Early Athens History
Athens was no more than a trading settlement on the banks of the Oconee River called Cedar Shoals during the late 1700s. On January 27, 1785, the Georgia General Assembly chartered the University of Georgia as the first chartered state-supported university. The charter was drafted by Abraham Baldwin and existed only on paper for 16 years. In the summer of 1801, a delegation of five men (Baldwin, John Milledge, George Walton, John Twiggs, and Hugh Lawson) traveled to what was then Jackson County to select a site for the university and contract for its building. The delegation unanimously agreed on siting the school on property on the hill above Cedar Shoals and the Oconee River. Milledge purchased 633 acres from Daniel Easley on July 25, 1801, and donated it to the university. He named the land Athens in honor of the Greek city that was the center of culture and learning during ancient times.
Honoring Ben Franklin, the name of the university’s first building, Franklin College, was often used as the school’s unofficial moniker in early years. In order to raise money to pay for construction of buildings, lots were sold adjacent to campus. By 1803, three homes, three stores, and other buildings faced Front (later Broad) Street. Other early structures included hotels, general stores, a blacksmith, and a tailor shop. The first class from the university graduated on May 31, 1804.
In December 1806, the town of Athens was officially incorporated and a three-member commission form of government was established. As the university began to grow in reputation around the state, commerce and industry, mainly from the cotton mills, sprung up as Athens became known as the Manchester of the South for its pioneering cotton technology. Rail lines would eventually connect Athens with other major southern cities beginning in 1841.
46 streets received their official names in 1859, including Lumpkin, Clayton, Hancock, Prince, Thomas, and Baldwin. Until that point, no street in Athens had an officially recognized name and many were entirely nameless.