Founding and Early Years
In 1803 an act of the Georgia legislature called for the establishment and survey of a town to be named in honor of the current governor, John Milledge. The land immediately west of the Oconee River had just been opened up by the Treaty of Fort Wilkinson (1802), in which the Creek Indians, hard pressed by debts to white traders, agreed to cede part of their ancient land. The restless white population of Georgia was pressing west and south in search of new farmland, and the town of Milledgeville was
In 1807 fifteen wagons, escorted by troops, left Louisville, the former capital, carrying the treasury and public records of the state. The new statehouse, though unfinished, was able to accommodate the legislators. Over the next thirty years the building was enlarged with a north and south wing. Its pointed arched windows and battlements marked it as America's first public building in the Gothic revival style.
Life in the Antebellum Capital
After 1815 Milledgeville became increasingly prosperous and more respectable. Wealth and power gravitated toward the capital,
Two events epitomized Milledgeville's status as the political and social center of Georgia in these years. The first was the visit to the capital in 1825 by the Revolutionary War (1775-83) hero the Marquis de Lafayette. The receptions, barbecue, formal dinner, and grand ball for this veteran apostle of liberty seemed to mark Milledgeville's coming of age. The second event was the construction (1836-38/39) of the Governor's Mansion, one of the most important examples of Greek revival architecture in America.
The Civil War and Its Aftermath
Milledgeville spent the remaining years of the nineteenth century trying to survive the loss of the capital. Through the energetic efforts of local leaders, the Middle Georgia Military and Agricultural College (later Georgia Military College) was established in 1879 on Statehouse Square. Where the crumbling remains of the old penitentiary stood, Georgia Normal and Industrial College (later Georgia College and State University) was founded in 1889. In part because of these institutions, as well as Central State Hospital, Milledgeville remained a less provincial town than many of its neighbors.
The Twentieth Century
As the old capital moved into the twentieth century, it produced a number of people who would attain national prominence. Among these were the distinguished chemist Charles Herty; epidemiologist Joseph Hill White; Woodrow Wilson's treasury secretary, William Gibbs McAdoo; and Ulrich Bonnell Phillips, a noted historian of the South. The most famous twentieth-century Milledgevillians, however, form an unusual trio. In 1910 eighteen-year-old Oliver Hardy, of Laurel and Hardy fame, moved to Milledgeville, where his mother managed the stately old Baldwin Hotel, and stayed for three years. U.S. Congressman Carl Vinson represented his hometown of Milledgeville and central Georgia for fifty years (1914-65). The writer Flannery O'Connor came as a young girl with her family to Milledgeville from Savannah. O'Connor, a 1945 graduate of Georgia State College for Women, did much of her best writing in Milledgeville at her family's farm, Andalusia, which offers public tours. Her critically acclaimed short stories and novels have secured her reputation as a major American writer.
A satellite campus of Central Georgia Technical College is located in Milledgeville.
James C. Bonner, Milledgeville: Georgia's Antebellum Capital (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1978; reprint, Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1985).
William W. Freehling and Craig M. Simpson, eds., Secession Debated: Georgia's Showdown in 1860 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992).
Robert J. Wilson III, Georgia College and State University
A project of the Georgia Humanities Council, in partnership with the University of Georgia Press, the University System of Georgia/GALILEO, and the Office of the Governor.