Watkinsville (Oconee County) Georgia

The history of Oconee County, named for the river edging its eastern boundary, parallels the history of many places in the south. Oconee County is now and has always been affected by the cyclic rhythms and seasonal roots of agriculture. The Oconee County red clay soil has produced cotton, sprawling antebellum homes and a love and appreciation of things fine and simple, an attitude familiar to all small town southern folk. The county seat…Watkinsville…presumably named for Augusta attorney Robert Watkins, was established in 1801 as the county seat of Clarke County until Athens garnered that ditinction in 1871. Outraged citizens of Watkinsville demanded a county of their own and a portion of Jackson County ceded by the Cherokee nation to the state of Georgia became Oconee County in 1875. The community was initially called “Big Springs”. Watkinsville enjoyed growth in early days due to it’s location along a main stagecoach route from Athens to Milledgeville, Georgia’s first capital. The central of Georgia railroad ran through town and tanyard Branch tannery, the main employer in town, produced leather from cowhide.

Other towns and municipalities contained within Oconee County’s borders are North High Shoals, Bogart and Bishop. Generations have enjoyed North High Shoals for its beaches, swimming, tubing and white water rapids. North High Shoals is located on the Apalachee River in western Oconee County and was once home to the High Shoals manufacturing company. This large cotton plant used 4000 bales of cotton annually and employed approximately 250 people from 1846 until it burned in 1928. Originally called “Osceola”, the name was changed to Bogart for a respected gentleman in the railroad agency since an Osceola already existed along the train route. The town was officially incorporated in 1905 and bustled during the 1900’s with banks, hardware stores, two cotton gins, a textile machinery business and Benson’s Old Home Fruitcake Company.

Bishop, the smallest incorporated community in the county, fielded an amateur baseball team during the Depression. Bishop, like Bogart also bustled during the 1900’s with a depot, several stores, a dentist office, bank, blacksmith, cotton gins, hotels and other businesses.

Strategically situated between the major markets of Atlanta, Augusta, Macon, and Greenville, South Carolina, Oconee County is easily accessible via several well-developed arteries. The extension and widening of Georgia Highway 316 places Oconee County within an hour’s drive of Atlanta. Known as University Parkway, 316 provides a direct link between Georgia’s premier research institutions: the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, and Emory University. This link further enhances Georgia’s rising prominence as a leader in research and high-tech development.