the Spencer Building, which housed a hardware store and offices for physicians, attorneys and other professionals. It later became a structure for employees in the county tax department, emergency management office, the county extension service and veterans affairs.

In early 1979, the county purchased the Spencer Building from local attorneys Willis D. Moore, Melvin G. Bateman and Michael G. George for the amount of $125,000.

As the county grew, so did a need for work space for additional staffers, new agencies and the ever-increasing stockpiles for records which are required by law to he kept. Because of the lack of space, county commissioners decided early in 1984 to look at their purchase.

Athens Architect Charles Potter submitted a preliminary evaluation of the 70-year-old structure, saying it was "an interesting and sound old building in remarkably good shape with strong inside wooden beams."

Even at that time, a part of the building was utilized for county record storage.

On Feb. 20, 1984, County Judge Winston Reagan said, "I think we've got about a boxcar of courthouse items over there."

The rest of the space in the old building was leased to a paint retailer, while the upper floors were used in various ways, including functioning as a gym for prize fighters.

Potter said at that time that the first cost estimate to update the structure was a minimum of $280,000. Yet that minimum balance ballooned.

It was on Feb. 14, 1985, that commissioners accepted a bid from contractor Don Hill, of Tyler, to finish the project at a cost of $668,900. Commissioners approved $600,000 funding of the total to come from the amended 1985 budget, said County Auditor Thomas Simmons as the building was nearing completion. The balance of $68,900 was incorporated into the commissioners' budget for 1986 under the category of repairs and replacements.

Several unforeseen expenses began elevating the cost.

First, it was decided that a 2,500- square-foot three-store addition could be added to the 9,400-square-foot structure. Potter said the extra space was strictly for record storage.

Second, whereas the original building contained a mezzanine, the remodeled structure had a complete second floor.

It was in October 1985 that barricades on the northwest corner of the Henderson County Courthouse Square came down, allowing traffic to again flow freely around the decades-old structure, once known as the Spencer Building.


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