The Creek Indians, whose lower trading paths passed through the area, first inhabited Augusta and Richmond County. The first Europeans to visit the area were members of an expedition led by the Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto, around 1540. The area around Augusta was settled by English fur traders just prior to the city's founding. One of these early settlements, known as St. Paul's Parish, was settled mainly by people from Virginia and North Carolina.
In 1736, British General James Edward Oglethorpe had surveyor Noble Jones lay out the first forty lots for what would become Augusta. In taking this action, Oglethorpe was motivated in part by a desire to control the fur trade, which was already flourishing at Fort Moore on the South Carolina side of the Savannah River. Named in honor of Princess Augusta, wife of the Prince of the Wales, the city developed as a trade center (fur, tobacco, cotton) and gateway for new settlers heading west to other parts of Georgia.
During the Ante-Bellum period, area residents began to realize the importance of processing and manufacturing goods made from cotton and other crops. In 1834, John Schley located a factory, called Belleville, on Butler Creek. In the same year, William Schley, George Schley, and Daniel Cook built Richmond Factory on Spirit Creek. In 1845, the Augusta Canal was constructed through the western part of the city to handle barge traffic and provide a power source for industry. By 1850 two flourmills and one textile mill were located on the canal. The development of the steam locomotive engine fostered the creation of the Georgia Railroad Company in 1833 and the construction of a railroad line from Augusta to Athens. Additional railroad lines were built in the following years.
The canal, the mills and other industries in the Augusta area were important to the Confederate war effort. The Confederate Powderworks, said to be the largest munitions factory in the world, stretched for some two miles along the canal bank. An ornate chimney stands as the sole remnant of the powderworks complex. General William T. Sherman's "March to the Sea" in November 1864 avoided a well-fortified Augusta, thereby sparing the area serious damage.
Following the war, the canal was enlarged and several new textile mills were constructed on its banks. In addition to the mills, brick factories, lumber mills, railroad shops and related businesses were started in Augusta. Several new banks, warehouses and wharves also were constructed in the postwar years. The culmination of this period of industrial expansion was the designation of Augusta as the Lowell of the South, and the presentation of an industrial exposition in the city in 1888.
While Augusta developed as a manufacturing center following the war, the rest of Richmond County remained agrarian. There were several communities within the county — Summerville, Bath, Blythe, Mt. Enon, Gracewood, and Hephzibah — but none approached Augusta in size or population. Incorporated in 1861, Summerville developed as a winter resort area for wealthy northerners. Many local residents also had summer homes in the community. Summerville became a part of the city of Augusta in 1911. Bath was settled around 1800 by Presbyterians from neighboring Burke County. At about the same time, Mt. Enon was settled as a Baptist village. The first Baptist College in the state was established here in 1807. The Gracewood community developed with the construction of the Augusta Southern Railroad. It was in Gracewood, beginning in 1869, that the Richmond Camp meetings were held for over half a century.
Historically, Augusta had developed from the banks of the Savannah River outward to the south and west. This same pattern of development continued at the turn of the century. In 1885 the trustees of Paine Institute secured the Douglas estate in Woodlawn for the present site of Paine College. With the construction of the Bon Air Hotel and the Partridge Inn, Augusta became a winter resort for corporate executives and heads of state. New residential development took place in various locations around town. The medical complex, located southwest of Georgia moved to the former site of the Orphan Asylum in 1913.
Nearby Towns: North Augusta City •