Archives of Clarke County


 
Archives of Clarke County
From the editors of
Roadside Georgia
Established in 1801. Named for Elijah Clarke, leader of the ill-fated Trans-Oconee Expedition and Revolutionary War hero.

A year after cession of the land that became Clarke County from the Cherokee in 1783, the state endowed the future University of Georgia with 40,000 acres of that land near an old trading path. The school, created by the Georgia legislature on January 17, 1785, actually pre-dates the United State of America by 4 years. Abraham Baldwin, who had been pivotal in the legislative process was chosen as president.

The school actually began the same year as the county, 1801, with the purchase of land for a campus. At this time the surrounding town of Athens had not been formed and would not be formed until the first class graduated in 1804.

The county features the rolling hills characteristic of the Piedmont of North Georgia. The Oconee River bisected the county and it was where the old trading path crossed the Oconee that the earliest people settled. Although sparsely populated even in 1804, the county witnessed rapid growth, in no small part because of the fledgling university located there. In fact, Athens was so important that the first proposals for a rail system in the state included a spur to the city.

Among the earliest students were men who would shape the future of the state before, after and during the Civil War. Crawford Long, medical pioneer, Alexander "Little Alex" Stephens, who became Vice President of the Confederate State of America, and Howell Cobb, Speaker of the House and candidate for President of the United States, were but a few of the famous names associated with the school.

In the 1840's and 50's many of the mansions for which Athens is known today were constructed. Agriculture remained a major industry. The railroad provided ample jobs and supplies for the area.

With the advent of war in 1861, a dramatic change overtook the university town. Almost overnight, the streets became deserted as students enlisted to fight in the Confederate Army. For four years war would rage, sometimes in the city itself. George Stoneman's cavalry passed through the town during an abortive raid. And of course, there was the Double Barrel Cannon. Closed from 1864 to 1866, the University reopened amidst much fanfare, at least as much as possible in the wartorn South.

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