LOOKING BACK AT MONROE’S 200 YEARS

 

 

        The late Preston Adams of Monroe knew quite a lot about history and especially Monroe’s history; he was 101 when he died, so he had not only seen but participated in a  lot of the early history of our city and county during his lifetime. He even had the opportunity to read the very first issue of The Walton Tribune! As he told me many years ago, 1960 to be exact, as I sat before his desk when he was president of the National Bank of Monroe: “M’boy, in order to see where you are going, you have to see where you have been.” Another favorite quote of his was, “I believe the future is only the past entered through another gate.” Those statements were a bit confusing at first but as the years sped by and I grew to appreciate history and the town I lived in, it became clear to me exactly what he meant.

        The approaching 200th birthday of Monroe and Walton County is a celebration we should all be thrilled and excited to share in.  Very few individuals get a chance to not only witness but participate in celebrating an event such as the one we are about to honor.

        I well remember the excitement when, back in 1968, the Sesquicentennial Birthday took place. Among the many events and celebrations which took place was the publication of The Walton Tribune’s huge edition of the paper which took us from our early beginnings in 1818 to 150 years in the future, all the way to 1968.

        I thought it would be interesting to take a new look at this venerable piece of Monroe history to refresh me as to what the big, oversized book contained. Pulling out my copy I noticed at how extremely fragile the pages had become, almost as thin as butterfly wings and if you touched them the wrong way, the pages would crumble.  I had to remember this book was fifty years old.

        Going back in time from today to 1818, we leave behind all the things we have come to know and depend on so heavily. Gone are all the mechanical devices we know, the cars, restaurants, the neighborhood’s, the culinary cuisine we so enjoy, the fashions of the day, the many “creature comforts” we feel we cannot live without, electricity, heat (which back in the day came from fires made outside or in a pot- bellied stove if you were lucky to have such), and newspapers until we are once again in 1818 where you got around by leg or horse & buggy. The town had a dirt road and only a few buildings and tents while communication was extended via personal contact and letters written with pencil, pen & ink.

        I share with you excerpts in the Sesquicentennial Issue from 1818 to 1968 as we track the history of the last 150 years: The headline read, “Walton County was Born December 1818” states the first page and goes on to say,

“On Dec. 15, 1818, a legislative act created four new Georgia counties: Walton, Gwinnett, Hall and Habersham. The first was named in honor of George Walton, governor, judge and youngest of the three Georgia signers of the Declaration of Independence.”

        “Walton County was as new as they came, and pioneer scouts who first rode into the territory must have whistled under their breath at the surroundings which greeted their eyes.

        Of prime importance and appeal was its excellent water supply.  Many springs dotted the area and portions of four rivers and numerous creeks provided fishing sites and watered the land.

        Many folks had jumped the gun in original Walton, moving in before the county’s acres were distributed by lottery in the fall of 1820. All told, almost 500 men owed taxes in 1819 Walton.

        On May 20, 1820, a post office was established about three miles northwest of Cowpens.  It was registered as Walton Court House and the name would be carried on until it was changed to Monroe on November 30, 1821, complementing President James Monroe.

        By the early 1880’s the country had outgrown its courthouse and the third and present structure was completed in 1883 at the cost of around $25,000.  Remodeling and improvements in 1935 cost around $28,000.  The building of this courthouse may be credited largely by the interest and efforts of county ordinary Thomas Giles, whose thrift and planning allowed its financing with only a small loan.

        At the time of the county’s settlement, a large majority of her citizens farmed.  Rare indeed, was the “professional”  business-man.  Some immigrants brought slaves, but most depended for the first few years, on themselves and the members of their families.

        During the 1840’s the first industrial opportunity presented itself in the form of the High Shoals Manufacturing Co., a cotton mill located just over the line in Morgan County. A few years later the offices move across the road into Walton County.

        The 1850’s were golden years in agricultural Walton and nearly 6,000 four hundred-pound bales of cotton had been produced in a single season.

        At the onset of the Civil War, cotton prices soared, but the federal blockade, shortage of help and equipment and the problems in inflation soon closed in.

        Walton men hurried to enter the Confederate service and four years later more than 100 surrendered with General Lee at Appomattox. Like other Georgia counties, for years after the war Walton was poverty stricken.

        A promising school system for public education had been set up by the state shortly before the war but collapsed under the stress of the times. It was 1871 before Walton County’s public school system was put into operation. Prior to this poor schools and academies had provided the only educational facilities in the county.

         Poor transportation fostered a cumbersome educational system and when W. S. Walker became commissioner in 1896 the county contained 95 schools. Under Mr. Walker’s tenure, he reduced the number to 61 and erected 40 new buildings.

        Over the passing years came electricity, water and sewerage systems, a health department, libraries, a hospital and in 1947 a chamber of commerce.  Manufacturing opportunities increased with industry developing to the point that Walton became more industrial than agricultural.

        As Walton County contemplates her past, it is remembered that seven Georgia men have served as governor and called this home. The men who served with distinction and honor were Wilson Lumpkin (1831-1853);  Alfred Holt Colquitt (1877-1882); When Alexander Stephens died during his governorship in 1883, he was replaced by James S. Boynton who married Miss Susie Harris of Walton County; Henry D. McDaniel, a Monroe native, was inaugurated in May 1883 and served until 1886; Monroe native Clifford M. Walker served from 1923 until 1927 and Richard B. Russell, Jr. served from 1931-1933.

        Walton continues to produce men talented in leadership and upholding high standards.  The county’s past is right and interesting and her future promises of continuing the pattern.”

        Part two of this look back at Monroe & Walton County’s rich heritage continues in April when attention is focused on the businesses and individuals who helped shape Monroe & Walton County as the county moved toward their 150th anniversary.