Clarke County was created by an Act of the Georgia General Assembly on December 5, 1801. The county was named after Revolutionary War hero Elijah Clarke and included 250 square miles of land that was originally part of Jackson County. Clarke came to Wilkes County, Georgia from North Carolina in 1774 and was most recognized for being credited with the 1779 victory at the Battle of Kettle Creek in Wilkes County. The Elijah Clarke Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution erected a monument in his name in the middle of Broad Street in Athens that still stands today. (Georgia Historical Society Marker information)
As the population of the country grew alongside of the University of Georgia in the early 1800s, Clarke County’s agricultural and cotton industries prospered. The adjacent plantation harvests flowed through city mills and were bolstered by the natural resources of the Oconee River. These early manufacturing and textile production were big industries in Clarke County and in Athens, particularly so once the railroad came to the area beginning in 1841. Athens and Clarke County were second only to Savannah and Chatham County in capital invested in manufacturing during the 1840s.
Civil War & Reconstruction Two skirmishes took place in Clarke County during the Civil War in 1864, one near Barber’s Creek and the other off of Mitchell’s Road. An occupation garrison arrived in Athens on May 29 and a provost-marshal government was set up temporarily. Federal occupation continued until early 1866.
Separating Oconee County
The original Clarke County Commission had selected Watkinsville, now in Oconee County, as the original county seat. All county offices and county business, including the courts and jail, later moved north to Athens when the seat was moved on November 24, 1871. For four years, county meetings were held in the old Town Hall in Athens until 1876, when a new courthouse was constructed in the area bounded by Prince Avenue, Hill Street, and Pope Street. The current courthouse in use today was later erected on the corner of Washington and Jackson streets downtown in 1914.
On February 12, 1875, the state legislature created Oconee County from the southwest corner of Clarke County and named Watkinsville as its seat. Oconee gained one-third of Clarke's population, and one-half of its land.
County Government During this time, the title of commissioner of roads and revenue was proscribed by the legislature to what would be known as county commissioners. The county, as an extension of the state, would operate welfare and health programs, build and maintain roads,and conduct courts of law that were part of the state justice system.
On March 29, 1973, the Georgia legislature passed legislation increasing the number of county commissioners from three to five and allocating a position for a county administrator.