Let’s turn our attention to Jasper County.
Southeast of Newton County, and originally founded in 1807 as Randolph County (and later changed because everybody in Georgia apparently got mad with Mr. Randolph), Jasper was the 31st county formed in Georgia. Truly a beautiful county, it is filled with lots of farmland, old homes and historic sites. Pastoral and bucolic, it has seen modest growth lately as more people wish to get that good, country living. With around 12,000 residents today, it’s a good place to be with lots of space to roam.
The town seat of Jasper is Monticello . Formed in 1808 by settlers including many transplanted Virginians, the town was named in honor of Thomas Jefferson’s famous estate. At this time, Jasper and the city of Monticello were literally at the edge of the Indian frontier and that made for some interesting, and at times deadly, events. The Ocmulgee River on the western edge of the county was the boundary between the Creek nation and Georgia. In 1814, a couple of Jasper County citizens where killed by some of the “hostiles.” Andrew Jackson, who would later become president, led the charge that would drive the Indians south and away from the Jasper/Monticello area.
During this time, the population of Monticello experienced explosive growth hitting 7,000 persons in 1810 and doubling to more than 14,000 by 1820 making it one of the most populated areas in Georgia at the time. The town would experience another boom in the 1880’s with the coming of the railroad. These days, Monticello is a beautiful city with a vibrant square, beautiful homes and a very cool courthouse.
On the northern tip of Jasper runs Highway 142. The same road that took us from Covington to Newborn in a previous column will eventually take you through the communities of Broughton and Farrar and the City of Shady Dale. The Broughton area was settled as early as the 1790’s predating the Monticello area and most other towns in this part of Georgia. Never incorporated, it did have a store and several farms. A bit down the road is Farrar. There was a time when Farrar was an incorporated city and had multiple stores, a post office, two cotton gins and a Justice of the Peace. Basically it was a cotton town and as the depression and boll weevil took its toll, the town never really recovered. It would eventually lose its charter and its population dwindled.
If you continue east on Highway 142, you will eventually hit Shady Dale. One of my favorite places in Georgia, this is Jasper’s only other incorporated town. Chartered in 1882 but around for decades before that, Shady Dale was basically right in the middle of the Augusta-Atlanta rail line. Also, it was a stop on the road that went to Milledgeville back when it was the state capital. Its good location made it an important hub for cotton, produce and other goods. Several historic buildings remain in this town including the old jail that now serves as the city hall. During the Civil War, Sherman stayed in Shady Dale during his march to the sea. At around 200 residents, Shady Dale has about the same population today as it did in the 19th century.
Down in the southwest corner of the county is a place known as Smith’s Mill. It is also referred to as “The Seven Islands of the Ocmulgee River.” This might actually be one of the oldest white settlements in all of Georgia. Carolina fur traders were in this area as far back as 1670. The main road in this area was an Indian trail that has been called “the oldest dirt road known to Western man.” This is the same trail that George Washington negotiated from the Creeks that would eventually become America ’s first major highway of sorts linking Charleston to Augusta to Mobile and on to New Orleans. The Georgia portion of the road was called the Seven Islands Stage Road. In Jasper, Highway 83 pretty much runs the same route that the stage road followed.
The actual area of Seven Islands was considered one of the most important places in the Creek Indian nation, as it was the top end of the navigable portion of the river. That importance continued for the newer white residents also. Eventually a cotton gin was built as well as a sawmill, a gristmill and several other businesses. Unfortunately, the depression and cotton collapse killed this settlement and the town went “back to nature.”
Well alright! Hope you enjoyed it.