I have a soft spot for places now obscured that "might have been" had history unfolded a little bit differently. I’m not sure that it’s an interest shared universally by the 12MC audience. Hopefully the topic appeals to a few of you though because that’s what this article offers. I think it was about a year ago that I discussed Alabama Capitals. I’ll jump one state to the right and provide something similar for its neighbor, Georgia.
Immediately, I noticed that greater research — or at least more data available publicly on the Intertubes – existed for Georgia than Alabama. Readers who want comprehensive details can refer to better sources like The Story of Georgia’s Capitols and Capital Cities, where I found the chart I’ve reproduced below. I’ll pick out a few oddities and let the experts provide a more complete narrative.
1780-81 Heard’s Fort*, miscellaneous sites in Wilkes County
1782 Ebenezer*, Savannah
1784 Savannah, Augusta
* Temporary meeting sites of state government
Georgia’s Shifting Capital Cities
The volatility struck me right away. The dates suggested an explanation for the ping-ponging capital; the American Revolution (1775–1783) and the Civil War (1861-1865). Despite the long list and the back-and-forth, Georgia is recognized generally as having "only" five capital cities: Savannah, Augusta, Louisville, Milledgeville and Atlanta. I’ll focus on the two lesser-known locations, Louisville and Milledgeville, since the other three receive plenty of attention on their own.
Louisville, like the more recognizable city with the same name in Kentucky, derived from Louis XVI of France. However it’s pronounced differently: LEWIS-ville. The capital shifted to Louisville because it was thought to more centralized when the Georgia population began moving away from the seacoast towards the growing interior. The site stood at a crossroads linking several larger towns including Savannah and Augusta.
While a capital for only a decade, it became an interesting historical footnote when it served as the focal point of a scandal called the Yazoo Fraud. Georgia sold a huge territory, most of the northern half of present-day Alabama and Mississippi, to a small number of land speculators at rock-bottom prices. Well, surprise, a number of elected officials and legislators supporting the act that authorized the sale were bribed by the beneficiaries. The fraud came to light and people reacted with rage. It got ugly in the capital city. A marker has been placed near the site of the old capitol building, to commemorate perhaps the most significant event occurring during Louisville’s brief tenure as a state capital.
Louisville Market House
Louisville was also known for The Market House, one of the few structures constructed during its capital period that survived to the present (albeit heavily restored). Everything imaginable was sold from this location. Allegedly it even served a slave market although the local community claims, "Recent research… casts doubt on this and suggests that the old Market House may have a much more benign history as an ordinary commercial market."
Milledgeville experienced a much longer tenure as Georgia’s state capital, lasting beyond the first half of the Nineteenth Century in the years leading into the Civil War. From this location, the state of Georgia seceded from the United States and joined the Confederacy. Milledgeville laid in ruins by the end of the conflict.
The history of events leading to the transfer from Louisville to Milledgeville are a bit hazy. It was a planned community though, built from scratch to serve specifically as a capital city. Milledgeville was centrally located like Louisville and it additionally stood at a point where the coastal plain met the Piedmont’s hills like so many other important cities along eastern edge of the United States during that time. This was the farthest navigable inland point when shipping was so vitally important to transportation and trade. Milledgeville was placed at the fall line, connected directly to the larger world via the Oconee River.
Old Georgia State Capitol, Milledgeville, Georgia by Ken Lund, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license
Milledgeville became an obvious target during the war, the capital city of a rebellious state. General Sherman’s troops decimated the city during The March to the Sea.
Houses, stores and barns were looted by Sherman’s troops, who rampaged through the city “foraging.” The capitol building was occupied and a group of soldiers led by Brigadier General Judson H. Kilpatrick held a mock legislative session and “repealed” Georgia’s ordinance of secession before looting the building and inflicting thousands of dollars in damage. The roof of nearby St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church was blown off when the soldiers ignited captured Confederate armories and magazines.
That was it. Milledgeville never fully recovered. The capital moved to Atlanta during Reconstruction, "a city emerging as the symbol of the New South as surely as Milledgeville symbolized the Old South." The seat of power has remained in Atlanta ever since 1868.