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Milledgeville Historic District

Milledgeville City, Baldwin County, GA


Home in the Milledgeville Historic District

Photo: Home in the Milledgeville Historic District, The Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. Photographed by User:Blastoids (own work), Blastoids, 2016, [cc-4.0], via Wikimedia Commons, accessed August, 2022.


Description

The area comprising the Milledgeville Historic District includes essentially that part of the city laid out in the plan of 1803. Situated within an Indian land cession of 1802, Milledgeville is located on a bluff at the head of navigation of the Oconee River. Milledgeville was officially designated the state capital in 1804 and the city plan reflects that purpose, as seen in "A Plan of Milledgeville," drawn in 1808 by Daniel Sturges.

Total acreage of the city was determined by the Legislature at 3240 acres, to be divided into 16 tracts of 202-1/2 acres each. The land was further divided into 1-acre lots, a relatively large dimension for town lots. Streets were laid out in a grid pattern, all 100 feet wide with the exception of Washington and Jefferson Streets which were 120 feet wide. Originally three large squares were reserved for particular purposes — one each for a state house, governor's residence and penitentiary. A few years later another square was set aside for public use, or a cemetery. These four squares, providing for major governmental functions, were major features of the city plan. The combination of broad streets and Savannah style squares gave Milledgeville a decidedly Garden City aspect, but one that was still appropriate for its purpose — the state capital.

On State House Square, at the intersection of Washington and Jefferson. Streets, a stucco-covered brick building was erected to house the Legislature, offices for the Governor and other state officials. This Gothic Revival style structure was begun in 1807 and completed prior to 1833 with the addition of four wings. According to White's Statistics of Georgia, 1849, the penitentiary proper was of granite construction and the surrounding walls of brick. Governor's Square was not used as planned for the site of the chief-of-state's residence. Instead, the Governor's Mansion, completed in 1838 and a fine example of Classical Revival architecture was erected on Clark Street, one block south of Penitentiary Square. Many of Milledgeville's and Georgia's most illustrious citizens during the years when the city was the state capital are buried in the square reserved for the cemetery. By 1842, construction of private residences, inns, churches, commercial buildings and increasing population, reflecting Milledgeville's importance as state capital and as a trading center, expanded the city limits well beyond those set in 1803.

During the Civil War and the subsequent removal of the capital to Atlanta, Milledgeville's economy suffered but the plan and most buildings did not. Sherman occupied Milledgeville but did not destroy it. The historic fabric of the town was not changed by war, new economic developments or expansion of governmental activities during the post-War years. The squares and major buildings remain today essentially as they were in the mid-19th century. An especially fine non-governmental building of the early era is the Masonic Hall. It still serves its original purpose and is essentially unchanged^. The State House, destroyed by fire in 1941, has been carefully reconstructed and now serves as the administration building for Georgia Military College. (It was added to the National Register, February 1, 1972.) Penitentiary Square has been developed as the campus of Georgia College at Milledgeville. The oldest college building, Atkinson Hall, was added to the Register, February 1, 1972. The Governor's Mansion, added to the Register February 1972, is owned by the State Board of Regents and beautifully maintained as the college president's residence. Government Square remains a wilderness open space. Cemetery Square continues to serve its original function.

Street after original street continues to hold its long-time character planned and established during the Federal Period. Every major architectural type and style is represented within this tree-shaded district. Outstanding little-altered Federal period landmarks such as the Williams-Orme-Crawford House, the Cedars, and the Ferguson House survive essentially unchanged. Other simpler Federal period houses also survive many of them pleasantly altered with Victorian trim. The Victorian era itself is well represented by a number of structures such as the Old Opera House.

However, the picture of a preserved town may be painted here too sympathetically for threats to its integrity are constant and only legal protection — national, state, and local — can continue to preserve this city which was planned during the Federal Period and served as Georgia's capital city until 1868.

When comparing the 1808 city plan and the area designated as the Historic District, only a small discrepancy is apparent. The north, south and west boundaries coincide. On the east side of the District, the boundary is reduced by two blocks, since this section of the city shows little development.

