Churches of Oconee County
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County comprises 186 square miles in northeast Georgia. The state’s 137th county, it was created from part of western Clarke County in 1875 by the Georgia General Assembly. Oconee County was named for the river flowing along part of its eastern border, whose name in turn comes from a Native American word meaning “spring of the hills.” The new county was created to satisfy western Clarke County residents’ demand for their own county after the county seat moved from the less populous Watkinsville to the thriving university town of Athens in 1872. The newly formed Oconee County retained Watkinsville as its seat.
In 1802, Watkinsville, originally known as the “Big Springs” community, was named after Colonel Robert Watkins of Augusta, a lawyer and early compiler of “A Digest of the Laws of the State of Georgia” through 1799. Watkinsville was a small village located on the dangerous western frontier of the new United States between Creek and Cherokee territories. Eagle Tavern, believed to stand on the site of the old Fort Edward, opened in 1801 and today serves as a museum commemorating the era of wagon and stage coach travel. Watkinsville first appeared in Clarke County records in 1791: only fifty-eight years after James Edward Oglethorpe founded the colony of Georgia. In 1802, John Cobb gave up eight lots of his plantation to create the city. It then became the county seat for Clarke County and remained so until 1872, when Athens took over that role. The locals were not happy and voted to create a new county, named after the Oconee River on its eastern border, and Watkinsville became its seat on February 25, 1875.
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. Fort Edwards, a settlement built to protect residents against Creek Indian raids, was remodeled as an inn and renamed The Eagle Tavern. The Tavern hosted many renowned guests, including George Walton, Robert Toombs, Governor Alexander Stephens, and poet Sidney Lanier. The Eagle Tavern is fabled to be responsible for the location of the University of Georgia in Athens instead of Watkinsville, since the tavern and dance halls would prove to be an evil influence and distraction to students.