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City of Athens

IncorporatedJanuary 14, 1991
Address301 College Avenue
Athens, Georgia 30601-2770
Phone(706) 613-3795
Fax(706) 613-3026

County Seat of Athens-Clarke County.

From the Athens city website:

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.

Incorporation 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.

After the War In the post-Civil War era, the city also became known as a center of undergraduate education for freed slaves. Funds from the Athens Freedman’s Bureau built the Knox School in 1867, while later the Methodist School and Jeruel Academy also opened to educate freed slaves. All three schools offered primary, intermediate, industrial, and nurses’ training. African-Americans also had a strong presence through the press during this time with three black newspapers - the Athens Blade, the Athens Clipper, and the Progressive Era - in a time when it was rare for a southern town to have even one.

Athens was eventually chartered as a city on August 24, 1872, with a mayor-council form of government. Captain Henry Beusse was the first mayor of Athens, and the citizens elected two representatives from each of four wards to serve on the commission.

As the post-Civil War population began to rise, so did city improvements. The first police force of three officers was established in 1881. Bell Telephone installed lines for thirty-five subscribers in 1882, and in 1885 a street-paving program began to replace dirt streets with brick, granite, and in some cases wood. However, Athens did not provide public schools until fall 1886, more than a decade after the more rural Clarke County. The entire area did boast more than thirty private day schools of varying sizes by as early as 1869.

In 1888, Athens saw its first passenger street railway cars powered by mules. Broad, College, Clayton, Lumpkin, Hancock, Pulaski, Prince, and Milledge streets had rails laid for the cars. After a few years, E.G. Harris bought the streetcar line and extended and electrified the rails. A new residential development north of Prince Avenue was purchased and lots were sold for houses in Athens’ first streetcar subdivision along Boulevard.

The 20th Century In the early 1900s, the corner of Washington and Hull streets became known as the “hot corner” for the black community. The Morton Building, as well as the Samaritan Building and Union Hall, housed black lawyers, dentists, doctors, and other professionals. There were also pool rooms, lodge halls, barbershops, insurance companies, and two undertakers. The two-story opera house in the Morton Building, known for its amazing acoustics, hosted such popular black entertainers as Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, and Duke Ellington. Movies and other celebrations were also held in the theatre.

A new City Hall was constructed for the city in 1904 on the highest point in the downtown business district. Soon after, in 1908, the Southern Mutual Insurance Company completed the city’s first skyscraper, a seven-story building that was the largest ferro concrete building in the South.

By 1923, Athens was establishing itself as a leader in the cotton industry. The Chamber of Commerce reported that in that year, Athens was the second largest cotton manufacturer in the state, and the city stayed as such through 1950. Five rail lines came into town, and Athens also became an important center for wholesale grocers.

During World War II, Athens was named as one of only five naval preflight schools in the nation. Thousands of young military men filled the city while the navy helped build several new buildings and recreational facilities on campus and gave the airport its first paved runways.

Desegregation & Growth Desegregation began in 1961 as Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes became the first two black students to enter the University of Georgia in early January. By the time of their graduation in 1963, Athens’ city limits incorporated 13 square miles. Suburban sprawl hit the area, along with urban renewal. A number of historic properties were saved from demolition during this time, including the oldest residence in Athens, as historic preservation became more prominent. This trend would continue through today.

Athens Music Beginning in the late 1970s, the Athens music scene began to gather momentum, eventually leading to the city’s worldwide recognition as a hotbed for music. Bands such as R.E.M. and the B-52s became wildly popular throughout the 1980s while scores of smaller bands continued to perform in the myriad of Athens clubs on a nightly basis.

After unification with Clarke County was approved, Mayor Dwain Chambers became the last person to hold the title of Mayor of the City of Athens from 1989-1991.