Eatonton was founded as the seat of Putnam County in 1808 and was incorporated the following year. The city was named for William Eaton, the diplomat, adventurer, and hero in the Tripolitan War. The new county was part of the lands ceded by the Creek Indians in 1802 and 1805. Land lotteries distributed these new lands to white settlers, who laid the foundations of a typical Southern Piedmont agrarian culture. Though settlers grew a variety of crops, cotton was king and remained so into the 1920’s.
The town quickly became a center for education, culture, and banking. Merchants, craftsmen, and planters alike chose to live in town and take advantage of town life. A great number of imposing new residences were erected during the last decade before the Civil War. Sherman spared dwellings in Putnam County on his march to the sea; therefore, many of the private residences in town pre-date the Civil War. Many of these homes are described in the self-guided Historic Walking Tour. All buildings of a productive nature were burned; the cotton mill, the tannery and shoe factory, gins, flour mills, grain filled barns and other outbuildings.
Putnam County experienced difficulty recovering from the war. However, a solution came in 1876 when Benjamin Hunt brought fifteen Jersey cows to the region and created Panola Farm, an experimental dairy facility that helped to establish the dairy industry in Putnam County, which soon became the dairy capital of Georgia.
Since the town’s inception, many notable residents have come to find Eatonton as home.
Joel Chandler Harris
Thanks in part to Walt Disney’s “Song of the South,” Joel Chandler Harris’ Uncle Remus folk tales are among the most recognizable icons in America, and Putnam County prominently displays its pride in this home-town boy. In 1963, The Uncle Remus Museum was opened in Eatonton.
Harris was born the illegitimate child of Mary Harris in Eatonton on December 9, 1848. At the age of 14, Harris became a printer’s devil for The Countryman, a local newspaper owned by Joseph Addison Turner. While working at Turnwold, Turner’s plantation, Harris befriended elderly slaves George Terrell and “Old Herbert” who passed on to him the tales of Brer Rabbit and the other critters in the Briar Patch.
Alice Walker, author of the award-winning novel “The Color Purple,” was born in Eatonton on February 9, 1944. She was the eighth and youngest child of poor sharecroppers Willie Lee Walker and Minnie Tallulah Walker.
Walker was the first black woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Steven Spielberg turned the book into a movie which premiered in Eatonton at the Pex Theater in 1986. The book has since been turned into a Tony Award winning Broadway show of the same name.
S. Truett Cathy
S. Truett Cathy, founder of the Chick-fil-A chain of restaurants, was born on his family’s farm in Eatonton in 1921. His father, a cotton farmer, was forced to move his family to Atlanta when the crop was destroyed by the boll weevil in 1924.
The Zac Brown Band is an American country music band based in Atlanta, GA. The lead singer and founder of the group, Zac Brown, and his father owned a restaurant in the Lake Oconee area of Putnam County called “Zac’s Place.”
Dr. Benjamin Hunt
Dr. Benjamin Hunt moved to Putnam County in 1891 after marrying Louisa Prudden, a poet and member of a prominent Eatonton family. He brought a small herd of registered jersey cows from New York and brought the dairy industry to Putnam County. He is also credited with bringing the dairy industry to Georgia.
Vincent Hancock is an American shooter and Olympic athlete. After attending Gatewood high school, he joined the army and became a member of the Army Marksmanship Unit at Fort Benning. He Has won the gold medal at Men’s skeet at the 2008,2012, and 2016 Summer Olympic Games.
Hiram A. (Joe) Little
Hiram A. Little was born on March 31, 1919 in Eatonton. He served in the United States Army Air Corps during World War II and was one of the original Tuskegee Airmen. From 1941 to 1945 he was assigned to the 99th Fighter Squadron at Tuskegee Army Air Field, where he was a flight officer on the B-25 Bomber.
Born on April 9, 1793 in Vermont, Church migrated to the South and opened a classical school in Eatonton. After founding and acting as Headmaster of the Eatonton Academy, he served as the sixth president for thirty years. Church served longer than any other president of the University of Georgia.