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Clarke County

County Courthouse View large image

Source: David Seibert

Date Built1914
Architecture StyleItalian Renaissance Revival/Neoclassical Revival/Beaux Arts Classicism
DesignerA. Ten Eyck Brown
Seat InformationThe Dec. 1801 act creating Clarke County did not designate a county seat. Despite the fact that the University of Georgia had just opened in Athens, the legislature in 1802 designated Watkinsville as the county's seat of government (Ga. Laws 1802, p. 57). Four years later, the legislature incorporated both Watkinsville and Athens (Ga. Laws 1806, pp. 5 and 44). Athens grew much more rapidly than Watkinsville, and for many years Athens residents called for their city to be designated county seat. Finally, in an act of Nov. 24, 1871, the legislature directed that Athens become the seat of government for Clarke County as of Jan. 1, 1872 (Ga. Laws 1871-72, p. 244). However, residents of western Clarke County were so upset over the move that they began a campaign to have the legislature divide Clarke County into two counties. In 1875, the legislature approved an act creating Oconee County with Watkinsville as county seat (Ga. Laws 1875, p. 109).
Courthouse DetailsIt is not known what Clarke County first used as a courthouse after its creation in Dec. 1801. But, it is clear that something was built in Watkinsville, for the General Assembly in 1806 passed legislation allowing Clarke County to levy a special tax for enlarging and rebuilding its courthouse (Ga. Laws 1806, p. 26). Reportedly, other courthouses were built in 1829 and 1849. In 1871, Athens city officials offered the city hall to be used as a courthouse if the legislature changed Clarke County's seat of government from Watkinsville to Athens. In the Nov. 24, 1871 act making Athens the new county seat of Clarke County as of Jan. 1, 1872, the legislature directed that the courthouse and clerk's office in Watkinsville be sold, with the proceeds to be used in renovating the Athens city hall to serve as the new Clarke County courthouse (Ga. Laws 1871-72, p. 244). In 1874, the legislature authorized Clarke County to call a referendum on borrowing money to finance construction of a new courthouse and jail (Ga. Laws 1874, p. 324). The referendum passed, and construction began a lot on Prince Ave. about five blocks from downtown Athens. Completed in 1876, the two-story red brick courthouse served the county until 1914, when Clarke County built a new courthouse. Located one block from city hall, the new four-story yellow brick building was designed by the same architect responsible for the Fulton County courthouse (also completed in 1914). In 1990, an addition to the courthouse and an adjacent parking lot connected by an atrium were constructed. After Clarke County and the city of Athens consolidated into a single government in 1991, the building that formerly served as Athens City Hall now became home for part of the unified government, including its chief elected officer--later renamed mayor.
County Data
Population 2000101,489
Population Growth15.0
County SeatAthens
County Area121.3 Square Miles
Location MapClarke County Location Map

Clarke County was created on Dec. 5, 1801 by an act of the General Assembly (Ga. Laws 1801, p. 90). Fashioned entirely from Jackson County, Georgia’s 26th county was named for Gen. Elijah Clarke, who is best remembered for his victory over the British at the Battle of Kettle Creek in Wilkes County, Ga.

In 1811, portions of Clarke County were used to create Madison County (Ga. Laws 1811, p. 114). After the legislature moved the county seat from Watksinsville to Athens in 1871, angry residents of western Clarke County pressured the General Assembly to create a separate county. On Feb. 25, 1875, the legislature created Oconee County from the western half of Clarke County (Ga. Laws 1875, p. 109). This left Clarke County as the smallest county in Georgia in terms of area.

Because most residents of Clarke County also lived within the city limits of Athens, efforts to consolidate the two governments began in the late 1960s. Referendums in 1969, 1972, and 1982 were approved in Athens but lost in the county-wide vote. Another consolidation effort began in 1988. Two years later, the General Assembly provided for a referendum on the unification of Clarke County and Athens into a single entity known as the Unified Government of Athens-Clarke County (Ga. Laws 1990, p. 3560). [The town of Winterville, located on the eastern border of Clarke County, chose not to be part of the unified government and thus was allowed to retain its charter as a separate municipality.] In separate referendums held in Athens and in Clarke County in August 1990, voters approved the merger, which became effective Jan. 1, 1991.

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Legal OrganAthens Banner-Herald
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Historical Population
2010 116,714
2000 101,489
1990 87,594
1980 74,498
1970 65,177
1960 45,363
1950 36,550
1940 28,398
1930 25,613
1920 26,111
1910 23,273
1900 17,708
1890 15,186
1880 11,702
1870 12,941
1860 11,218
1850 11,119
1840 10,522
1830 10,176
1820 8,767
1810 7,628