By Sam Burnham
It wouldn't be the annual Georgia Road Trip without a full report. This year that report starts near the geographic center of the state.
In 1807, the state government, in its entirety, was packed into fifteen wagons and transported, with military escort, from the former capital, Louisville (pronounced "Lewis-ville"), and headed to the new capital, Milledgeville.
The town was named for former Governor John Milledge who proposed the idea of a more appropriate capital for the growing state. The town was designed specifically to serve as the capital and the squares were laid out with each having its own purpose. As the story goes, the crew sent to locate and survey the appropriate location found a spring and, after tasting from it, determined they had found the perfect spot and that spring was designated as the exact center of town. To this day, that spring still flows but access to it is not public and we cannot accurately report further on it.
So it goes.
The new capital city created the need for an appropriate home for the state executive. Georgia decided to construct a house that would reflect the status of power and influence that the state had achieved.
The mansion, to this day, is an impressive example of Greek revival architecture. I personally find it much more suitable for the role than its successor on West Paces Ferry Rd. Scheduling did not permit an inside look at the home but the curb appeal alone suggests that this building is what a state executive mansion should be and I look forward to a return visit.
As the antebellum capital of Georgia, Milledgeville and The old state capitol served as the location of the state's secession convention. the convention met January 16-19, 1861. Delegates including Robert Toombs, Alexander Stephens, the Cobb brothers, and Augustus Wright gathered in the house chamber to debate the issue. In what might be the greatest debate in state history, Stephens and Toombs found themselves in rare opposition. The two friends gave their arguments, Stephens against and Toombs in favor of secession. Stephens calm and calculated approach was unable to disarm the sheer force of the oration and personality of Toombs and secession won the day. Georgia left the union on January 19th.
After the war, it was determined that Milledgeville was too remote and too difficult to reach for it to be a good location and the seat of state government was relocated to the railroad hub of Atlanta. As that city has exploded in population and commerce, I wonder what impact the proximity of possible lobbyists has had on our government. While some studies suggest that smaller, more remote state capitals are more susceptible to corruption, it stands to reason that putting distance between the statehouse and lobbyists can never be a bad thing. The added charm and small town culture of Milledgeville could also help state government better relate to the areas of the state that have not been swallowed by the sprawl of Atlanta - the areas that house our agriculture and tourism industries.
For this reason, I think the state would be better off with the seat of government still in Baldwin County. This isn't going to happen under any circumstances and I have no delusions otherwise. But, for these same reasons, Milledgeville is an outstanding place to visit. We have barely scratched the surface of this area at this point and we will make a return visit.
In the meantime, if you make it to the Old Capital Museum, tell them we sent you, and let us know what you think!
The Georgia Road Trip continues....stay tuned!
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire