Walton County History

A collection of memorabilia shows just a sampling of the history of Walton County on its 200th birthday.

Walton County turns 200 on Saturday.

A county that was once a rural mill town now stands on the threshold of having 100,000 in population, tucked between the sprawling Atlanta metro area and an Athens area that has seen its own share of growth as the University of Georgia has become a magnet for students and the arts.

Even into the last few decades, Walton was a collection of towns. Now, the idea of “One Walton” has begun to take hold as the community truly has become cohesive.

Walton County was created Dec. 15, 1818, by act of the General Assembly. It’s named for George Walton, one of three Georgians to sign the Declaration of Independence. (The other men, Button Gwinnett and Lyman Hall, also have namesake counties celebrating bicentennials Saturday, along with Habersham County.)

Walton County’s original borders were intact for all of four days, when legislators gave the fledgling land a chunk of Jackson County stretching north to what is now Winder. (Extreme northern Walton County, as well as parts of Gwinnett and Jackson counties, were formed into Barrow County in 1914.)

Early county officials included Sheriff Farr H. Trammell, Superior Court Clerk Vincent Haralson, Inferior Court Clerk John Steele, Surveyor Thomas McClendon, Coroner Stark Brown, Ordinary Job Smith, Tax Collector Benjamin Hammock, Tax Receiver John McKnight, state Rep. William McKnight and state Sen. Jordan Baker.

A Superior Court was formed within months and met at Easley’s Cowpens on Aug. 12, 1819. Judge John M. Dooly of the Western Judicial Circuit (which also included Clarke and Oconee counties) presided.

Duncan Green Campbell was serving as solicitor general when Walton County was formed.

Walton County got its first post office on May 20, 1820, about 3 miles northwest of Cowpens. It was called Walton Court House, but the name was changed a year and a half later to honor President James Monroe.

Post offices later opened in Social Circle (1826), Good Hope (1839), Buncombe (now Loganville, in 1850), Jersey (1883) and Campton (1888).

That community is now known as Monroe, the county seat and largest city in Walton County. The county’s first courthouse was built here in 1823 on the same site as the present-day Historic Walton County Courthouse, built in 1883.

The first county jail was built in the 1880s, and it lasted well into the next century.

Walton County was first known for agriculture. Its first industrial presence came in the 1840s with the High Shoals Manufacturing Co. just across the line in nearby Morgan County, but the company later moved to Walton.

Cotton grew in importance in the 1850s, leading into the Civil War. Now, Walton County is becoming known for its diversification of industries, especially high-tech employment. Shire, a world leader in biopharmaceuticals, opened a 1 million-square-foot production facility near Social Circle earlier this year.

Facebook, the world’s largest social media network, began construction on a massive data center this year just across the street from Shire in the Stanton Springs development.

Public education was difficult in the early days. The stress of the war caused the system to collapse. By the late 19th century, Walton County had 95 schools due to difficulties in transportation.

In 2018, there are three high schools, three middle schools and nine elementary schools in the Walton County School District. Social Circle has its own city system with four schools, and there are also multiple private schools.

The early 20th century brought improvements with paved roads, electricity and water and sewer systems. Walton County also developed a hospital, which has continued to evolve with the times. It’s now known as Piedmont Walton Hospital.

A point of pride in Walton’s history has been its legacy as the home of governors.

Seven Walton County men have served as Georgia governors, not counting George Walton’s tenure in 1779-80.

Local residents to lead Georgia include Wilson Lumpkin (1831-35), Alfred Holt Colquitt (1877-82), James S. Boynton (1883), Henry D. McDaniel (1883-86), Clifford Walker (1923-27) and Richard B. Russell Jr. (1931-33). Colquitt and Russell went on to become U.S. senators.

Richard Bennett Hubbard Jr., who was born on a Walton County plantation, was governor of Texas from 1876-79.

Constitutional officers in December 2018 include Clerk of Superior Courts Kathy K. Trost, Sheriff Joe Chapman, Probate Judge Bruce E. Wright and Tax Commissioner Derry Boyd.

Then-Gov. Jimmy Carter signed a bill creating a new judicial circuit, the Alcovy, in 1972, pairing Newton and Walton counties. Thomas Ridgeway was the first judge.

John M. Ott, of Monroe, is chief judge of the Alcovy Circuit in December 2018. Other Superior Court judges include Samuel D. Ozburn, Horace Johnson, Eugene Benton and Ken Wynne.

Layla H. Zon is the district attorney.

Legislators currently in the Walton County delegation include Sens. Burt Jones of Jackson and Bill Cowsert of Athens, and Reps. Tom Kirby of Loganville and Bruce Williamson of Monroe.

Kevin Little is chairman of the Board of Commissioners. County commissioners include Vice Chairman Kirklyn Dixon, Bo Warren, Mark Banks, Timmy Shelnutt, Lee Bradford and Dr. Jeremy Adams.

Mayors are John Howard of Monroe, Rey Martinez of Loganville, Hal W. Dally of Social Circle, Marla McGuffey of Between, Lamar Lee of Walnut Grove, Jimmy Guthrie of Good Hope and Randy W. Carithers of Jersey.

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