On the days leading up to Christmas, we seem to spend more time reminiscing with our loved ones and counting our many blessings. Here in Eatonton, we have so much to be thankful for. Putnam County has changed significantly over the last 200 years of its existence, and yet, maybe not so much that we can’t recognize the significance of these iconic structures that have had huge impacts on our history, our heritage, and our hometown.
The First Day of Hometown History: Harness Racing
Harness Racing was popular in Putnam County in the 1930’s and 40’s. At least 5 quarter mile tracks were built on private land to use for practice (Maddox on New Pheonix Rd., Manly in the Carter Dearman area, Weems Sparta Hwy mile marker 14, Yearwood on 441).
A larger 1/2 mile track was built in the early 1940’s by Francis Hearn. The track had 2 rows of stables, a judges stand, and a covered grandstand. When it opened, 1500 people from across the state were in attendance to see the big race. WWII & gas rationing brought an end to this sport in Putnam County.
The Second Day of Hometown History: “The Avenue”
“The Avenue” was the driveway leading to the original Jenkins House, the oldest home on Madison Ave. The avenue began where North Madison Avenue narrows (just past the library). The Jenkins House was located at the intersection of Madison Ave and Carriage way. The foundation is still visible surrounding that intersection. In approximately 1908, the Jenkins sold parcels of the land on “the avenue” for the community to build townhouses.
The Third Day of Hometown History: The Oconee Springs Hotel
The Oconee Springs Hotel was opened by Henry Dejarnette in the late 1890’s. This later became a part of the larger Oconee Springs Resort. The springs were said to have healing powers and were visited by people of the coastal and southern counties of Georgia during the malaria season. Many guests of the resort left with a free bottle of water from the springs as it was never to be sold, only given away. The inn offered its guest 25 rooms at a cost of $1.00 per day.
The Fourth Day of Hometown History: Little’s Ferry
The Oconee Navigation Company started tolling patrons on October 7, 1807. Many ferries were built and run by this company including Gardner’s Old Ferry, Beall’s Ferry, Little’s Ferry, Lawrence Ferry, Royal’s Ferry, Warren’s Ferry, and Boat Ferry at Clopton’s Island. The Ferry shown above is Little’s Ferry, which would take cars from Rockville to Hancock County across the Oconee River.
The Fifth Day of Hometown History: Imperial Mill
The Imperial Mill Cotton Mill, built in 1898, closed in December of 1975. The Mill village had its own church, school, and housing for its employees.
The Sixth Day of Hometown History: Eatonton Co-Op Creamery
Developments in refrigeration and transportation enabled dairymen, equipped with this technology, to get milk to the creamery. A milking machine was attached to the cow; the milk ran through a pipe into a vat, where a refridgerated Eatonton Co-op creamery truck would pick it up. In 1939, the creamery hired a full-time veterinarian because of the sudden influx of cattle diseases. Breeding with registered bulls and purebred cows increased butterfat percentages, which helped pull the county out of the last stages of depression. The “new” Eatonton Co-operative creamery was built in 1943.
The Seventh Day of Hometown History: Pex Theater
The Pex Theater was the proud host of the premiere of “The Color Purple,” a movie directed by Stephen Spielberg, and starring Oprah Winfrey. The story was written by Eatonton’s own Pulitzer prize winning author, Alice Walker.
The Eighth Day of Hometown History: Aluminum Hill
The Enterprise Aluminum Company was in operation from 1937-1988. As many as 3 generations of a family worked for the plant. This photo was taken in the 1940’s. The recession hit an all time peak in 1988 leading to the downfall of the plant. In that year, approximately 1.000 Putnam County workers were terminated. This meant 8% of the county population was suddenly unemployed.
The Ninth Day of Hometown History: Putnam General Hospital
Putnam General Hospital has been in continuous operation since its opening on in 1968. The original facility was composed of 38 beds. The first patient was transferred from Jordan Hospital to Putnam General on March 1, 1968. During that time, the population in Putnam County was just under 8,000 people. Throughout the years, the hospital has experienced many changes. In 1974, through addition and expansion, a surgery wing was opened with 17 beds. Then, in June of 1978, a modern intensive care unit was opened with three beds. In 1993, the hospital underwent a $5 million dollar renovation. Today, the hospital serves as a 25-bed critical access facility to a community that has grown 3 times in population since the hospital first opened.
The Tenth Day of Hometown History: Plant Branch
Construction of Harllee Branch Steam Plant, named for a former president of Georgia Power, began in 1961. By 1965, the plant was supplying electricity out of its first unit, and by 1968, all four units were producing power. This plant produced 1,539,000 kilowatts of electricity annually.
The Eleventh Day of Hometown History: The Eatonton School
In December of 1916, the Eatonton School (now the Plaza Arts Center) was ready to welcome students from grades 1-11. There was no 12th grade at the time. The 12th grade was implemented in 1951, which is why there is no graduating class for 1951 in Eatonton. In 1950, a new high school was built and the Eatonton School became the Eatonton Grammar school for grades 1-6. One room of this building has been restored as closely as possible to the original 1916 room. The blackboards, cloakroom, radiator, an beadboard ceiling are all original to the building.
The Twelfth Day of Hometown History: The Putnam County Courthouse
The land lottery of 1807 led to the creation of Putnam County, GA. Land that makes up Putnam County was taken from part of Baldwin County and was sold on April 18th, 1808. 4 acres were set aside in the center of the county to stand as the county seat, and future site of the county courthouse, a log structure built in 1810. The current courthouse building was built in 1905 on the same site and has undergone major renovations and expansions (the 2 wings).
For more information on the history of the area, please contact the Eatonton-Putnam Historical Society