Significance

The Milledgeville Historic District includes essentially the same area which was planned as the capital of Georgia in 1803 and which was so designated by the State Legislature in 1804. Although Milledgeville no longer serves as state capital and the public buildings have been put to other uses, the original capital city plan survives today.' Encroachments on the historic area demand that methods be employed to preserve not only the integrity of the plan itself but also the many outstanding structures of both historical and architectural significance which are located within the District. Inclusion of the Milledgeville Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places will provide means and procedures for the plan's protection as well as national recognition of the District's deserved importance.

The State of Georgia considered town planning so important that the Legislature provided for the founding, planning and early governing of major towns not included in the original colony. Inhibiting land speculation, utilizing public land to its best advantage and considering future growth, health and spaciousness were factors taken into account when contemplating a town site and plan. An 1803 legislative act called for the laying out of land districts within an area west of the Oconee River which had been ceded to the U.S. Government by the Creek Indian Nation in 1802. Five commissioners were also appointed to select an appropriate site at the head of navigation of the Oconee to be reserved for a city to be called Milledgeville, in honor of then Governor John Milledge. These same commissioners were charged with preparing"a plan for the city. In the 1804 legislative session the site and plan for Milledgeville were approved and the city officially designated the state capital. Immediate steps were taken for designing and

Immediate steps were taken for designing and constructing a State House, the contract let to Major General Jett Thomas and John Scott in 1805 On October 9, 1807, state records were transferred into the Gothic Revival style State House from Louisville the former capital. In the 61 years that Milledgeville served as the state capital, many significant events occurred which greatly affected the history of Georgia in 1823, Governor George M. Troup's state's right issue; in 1832, tariff debates; in 1838, the final removal of the Cherokees from Georgia; and on January 13, 1861, the convening of the Secession Convention. War came to Milledgeville in 1864; Sherman's headquarters were established in the Governor's Mansion. Milledgeville remained the state capital until 1868 at which time the seat of government was once again transferred, this time to Atlanta. During the post-War era, preservation was the natural result of an altered, much-slowed down economy. Victorian style architectural modifications occurred but the planned city suffered few major changes until late 19th century economic and social changes disturbed the somewhat sleepy former capital city. In 1889 Milledgeville became a "college town" when the State Legislature established the Georgia Normal and Industrial College and deeded Penitentiary Square to the college. In 1896 this square became the college campus when Atkinson Hall was completed and opened as a dormitory, dining hall and infirmary. About 1920 large brick buildings were erected on either side of the Hall and subsequent to that other changes have taken place within the old original square.

As a result of continued growth, such as that discussed above, the Old Capital Historical Society initiated a survey of historical and architectural landmarks as a first step toward preserving Milledgevilie's historic Federal and Classical Revival character. The essentially preserved town plan and an abundance of fine pre-Civil War period buildings were the Society's major concern. Extensive commons, wide streets and four Savannah-style squares survived as originally designed in the city plan. State House Square had become part of the Georgia Military College; the reconstructed State House had become the administration building. Penitentiary Square now contained Georgia College, previously called Georgia Normal and Industrial College; the Governor's Mansion housed the college president. The square set aside originally for public use still served as the burial ground it had become since a few years after the city's founding Government Square, originally planned for the site of a governor's residence, remained a wilderness to the present. In addition to major features are innumerable other surviving aspects worth preserving and these have been included in the survey now being completed by the Old Capital Historical Society an organization with a broad base of support throughout the community.

Adapted from: William R. Mitchell, Jr. , Director, Georgia Historic Sites Survey Carole A. Summers, Assistant, Milledgeville Historic District, nomination document, 1972, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Street Names
Baldwin Street East • Baldwin Street West • Burke Street East • Burke Street West • Clark Street North • Clark Street South • Columbia Street North • Elbert Street North • Elbert Street South • Franklin Street East • Franklin Street West • Greene Street East • Greene Street West • Hancock Street East • Hancock Street West • Irwin Street North • Jefferson Street North • Jefferson Street South • Liberty Street North • Liberty Street South • McIntosh Street East • McIntosh Street West • Montgomery Street East • Montgomery Street West • Screven Street East • Screven Street West • Tattnall Street North • Tattnall Street South • Thomas Street East • Thomas Street West • Warden Street North • Warden Street South • Washington Street East • Washington Street West • Wayne Street North • Wayne Street South • Wilkinson Street North • Wilkinson Street South